I left my PhD after a year. I loved my topic but I didn’t want to just read about it, I wanted to live it.
I didn’t feel the need to prove my knowledge and experience to others and I didn’t need to be recognised as a master of my field. The passion was certainly there (in bucketloads), and I did want to promote the idea to others. But that is not a PhD.
Talking my thoughts over in the echo chamber of my academic peer group, or lecturing to an amorphous mass of middle-class teens, did not feel like creating the change that I was motivated by.
It’s the people who have the financial means and social investment to make truly impactful decisions about their living and working circumstances that can drive the change.
So, what was my topic? Well, just what I’m talking about here; simple living, frugality and minimalism. Specifically, I wanted to study people living extreme minimalist and alternative lifestyles, whether off-grid, mobile, transient or in tiny spaces, or all four.
I wanted to find out about their motivations, needs, wants, plans, struggles, and, in particular, their perceived level of happiness. It seemed that if I could understand how the ‘reduction’ in standards of living (that I had come to recognise as necessary back in 2009) could be embraced and promoted, then the sense of dissatisfaction, alienation or even depression we, in the rich nations, could feel might be mitigated and social unrest avoided.
Early in my research I came across the book Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin and it was hugely inspirational in its positive approach to living with less. I felt impassioned, not just to speak to others, but to live this way myself and ‘be the change’.
I had become completely convinced by what is now being termed ‘climate breakdown’ and by the mounting evidence that humans were to blame for the deterioration of both the interwoven climatic systems and biodiversity. I didn’t want a part in it any more and I recognised that the ’embodied energy’ in the products we buy was a huge contributing factor.
I wanted to be around people who were actually living differently. But I wasn’t. I was in an academic bubble, bombarded with admin, email threads, lesson plans, funding applications, social structures and etiquette, deadlines and meetings, rush hour and timetables, all of which felt a long way from the simple living I wanted to advocate.
After a month of soul searching, I left.
I had no real desire to be a doctor of philosophy and I didn’t feel the need to publish a book. In my final meeting with my supervisors, it all became clear. Being passionate about a topic and great at research are only part of the picture. There are many hoops to jump through and conventions to uphold. Therefore, you have to be passionate about the qualification, the career and the institution as well. And I wasn’t. The longer I was there I felt more and more of the ‘ivory tower syndrome’.
But what to do with that passion?
Looking back, it was the right decision. But at the time it felt a little crazy. After all, I had left my previous career to go back to university.
I spent the summer doing charity and community work and growing food in my garden before rejoining the ‘workforce’ in a related field to my previous one.
Since having my son and making the choice to home educate, I have started to find those people with similar desires and motivations to reduce their environmental impact and live with less; people who recognise that experience trumps stuff and who are not interested in following fashion and participating in a throw-away world.
For all its faults, social media is giving people a real insight into what living differently or alternatively might look like and the extent to which it is possible. Downsizing your family into a small apartment, a shipping container, a van or a yurt in the woods doesn’t feel so strange when you can see how others make it work.
The task at hand
So, I suppose that is what One Planet Parent is all about. At its heart, it is a continuation of that PhD, or rather, it is what I have spent the last ten years of my life focussing on.
I realise now that I am motivated by the preservation of our beautiful, diverse and fascinating world in a way that can sustain life. It’s not a small task but one that many are now working towards.
It’s not about pleasing other people in the conventional way, gaining praise or plaudits, working on social standing, participating in the global economy or creating what is ‘new’, but living in a way that ensures the planet and all its creatures can thrive.
To live simply so that others may simply live. To live intentionally and not take any of this for granted.