Elation, Despair, and Professionalism
Yesterday and today, two days that could not be more different. Standing on stage at the royal theater in front of hundreds of people; sitting in the cottage behind my house that serves as my ‘Global Headquarters’. Moderating a panel of leaders and ambassadors; sorting receipts and dealing with corporate paperwork.
The purpose of this ‘blogging intensive’ is to make my professional life a bit more transparent, but that is proving tough already. Some details are boring; some of the ‘real’ stuff I just can’t write about publicly. And the time it takes to document is time not spent producing work on multiple projects.
Oh, yes there are multiple projects, so the most important decisions each day have to do with prioritization. Some things are urgent by default: a magazine in the US needs a new photo, now, so I have to get one taken. Other things are long-term strategic … but if you put them off, you have no strategy. And then there are the in-between things, like the talk I’m giving at the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences next Thursday, a seminar on ‘Alarmism’ in scientific communication about global problems, or the keynote next Tuesday on sustainable production and consumption. Those are hard deadlines but still some days out, the ideas are still forming. Work on those will intensify in the coming days.
Then there is the constant stream of emails. Some are marketing related, some are clients wanting input, some are … well, we all know how the email inbox can quickly become the to-do list, if you’re not careful.
I have a master action list, where each current project is summarized, actions are listed, and prioritizations made. Usually, I actually use it.
But sometimes — especially a day like this, a Friday, sunny, after a strenuous week — you just have to put that aside, go stand in the forest, and think. It’s damned important, that thinking time. Feeling time. We tend not to talk about it, but I believe most people need those breaks where they appear not to be doing anything (or appear to be drinking coffee), but inside, the wheels are turning. I had a number of those moments today.
I admit that some of those moments are driven by something I’ve just read, something that brings up a feeling of heaviness about the great problems that sustainability concerns itself with. Today there was such a moment after reading — at someone’s emailed insistence — Wendell Berry’s latest short essay (actually a short speech, introducing Prince Charles at a conference on food — you can watch the videos here). He is speaking for local adaptation, and against global heroics. He and I debated, in print, this very point about 20 years ago; I have never understood why we cannot try to do both, to adapt locally, but work to change the global systems (energy, economics, patterns of production and consumption and trade) that make local adaptation all but impossible unless they are changed. Indeed, we must try to do both.
I am elated when I receive an offer from an intern to work 20 hours a week, without pay, on a project I care about. I despair when I read another article on the fate of the oceans in a warmed world, or the way transgenic material (that means, genes artificially inserted into basic food crops) has been proven absolutely impossible to contain and has escaped to corrupt “organic” and “wild” plant strains. But I’m a professional, a word that means that no matter what the emotional impact is of what occurs during the day, one continues to perform and produce. “The show must go on.”
This was a day of reflection and administration. In my next post, I’ll write about what is actually going on in my professional life just now.
To those who are following this “intensive” … good night.