🔥How To Play The Long Game
Issue #7, 9.11.2021
Thank you, dear readers, for your feedback on last week’s issue on the Power of Rest! It’s one thing to take a weekend off, and another to live a truly balanced life. In this week’s issue, see how our battle with climate reveals surprising insights on living mentally healthy, meaningful lives.
Fires are burning in Tahoe. Hurricane Ida is ravaging the power grid of New Orleans and the infrastructure of New York City. New Jersey is flooding. It’s hard to relax when there is a growing elephant in the room:
We just experienced the warmest year on record. A report by the United Nations warns that we are at a “code-red” risk for global warming and immediate actions must be taken. But our ozone is not the only thing burning up.
Thankfully, humans are resilient and ingenuous in solving the most pressing of problems. Some of the world’s smartest people are combating climate change. Better yet, they’ve identified the key strategy:
Sustainability is defined as:
the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
It’s a strategy that seeks harmony between the present and the future. It's the willingness to weigh the short-term cost of inefficient and wasteful energy practices with the long-term health of our environment. It’s shifting to renewable energies even when cheaper (but more harmful) fossil fuel alternatives are available. It’s accepting immediate minor inconveniences as a small price to pay for a healthy future for the next generation.
In sum, sustainability requires balancing the short-term and the long-term.
These very principles can be applied in our own lives. This is about tipping the scales toward health (and success) in our long game.
We’ve conditioned young people (and ourselves) to respond to the pressure of achievement by going all out for the most competitive schools, grad schools, and jobs. We’ve inadvertently encouraged our students to approach life like a 100 meter dash, rather than the marathon that it is. In our frantic rush to help them win the race--we haven’t taught them how to pace themselves.
The question to consider is: Are we really setting people up for long-term success by teaching them to go all out? In the short-term, they might survive all-nighters, a schedule filled with as many Advanced Placement courses as possible, and 60 hour work weeks.
But at what cost?
At great cost. Top performing high schoolers are getting into highly rejective schools, but burning out when they get there. College students are getting prestigious employment offers, but burning out on the job. Professionals with stable, well-paying careers are walking away, joyless and done.
In the never-ending quest to achieve success for our future selves, we’ve neglected the well-being of our current selves. Ironically, this neglect sabotages the future aspirations we are so desperate to achieve.
What we need is a new mindset. One that prioritizes personal sustainability.
Environmental sustainability is defined as: meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
We define personal sustainability as: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of our future selves to meet future needs.
It’s a strategy for playing the long game.
Scientists explain how humans contribute to this climate crisis by prioritizing short-term wants over the long-term needs of the planet.
In the mental health crisis, we’ve done the opposite: we’ve prioritized long-term goals (grades, college admissions, prestigious jobs) over the short-term needs of our young people.
You might be thinking “personal sustainability sounds all well and good, but it’s a luxury/privilege that I don’t have.” We fear that our students who choose to walk will be left in the dust by those who sprint. The risk of burnout in a vague and distant future may seem like an easier pill to swallow than a guarantee that our student will be trapped in a low-paying or “crappy” job.
But will it really matter what college our students go to if they lose their love of learning--and mental health--after a few grueling semesters?
Will it really matter how prestigious, or well-paying, their job is if the work becomes empty and joyless?
It’s time we take sustainability seriously.
When considering whether to take on more (another AP course, a second major/minor, a continuing education course at night, another new commitment), ask yourself/your student: Is my combined workload personally sustainable?
Sometimes sustainability doesn’t depend solely on the choices of individuals, but the systems we find ourselves in.
Individuals will be hard pressed to make healthy choices if the system works against those choices. If choosing rest and balance means risking not getting into college, the rules must change for individuals to change.
Systemic changes include things like:
Capping the number of AP courses a student can take.
Limiting the number of majors and minors college students can take.
Setting “out of office replies” from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am.
Reducing (or eliminating) homework.
Committing 20% of academics to arts, sports, and regenerative hobbies.
Delaying the start of the school day to give students more time to sleep.
Reflect on the schools and organizations you’re a part of and consider: What is this organization doing to meet students’/workers’ current needs? Is it proactive in supporting personal sustainability? Or is it just reactive in addressing the mental health problems it perpetuates?
Relieving the mental health crisis in the U.S. requires a sea-change in how we approach sustainability.
That change starts with us.
🧭Get Your Bearings
If you/ your student is considering a choice that means taking on more, consider these four questions to determine how personally sustainable this choice is.
What would I sacrifice? (e.g., sleep, health, social time)
Do the potential benefits for “future me” outweigh the costs to “present me?” (e.g., what benefits, outcomes, opportunities would be created through the extra work? How likely would these occur?)
Could I sustain the increased workload for a year or longer? And should I? (e.g., personal sustainability is taking on a workload that can be sustained for a long time)
How would I integrate rest and recovery?
🌴The Scenic Route
Because sometimes we need to slow down and enjoy the ride.