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Saving The World Vs. Saving Yourself… And Finding The Balance To Do Both

Ornamental Cabbage On My Walk To Work

You might not come here because you want to save the world, or make it a better place. I know some of us come here mostly because we want to save ourselves and our families. Is that right? If that is so, please know that I don’t want to disparage you ideals in any way by sharing these ideas.

The thing is, I do think a great many of us here want to do both: save the world and work toward our own personal growth and well-being. And when we endeavor to save the world and ourselves at the same time, it is sometimes a difficult balance.

To begin working toward change in our communities is not easy. But I found that once I opened one door, and found one volunteer opportunity… literally hundreds of other doors began to open. Sustainable Seattle, Sustainable Capitol Hill, P-Patches, Native Planting, … not to mention the large local, national, and multinational NGOs that can always use volunteers…!

And then once I settled on one or two (or three!) of those organizations, I have to figure out where I can help the most. And how much time I can spend with each organization. And overall, what I am willing to give. The following are some thoughts I find important to remember as I navigate this new territory.

Make Sure You Get Something Out Of The Experience

Find something you love to do, something you are good at or something you want to learn more about. For instance, if gardening makes you more at peace, you might find it incredibly rewarding to garden with and for others, and even teach other people how to garden.

This is important because you need to renew, you need to be happy doing what you’re doing. When you are, you will become more effective at creating change, and you will be much more likely to stick with it for the long term.

Make Sure You’re Using Your Time Wisely

In the past, I have begun working at an organization, only to find myself spending a lot of time fighting to get just a few things done. When we have a limited time we can give, we have to make it count. That means that sometimes we have to make hard decisions: if an organization just isn’t working for you, kindly move to something that does. If you feel you’re doing too much or too little or not doing the right thing, be open and honest about it. People like that – it’s refreshing. And usually the end result gets you closer to finding balance.

Work Toward Healthy Balance In Your Life

This is difficult for me. Saying “no” does not come easily, and my natural instinct is to overdo things so that I lose sleep, put aside my personal life, forget to fulfill my intentions, and in general neglect my own health and well-being. I want to save the world, now now now! But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to remember that you need to be healthy and happy in order to be truly effective.

I haven’t totally figured out how to maintain a healthy balance, but I’m getting better. One trick for me has been to figure out ways to nurture myself at the same time as I nurture the world. So again, I am making sure I’m personally getting something out of my work toward global and community change.

The second trick for me has been to set limits – whether that is to stop working at a certain time every night, or to make sure I have a To Do list that includes personal and large-scale change, or to set aside a day or two per week where I have family time only (or the reverse, to set aside a day or two to create change), … there are many ways to do this and each of us has our own. The important thing is to be consistent with yourself so that your own personal needs are met as you work within your community.


I know that I have been writing about these issues quite a bit lately, and I hope you’re not tiring of these ideas. I think this is the next step toward living sustainably, at least for me. First I began to make personal changes. Then I worked on worldwide changes with filmmaking. Then I made a lot more personal changes. Then I reached out to share my experiences and motivate others by writing. Then I worked within my local community to create change. And now, finally, I’m learning how to synthesize all of these things together. That requires finding a good, healthy balance.

How Are You Doing With Finding A Balance?

Where are you in the process of sustainability? Are you at the point where you are beginning to synthesize your many steps? Are you finding it easy or difficult to find balance between personal growth and world/community change? Do you have any tips for finding balance – how do you do it?

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13 comments to Saving The World Vs. Saving Yourself… And Finding The Balance To Do Both

  • That’s something I’ve been struggling with a lot. I’m working full-time and in grad school so time is at kind of a premium in my life right now. For the past little while, a compromise I’ve had with myself is that I really don’t have the energy to volunteer regularly with some sort of organization, but the living-lightly stuff I’ve been doing on an individual basis has meant that I’m living well below my means, so those organizations can have my money even if they can’t have my time. And now our synagogue has been working on a food social justice issues project that I’m heavily involved with, since I can be involved through a community that I’m already part of, and that makes me very happy (being an introvert, getting to know a new community to volunteer with is Not a Happy Fun Adventure).

  • This is a great post about being involved. I volunteer and am involved in lots of organizations. I work to bring back free-market capitalism with a focus on the Constitution. They enrich me as a person and make me more firm in my convictions.

    Balance is hard, but if people want to destroy the American way with socialism, at least living sustainably will allow me to provide for my family and friends.

  • Where are you in the process of sustainability?
    Currently I am dependent on the city for most of my power- I want solar and will go out kicking and screaming about it until it gets more affordable- and from what I have seen on planet green- may be just a short wait. Until then I am dependent on City Light, and Water District 020, Getting less dependent on Waste Management, Don’t have sewer- (am on septic) Grow a good portion of my own food- well vegetables anyway. Would like chickens (for eggs)- So I guess I am getting less dependent on food stores- Not yet self employed but that is coming in the future-
    Are you at the point where you are beginning to synthesize your many steps? I think so-
    Are you finding it easy or difficult to find balance between personal growth and world/community change? Yup- I have always marched to the beat of a different drummer- the older I get I see no reason to stop now!

  • Policy work on the local level is critically important–that’s a new realization for me as I’m working with my new city to advance issues relating to sustainability. Having a voice at the table matters–and change (real change, big change, long-standing change) is definitely possible. Most important to me? Children are watching.

  • I’m not sick of your philosophical ponderings, in fact yours may be the counterpoint to all the survialist shouting that got me in a twist

    where am I in my journey? The tail end of the prelude. I think the physical framework has been laid, I have the fulcrums in place (a garden that expands inch by inch, a new sunroom to become the epicenter of growing efforts, a pergola, and a whole quarter of the yard dedicated to beneficial perennials and herbs.) This spring the front yard becomes an orchard.

    For me sustainability starts with the things that sustain us: food. I have a family to bring with me so my journey has to be a gradual one. But when you change what you put in your body, you start changing the way you look at other things as well.

  • In my journey, I’m making babysteps. I find if I blow everything to macro proportions I become overwhelmed. Thus my efforts are micro – I recycle, compost my newspapers, change my lightbulbs to CFCs, have stopped using bleach in my wash and in my cleaning, use mostly cold water when washing, have started to use cleaning products that are more earth friendly, purchase energy efficient appliances when the old ones die, buy organic milk, support local farmers (utilize a CSA basket), have stopped putting lawn chemicals in my lawn, landscape using plants that are not chemical dependent, use native plants, try to remove invasive plants in my landscape, and most importantly, I educate my children on diminishing resources and stewardship of the earth. I’m still working on that balance thing. Last year, I exhausted myself with volunteering, and this year, I’m keep my focus on the issues at home.

  • I have a hard time because I am such an all or nothing person. This is great when I am in all mode, but I tend to throw up my hands and throw out everything I have done when the pendulum swings to nothing. I have to be careful to give myself time to really think about things before making rash decisions to quit or join something.

  • I’m getting there too. It takes time and patience both are at premiums!

    Each step is an increment to the total though, so I try to think of it that way. I’m way on track though, actually a bit ahead of my original timeline in most areas.

    Time is the limiting factor for me too.

  • monica

    My hubby came home in tears becasue he hurt his back–I have never seen him cry. He has been working 75-92 hours every week so that I can finish school. He has not had a day off in a month. We just are not ready to give up yet.

    I heard on the news that my county (Huron County, Ohio) has and unemployment rate of 18.3%–the highest in the state. Please pray for us.

  • Oh Monica, I am so sorry! I’m sending warm, healing thoughts your way, and hope your husband heals quickly. Make sure he gets it checked out as soon as you can – I have had back troubles in the past and it’s important to tend to them well right away.

    Hang in there. Be well, nurture yourself and your husband well, and I hope we get through this very soon.

  • These are great ideas and I’m so glad you wrote about this topic. It’s so important to find the balance between caring for ourselves and contributing to a better world. My new book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life, explores just this challenge through the concept of the MOGO principle, which asks us to make choices in our lives that do the most good and least harm to ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment. There’s no one way to do this, but by using what I call the 3 Is – inquiry, introspection, and integrity – we each find our way toward a MOGO life that creates the balance you write about.

    Thanks so much for this post and your site. It’s great!


  • One of the reasons I’m writing this right now is precisely that I continue to, um, become more aware, as it were, of the ways my life is out of balance! I actually truly appreciate your writing on the topic and can’t wait to read more of the recent posts you’re referring to.

    It’s certainly a big realization for me that I need to begin to find areas to set limits on my time. I also realized I need to implement more in my life that is nurturing and fulfilling. At the moment, I spend a lot of time researching posts, and I see that as a way of helping others sort out information, making it easier for folks to make important decisions about health and environment knowing that they understand the whole picture. It’s become clear however, that though I do enjoy research, I need to balance that with more face to face time. I’m not currently doing any face to face volunteer work and it seems a great idea to get involved in my community more, aside from simple CSA and local purchasing.

    But it’s so hard to find what to say no to when we realize we need to add something missing into the mix! Being an SAHM mom of a baby as well as a homeschooler of a teenager those little decisions seem so much like sacrifices of what’s important! I guess that’s why I’m glad to find sites like yours that address the issue intelligently and with compassion. Looking forward to more reading!

    – Hope

  • [...] discussed finding that balance between work, home, and community.  It’s not always easy, and I am often making adjustments.  Here at One Green Generation [...]

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