Lessons from Emergency Entrepreneurship

Guerrilla gardening in Chinese (university) office building's courtyard

Guerrilla gardening in Chinese (university) office building's courtyard

Living Rich in ‘Poor’ Times

As concluded in the first part, expectations are increasingly blinding us.

We talk of modernity’s empowerment of the individual, but it is an individualism that is very much shaped by society’s – actually, corporate – dreams and pressures and utterly dependent on modern technology and services. With things getting tougher, it is getting all the more egoistic, uncaring, and rigid in its expectations the more dependent its proponents are actually getting.

It shuns aside whoever isn’t absolutely needed anymore, even as it promises the good and easy life, luring with an image of a career ladder when all it actually has to offer is a hamster wheel – and that’s the good outcome for which alternatives aren’t tried out, given that they seem uncertain and uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, any kind of a better living that involves learning, personal growth, community – a real better – requires an effort, makes it necessary to go through some discomfort in order to grow.
Living is like that.

Opening up futures (and better ‘presents’) requires that we meet reality head-on, with creativity and a better sense of the aspirational better, working for the best and open to things not going as planned…

Thus, the guiding lines inherent in such unusual initiatives as seen before in emergency entrepreneurship, but also in similar business (and life) design for better, are ever more necessary and promising:

1. Needing & Expecting Less, Living More

For one – as has been pointed out by many of the seemingly out-there people (Richard Heinberg, Dmitry Orlov) – expecting less from life can help a lot.

'Empty' spaces on Chinese university campus, used to grow food
‘Empty’ spaces on Chinese university campus, used to grow food

The expectation that things should or would be easy, that normal living ought to entail “having it all,” easily becomes a trap that keeps one mired in frustration, dissatisfaction – and complaints rather than creativity, passivity rather than action.

This may sound a lot like the advice often given by people who call for entrepreneurship – to “invent your job” (qua Thomas Friedman). However, there is an essential twist: Whereas they tend to argue that you can have it all (or just die trying if you aren’t good enough), the argument here is to do and have enough.

Remaining in passivity will not do the trick, but action is no guarantee. Doing enough to make a living, and getting realistic with expectations of what “a living” means, helps find a proper balance so that the doing itself becomes more important and a greater source of life satisfaction.

Typically, the great problem of the down-and-out is too much time and too little of sense to do (and that problem seems to apply more widely, with all the middle-class busy-ness that is considered necessary but doesn’t really lead anywhere).

Life-work, in its ways of ‘performing’ skillful living (having a grip on income and expenses, managing the household, eating and being active so as to promote good health and fitness,…) as well as of making a living (providing an income or reducing the need for a monetary income) itself, however, would be a good and meaningful thing to do.

2. Creating Life-Work

Talking of that: don’t shy away from working on ways to create life-work – ways of making a living and/by living better.

Newly created sheepholding business in Latvia
Newly created sheepholding business in Latvia

Everybody needs a livelihood, and entrepreneurship (same as personal development) is ever more necessary, especially as making a living does not mean exactly the same as making money, let alone looking for a job or career.

Waiting for chances to make money, to just have a career in the traditional sense of finding employment, is an increasingly risky proposition.

Companies pay ever-less, going as low as they can; and the time of mega-corporations and big-box stores may well be coming to an end, whether it is because lives are getting harder/poorer due to economic factors (such as globalization and profit-seeking hardly caring for employees anymore) or resource factors (peak oil, and peak everything).

Nostalgia may not be the best guide, but tradition and creativity may well be.

Life-work, in spite of the nostalgia that often seems to be associated with such ideas, may not necessarily mean going back to the land to work (with) it, finding and creating local products. (That is proving a labor-intensive but also satisfying and good way, though, if done in forward-working ways, not ways that go backwards.)

There are also good ideas to be found looking towards the kinds of things suggested for location-independent living, crowdfunded innovations, and portfolio careers.

Between the necessity of kitchen gardens, the (re-)creation of hyper-local foods, and the design and sale of various techno-gadgets for various niches of interest, there may well be a return of the local niches for products and services of everyday need:
It is still easy to buy “food” in the supermarkets, get cheap Made in China-clothing (which is increasingly made in other, already cheaper places), but there are also increasing signs of the need for local production, using resources that are available locally or  become available with other entrepreneurship (animal husbandry for milk or meat also implies the availability of wool or leather, for example) and local services (such as textile/clothes-making or shoemaking, to fit and last a long time).

Products resulting from that, interestingly, may be getting chances both when rather more informal economies are becoming necessary, e.g. when there are people in a community who want to skill-share and need to barter, as well as for the luxury of finding things that are well-made and can’t be found anywhere else.

3. Coming to Balances

The progressing “return to poverty” makes life harder – if easy means spending money you don’t really have and doing things without any regard for local ecosystems, including the cultural/human ones.

Guerrilla gardening in Chinese (university) office building's courtyard
Guerrilla gardening in Chinese (university) office building’s courtyard

Put into other terms, it makes for lives that need to return to balances that have always been necessary: to work with local conditions and to shape them into systems and states that are more productive for their human occupants (but not just in regards to single values, the way e.g. current agriculture is considered highly efficient – but only if nothing but yield and profit is counted, without regard for the nutrition provided by it and the sustainability of the methods employed, let alone counting all the subsidies that go into it).

Just as there has to be a productive balance between conservation and creation in ecosystem productivity, there has to be return to a productive balance between earnings and spending, lifestyle and life-work:

Credit, whether from banks or crowd-funding/micro-loans, has a role to play in such a system, but it should again be for investments likely to produce the necessary benefit to pay back the debt, not for wanton consumer spending and financial speculation / inflation of e.g. property values to seemingly grow the economy (when, in fact, nothing much but numbers and greed are rising).

Typically, though, you need to make do with what you have, earn, can grow, or make, or create, or trade… Given all that we have learned to do and all that has been possible when people worked together, that is not exactly a “make do” that’s truly negative, lacking, but a rational and grown-up attitude to life that knows it’s not just about conveniently bought pleasures and democratized luxury.

4. Remembering Power

Finally, educate yourself, and for life-work at that.

All the best-laid plans are up for disappointment, the world is changing quite a bit, whether with technological developments or resource scarcity and ecosystem/climate trouble – but having skills for contributing well to your life and other’s, being able to grow food and cook, looking after your body and mind, fulfilling (real) needs and having the skills to not only use smartphones but also create the tools necessary to produce necessities will remain as necessary as it has always been.

There is a whole world of things we have forgotten how to do, which will be needed as long as there are human beings around, and through which, in using and further developing our capacities and adaptability, we can survive and thrive.

Forget smart objects and the crazy convenience increasingly sought and seen as normal (expected, even), and get smart yourself. Your skills and your social network (of family and local friends, or in networks working together, e.g. in cooperatives, not on Facebook or LinkedIn) will be the foundation on which to build. As it, too, has been for most of human history.

The Negative Path to Happiness…*

Ultimately, it is particularly interesting to observe how such ways of living are (again being) born of necessity, but can lead forward towards happiness, towards lives that are truly, multiply, better.

Good – and simply necessary – work for living and making a living, satisfying needs, using locally available resources and producing more, in creative rather than destructive ways… it’s what makes for decent living. Sure, there are problems in trying to do so, great challenges – all the more so now that aspirations we have been sold on are for easy progress and convenient life – but they are worth it and faced for good reason.

Now, in fact, these entrepreneurial engagements for living and doing well can, fascinatingly, end up in the same place where contemporary luxury is increasingly finding its best future chances… which will be subject of the third post on this topic.


* h/t Oliver Burkeman, “The Antidote” (author’s page / amazon.com affiliate link

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