When you actively seek to live your life the way you want to, however that may be, you will feel proud and satisfied with your choices and yourself. However, this does not mean that it will be all straightforward and fun. Living a sustainable and ethical lifestyle is something we deeply believe in, but it hasn’t all come easy. We feel it’s important to openly and honestly talk about the challenges that come with our choices. So here they are:
Whether it be having to go further to buy your groceries, spend more time cooking, struggle giving up the addictive activity of shopping, or simply having to skip you on-the-go coffee/tea, living a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle takes some adapting to. And this is understandable, seeing as the whole system is built around consumerism and overall perceived convenience that comes at the expense of the environment and others’ rights (both human and animal). Most of us have spent years blindly (because of lack of knowledge or looking the other way) indulging in such behaviour patterns. And although changing this and becoming aware of the consequences of our actions becomes easier over time, the initial shift is not all that straightforward.
It took me many years of being partly aware but tricking myself into numbness, before I finally took the plunge. The fact was that I could no longer ignore what I knew, and it became increasingly difficult to like myself being that person. Pointing a finger at big corporations and evil regimes was not enough to explain all the shit of the world. My claims for human/animal/environmental rights had to be backed up by my actions and my overall lifestyle. And although changing desires and habits is no easy task, I now see clearly that convenience is not convenient after all if it represents everything I stand against.
2. Confusion and frustration.
Now you know that you want to change your lifestyle, but there is SO much to do. It is overwhelming and confusing. Sure, things are changing and nowadays it is easier than ever to find fellow-minded individuals, vegan options on the menu are becoming common in many parts of the world, shopping second hand is trendy and bulk stores are popping up everywhere (if you are lucky where you live). But there is much more to changing lifestyles than that: thinking about the social and environmental impact of everything in your life is a tremendous undertaking. So much so, that many times it feels like it’s just better to give up than to try, and drown with it all.
I am by no means where I want to be yet: I produce way more waste than I want to (damn all the products I need containing plastic), put things in my mouth to after remember checking the ingredients and realise I just ate palm oil (I swear its everywhere!), and have had drawers full of chemical products that I don’t even need (why I bought 3 different blushes in the past is something I would like to know). And this is just referring to the straightforward issues! The consequences of our actions are so complex that I many times find myself unsure of my impact. When having to choose, is it better to buy from an eco brand in a far away country or something locally with no environmental guarantees? Questions like this arise constantly and the truth is that many times I don’t know what I’m doing.
But am I just failing miserably to the point of no return? I don’t think so. I’ve found that taking things slow and realising my intentions are important, is the only way of making real and sustainable changes in my life (and not breaking down in the process). Instead of worrying about everything I have yet to do, I celebrate that I now know how to make my own toothpaste and I love it! It may take me a long time to lead the lifestyle I aspire to, but I’m learning a lot in the process. So frustrations and confusion aside, I intend on celebrating every accomplishment gained, and to share it all with you so we can get there together.
Part of the process of becoming aware is the guilt associated to inevitably messing up and realising that the consequences of so many of our actions are shitty. Every time I forget to ask the waiter/waitress to not put a plastic straw in my drink, I want to bang my head against the table, and when I finally make my order right and that damned plastic flute comes with it anyway, I just want to burst out crying.
There is not only that, but also the guilt associated to making the decision of continuing to do something that may have negative consequences. For example, I love travelling so much, it’s one of the few things that gives my life meaning. However, I’m perfectly aware that the carbon footprint associated to means of transport (specially airplanes) is no joke. And I know that I am contributing to it. However, I have made the conscious decision to continue travelling as I please. Do I feel guilty? Of course. But I know I cannot be perfect and live a life void of hypocrisy, since I’m not about to go live in a forest away from civilisation and start foraging for my food. So I opt instead for trying to have as low of a negative impact possible, without giving up on my passions.
We are all damaging in one way or another and I have to accept my role. However depressing this thought may be, I believe being aware of this is very important. At the end of the day, we should all know the consequences of our actions so we can make informed decisions and design the life we want to lead. I prioritise the things that are important to me, and ultimately want to become – not the prefect person – but a better version of myself.
Living an alternative lifestyle does not come void of criticism. Although you can always find allies, the mainstream does not share your values or understand your decisions. And this will also be the case even when your intentions are positive and you just want to make the world a better place. Whether it be someone confronting you about how your meatless diet is going to kill you, or trying to unarm you by pointing out you are not perfect, you are bound to encounter criticism.
I’m not going to lie, this is the most difficult part of it all for me. With time and repetition those “funny” comments, and downright insults to your judgment and decision-making capacity, can become very painful. It is easy to become bitter and want to shout at everyone, or to simply lock yourself away so you’re not exposed to all the hate. But neither are solutions.
So what can you do with all the negativity that will come your way regardless? Well, if it comes from friends and family, I think the first step is informing them of the pain this causes. Many people react because of ignorance or unconscious bias. Maybe your father is unnecessarily worried for your health, or your best friend is alarmed by how much you’re changing and is afraid of loosing you. Get to the bottom of the negativity (the real reason for it is not always apparent), and make the effort to patiently explain your choices. After all, everyone should be given the opportunity to grow and learn.
However, if communication and love doesn’t stop the mockery, eye-rolling or insults, they don’t deserve to be in your life. Your friends and family don’t have to think like you, but, in my view, respect is the basis of any relationship. And respect has to be mutual. It may be hard letting go of that high school group you used to feel linked to, and accepting that you may only talk to your uncle once a year in some uncomfortable family reunion, but once you get away and all the belittling stops sounding normal, you will realise a huge weight has been lifted of your chest.
Ultimately I have found that realising that I’m doing this for myself is instrumental. I don’t need to base my choices on others’ approval or to incessantly compare myself. Letting go of the negativity helps me hear my own voice more clearly. As long as I believe in my myself, I will have the strength to go on.
In conclusion, deciding to live life the way you want to, is a wonderfully complex and long process that is not free of confusion, frustration and disappointment. But if you follow your heart and make decisions in accordance with what you believe in, you are bound to find pride, fulfilment and joy. Don’t be afraid to grow, become more aware and conscious, and also stumble on the way. And if you want to do it all in company, don’t forget to subscribe and follow along this crazy process we’ve just begun!
All the pictures were taken in Nongriat, Meghalaya (India).