Sustaining Ourselves

CoCreate Adelaide is a community of people passionate about creating great futures together. It’s full of people with drive, doing projects, setting up enterprises, working with community groups, being the change they want to see…

It seems like every one of us struggles to balance our own self-care and sustenance with the limitless demands of these things we care about.

I hear many times about stress people put themselves through trying to balance many demands – self-sacrifice is an all too common story. For many, the dangers only really hit home when they hit the wall. And yet, it’s often not because they worry about themselves – but because they despair at being unable to continue with their work.

As honorable as our commitment is, this is not an admirable result for any of us. To be effective, cocreation needs to be founded in personal sustainability.

Bonaire sustaining itself (Wikimedia)

Sustaining Ourselves was the focus topic for our July CoCreate Adelaide gathering. How can we best sustain ourselves to take action on the things we care about?

Pearls of wisdom emerged from the discussions online and at the event.

Four major points hit home for me. We need to

  • prioritise our own wellbeing before the causes we care about
  • plan in advance to understand our roles and priorities, set boundaries – and know when to say no
  • generate sustainable income to create powerful change. Volunteerism is not enough
  • draw on the support of others, building networks and learning how to ask as well as how to give

Sustain Ourselves First

When we have group/ individual sustainability in Co-create we will be able to follow our passions accordingly.Josh McLean, CoCreator and very fine CHAP

Do you remember the safety instructions for fitting oxygen masks at the start of a flight? What was the most important point to remember? Fit your own mask first before attending to those around you.

To many of us – especially those with children I’m sure – this seems counter-intuitive. Surely we would put those we most care about before ourselves?

Yes, we should! But to do that, we need to make sure we are able to look after them. And we can’t do that if we don’t attend to ourselves first.

The instruction isn’t about being selfish, it’s about what we need to do in order to best look after others. This isn’t my idea, it isn’t contention – it’s safety advice based on research and studies of emergency situations.

If you don’t look after yourself, you’re not doing the best work that you can. Are you?

May your plans be your guide

When the next good cause comes up, the next exciting opportunity, or the next plea for help – when you’re already struggling for direction and can’t really take on any more – are you going to be able to say no?

Sasha has business background. Nevertheless, when a mentor suggested he plan his life like a business, it sounded naff even to him. But he’s glad he gave it a shot, because he hasn’t looked back.

CCA July - Limits and Boundaries

Sasha talked about business planning, Flik talked about understanding the future risks and guarantees, and I tend to think about our roles and personal responsibility within the visions we hold. These all hinge around a similar point – understand where you are, and make plans for what you will dedicate your energy to.

It might still be hard to say no, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than going in unprepared.

Sustainability takes cash

You cannot do your best work for the world when you are worrying about paying the rent and the mortgage, or putting food on the table… Money is just a symbolic representation of the things we need such as food, shelter, clothing etc. Does anyone apologise for needing those things?Sharon Ede, Cruxcatalyst

I am a massive advocate of making money from good work. EVERY DAY I see opportunities to do great things that never eventuate – because the agents that care can’t dedicate their whole selves to the undertaking without earning money for it.

Our own barriers

Sometimes we need to overcome the barrier of ‘money martyrdom’ – the culture of rejecting financial return on our work. Sharon cuts this one down to size:

any type of ‘receive’ in exchange for ‘give’, remains a contentious topic in the environment/social change/sustainability movements, and some folks within them seem to have an almost ideological opposition to money…

But I’m calling ‘bullshit’ on all of this ‘money martyrdom’…

You cannot do your best work for the world when you are worrying about paying the rent and the mortgage, or putting food on the table…
Money is just a symbolic representation of the things we need such as food, shelter, clothing etc. Does anyone apologise for needing those things? …

So, change agents, don’t shy away from looking to monetise your work, or develop opportunities which can help you free up your time – or at least your brain – from financial concerns, so you can concentrate on what truly matters to you.” Sharon Ede on Money Martyrdom

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to create income

Many of the barriers we face though aren’t personal. As Sharon points out, sometimes “it’s not until the hearts-and-minds-changers, and the practitioners plugging away on small but working prototypes, have built enough momentum to move things to a tipping point that feasible ways of creating an income emerge.”

And we’ve heard heartening stories of members taking steps forwards

I’ve definitely been struggling with this stuff and I’ve been talking about this with my uni mentor this afternoon. I somehow feel like I need to secure a job working for The Man because I don’t feel confident that figuring out the business side of things will go smoothly or that I’ll get a return for creative output. Somehow I feel that this paradigm is changing the more I talk to people from CoCreate. Thanks guys.Flik

Dedicating ourselves often means running a business

To keep our work going, to keep us going, to have ongoing income to do it – we often need to turn it into a business. Once we’ve overcome our personal barriers and found ways to earn income from our work, we still need to develop the skills and create the structures to keep this going as a business.

This is far from easy – especially for those whose real drive is for the people or the practice of their work. But there is support

Downshifting, prioritising and getting creative – it all helps

Tina’s story is all about all of these:

The first practical thing holding me back, was the practical matter of covering my expenses. Most people worry about making more money to cover their ever-increasing expenses. I decided to reduce my expensive and unnecessary “needs”!

I assessed what expenses I had and whether they were really necessary. If not, I cut them out immediately (eg website domains I was holding onto just in case). If this was an actual need, I looked at other ways to cover it. Accommodation is a pretty big need for everyone, so because I am into permaculture, the obvious thing was to WWOOF, which means to work as a volunteer on organic farms. I did this informally, not through any organisation, just through the networks of people I made. This meant that I had my food and accommodation covered AND I was learning what I wanted to learn.

My wealth is built around my networks of people and the relationships I have built with them. This means I can pretty much stay anywhere around the world for free or in exchange of my services. I now have a caravan that is on permanent loan to me, which is housed at a camping ground that a friend owns and we help each other out (I loaned her my bike while I’m away, help her make her garden, etc). I own nothing, yet I have everything!

The lesson from this: think laterally & be open to other ways of doing things. THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER WAY!! There is a diverse range of skills in our group that could complement each other. Explore how you can collaborate with each other to make things happen. Is there a property/house that’s not being used or has extra room that could be available in exchange for a few hours a day of maintenance, giving you at the same time the opportunity to apply your skills and save you from paying rent/electricity? Does someone have a caravan they are not using? There are resources everywhere!!” Tina Lymberis, CoCreate Greece, from the Sustaining Ourselves Mindmap


Learn how to ask, how to give, and how to share together

The most interesting insight – and for me the most challenging – was learning about the importance of sharing and asking.

The economy of commerce and exchange can seem really straightforward – notwithstanding the muddy waters around martyrdom.

The social economy, on the other hand, seems complex and uncertain. But it kept coming up – community is an invaluable ingredient in taking action, following our dreams and making change happen.

Community is grounded not in sales, but in sharing, giving and asking.

Asking is a particular challenge.

It turns out that Australians love the idea of sharing. It taps into a deep seated nostalgia for the imagined (or real) suburban existence of the 1950s…. The suburban residents I spoke to long for greater connection with their neighbours. And they think that sharing is the way to get this. …
Yet very little was said about the asking or receiving of such favours. In turns out that deeply entrenched in the Australian suburban culture is an inability to ask for anything.Millie Rooney, on Why is it Harder to Ask than to Give?

Amanda Palmer has proven inspirational in our discussions. Her TED talk explained how she built on her experience as a busker, to work around challenges getting funding to make music – by asking her fans to pay, instead of making them. Her $1.2 million crowdfunding campaign is still a record.

Kat Coppock’s inspired response was touching and heartening too… learning that she isn’t alone finding it hard asking for help. Learning that we’re fumbling our way through this ‘community’ thing together.


So the recurring themes of our discussions touche the heart of what we’re trying to achieve with CoCreate. How can we create the networks and spaces so that we can best support one another? And how can we all learn to ask as well as to give, so we can look after ourselves as well as one another?

The answers aren’t obvious, but these discussions are a start – and I look back with optimism at the way Kat closed her own post – “the possibilities are endless”.

One thought on “Sustaining Ourselves

  1. Nice points John. Great info. To help others, many times we need to know what we are doing, rather than just rush in. One of my favorite quotes was from Bill Newman’s book on leadership. “Know the way, go the way, show the way”. warm regards Sash.

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