I was born in the same year as Limits to Growth and the first Earth Summit. It’s hard to believe we’re all fifty this year.
My journey is unconventional. The oldest of three, I was raised by strict Christian parents. I rebelled. Met my husband at seventeen. Quickly left home. Dropped out. Got a job as an office junior in a small hat factory. So bored, so quickly. Asked for interesting work. Given HR and quality management. Trained as an HR professional. Worked hard. Became UK HR Manager for a US Blue Chip. Burned out. Disillusioned with corporate life. Needed something else. To make a positive contribution to society.
So, battered and bruised from my first foray into working life, I went to university to train as a nurse – a childhood dream. I loved student life. Rekindled the flicker of activism from my youth. I learnt so much. About the cycles of life. Courage. Kindness. Humour in adversity. Perseverance. And our desperate desire to avoid acknowledging death is a natural part of life. I qualified. Worked in A&E and Medicine. I developed an interest in palliative care and became so aware of the horror with which our society faces the prospect of ageing and death. And realised that until we accept that we are part of life’s glorious tapestry, not the centre of it, we will continue to be miserable, destructive and unable to feel content. It was something of an existential crash.
So, nursing wasn’t for me. Too bureaucratic and hierarchical. And I cared too much. Couldn’t stop thinking about my patients when I wasn’t there. Became super stressed. Burnt out again.
My husband’s job took us 200 miles away, giving me another opportunity to think again. I had realised our culture – always grasping for more—more time, more stuff, more prestige— is driving us insane and destroying the ecosystems we depend on. A chance meeting led to a Masters’ and another wonderful year studying. This time Environmental Management and Sustainable Development.
My thesis was on the corporate response to climate change. I secured a job with the charity I still work for, challenging and inspiring business leaders to tackle the climate crisis. Now a permaculture designer, I want to be part of changing systems at speed and scale to enable people and nature to thrive. Which means we need to see the truth that physics can’t be bargained with. That fairness starts with realising your privilege is as much a result of luck rather as your own brilliance. That maybe, it’s time for some of us to level down, to enable others to level up. And that we are all on this tiny blue pearl together. With no realistic hope of escaping to another planet if we make this one uninhabitable. Regardless of billionaire’ fantasies.
As I reflect on my life and how society is and isn’t changing, I see that the world is seriously lacking in people who are fit to address today’s challenges. Grownups fit for the 21st Century, if you like. Our culture is stuck in a loop that is driving our own destruction: Exploitation of people and nature is OK, as long as it isn’t us. Extreme poverty and extreme wealth are just the way things are. People are inherently selfish and we are all bad inside. This life isn’t the real one – that will come after we die. So we live lives of nihilism. The way to handle all of the discomfort that this level of dissonance brings? Why, consuming of course. More shiny things will make us feel better. Have a drink or 20. A little flutter at the bookies. Watch TV. Scroll and scroll and scroll. But make sure you do addictive things responsibly – it’s your fault if you can’t keep it under control.
So, in my 50th year on planet earth, I am endeavouring to become a proper grownup. Some might say that's late to mature. However, I am a good grownup by current standards. I work hard. Have an uncomfortably large mortgage. Spend more than I save. Give too much attention to screens and not enough to the real world. Many would aspire to my life and I am truly grateful for the privilege I have.
But it is also true that being a good grownup by today's standards isn't enough any more. I couldn’t look after myself without modern conveniences. I can’t grow or preserve food. I can’t mend things. Make clothes or furniture. I don’t know what’s safe to forage. Which plants make great medicines and how to process them. How to fish. Catch rabbits. Make a fire from scratch. Build a shelter. The skills and knowledge of our ancestors have deserted me. And even though I hope that I won’t ever have to fend for myself in this way, I feel insecure without them in a civilisation on the edge of collapse. And without finding better ways of being a grownup and fast, that's our destination.
I am not proposing a sackcloth life or becoming a full-on prepper. I hope that we can wake up, grow up and find ways to save the best of now. But I do want to connect with my heritage. Learn how to blend ancient and modern, so that I can be more capable of looking after myself. Learn the skills. Gather the knowledge. Live a slower, more harmonious life. Know that I can be a useful human being, when all that is valued today may no longer be useful. Embrace my reality as a tiny thread within the web of life. Relax. Attune to nature’s rhythms and cycles. Create rather than consume. Tread lightly upon the Earth. And weave better ways of living that mean we become, collectively, a force of wellbeing and regeneration to heal ourselves and our home planet.
And lean into my mortality as a cause for celebration – I made it. I’m here. I have a chance to experience all that being alive offers. Make my own meaning. Root into my community, here in Wiltshire, after many years of moving around. Learn. Experiment. Try and try again. And become someone who doesn’t take myself or anything else too seriously. This is the path of the 21st Century Grownup and I am determined to walk it. I would love companions along the way.