For the past seven weeks, I have been a participant in an accelerator program hosted by the downtown West Palm Beach co-working space, 1909. In its pilot phase, this program has attracted numerous entrepreneurs looking to excel their businesses from their current stages. Last night, after discussing finances, we turned our thoughts to what success means to us. What would success look like for each individual person? The discussion took an interesting turn when one of the participants discussed wanting to not just have a business, but be a part of a movement. This proclamation knocked something loose inside me because I then remembered I too was trying to not only create an education center but wanted to be a part of a movement. As these thoughts were stirring around inside me I listened to the responses of others in the group.
People commented on the changes in businesses. They discussed the importance of a business to change its work culture to increase employee relations if they wanted lower turnover. They discussed how the younger generations were no longer accepting the status quo for finding a job that is unfulfilling to them. They discussed finding purpose and the upward trend towards overall wellness. By this point, my insides were on fire (my outsides still cool and collected). This conversation was exactly the reason behind my vision for the education center. They were all seemingly talking about the same thing - human sustainability.
Over the years, sustainability has become quite the hot topic as campaigns for recycling, cleaner water, renewable energy, climate change, and eating locally and organically have passed through my Facebook feed. Going to a restaurant down here does not guarantee you a plastic drinking straw because of the high rate of sea turtle deaths from straws. The amount of plastic in the ocean is certainly appalling. However, these campaigns are environmental and I am strictly referring to land, sea, and sky. What’s missing in the discussion of sustainability is humans. The phrase “We are a product of our environment” is not just about climate change and saving mother earth so don’t litter. It’s also about the people in, on, and around the earth. It’s about how we are all affecting each other because we are all interconnected. It’s about how your attitude and behavior affects the immediate world around you. It’s about sustaining relationships.
Before beginning the education center project, I had put together a business focusing on work cultures. From personal experience, I saw the need to help businesses increase their employee relations. Discussing this business with adults, I was reminded of my short time as a counseling student. I was studying adventure therapy and specifically designing programs for youth aimed to build resiliency. The idea was if we could build resiliency in youth then they would grow into mentally resilient adults. There is one problem with focusing on just one of these populations at a time. They are not mutually exclusive. We forget about the life cycle. We forget that as adults we were once youth and that someday the youth will be adults. There is no “them” and “us”. It’s just us. It’s us who happen to be in different phases of life. We are a product of our environment. We cannot focus on youth if we are not also focusing on adults. We cannot teach a child at school effective communication if when they go home they are surrounded by adults ineffectively communicating. We need to learn individually, together, and simultaneously new ways to sustain our relationships, to change our attitudes and behaviors.
The aim of the education center is to do just that. It will be a closed system mutually benefiting students, educators, families, and businesses. The first phase of this project allows educators the opportunity to build their skills to not only teach their curriculum but to be intentional in their facilitation of life skills (21st-century/soft skills). They will have the opportunity to practice their new skills through a summer enhancement program that brings students and businesses together through collaborative projects. And I don’t mean just using a business as a resource. I mean the people working in the business working side by side with the students to solve a problem. Businesses, what problems are you trying to solve? Consider working with youth - the new generation. Understand them and make your business more sustainable while working on your own skills to increase your own relationships and work productivity. Eventually, more programs will be implemented so that families will share in the same opportunities. All programs will be directed towards building human sustainability. Without it, external sustainability isn’t sustainable.
The movement I promote is a mindset change. We are a society that celebrates the individual, but we often forget we are on the same team. We are all a part of the problem AND solution. We each have our role to play so let us stop pointing fingers and shifting blame. Take responsibility for your role and learn to build sustainable relationships in your life.