Who knew that leading a clean green lifestyle could be a competitive sport? I sure didn’t.
When I decided to live a greener lifestyle several years ago I had the right attitude: I was proud of small changes and that pride propelled me to want to do even more. I was no saint, and by no means did I expect a medal for purchasing reusable shopping bags or growing organic veggies. It just felt good to do my part, even in a small way.
So what burst my pink bubble of green living? It is something that I like to call one-upmanship.
So what exactly is a one-upper? He or she is a person who can’t help but be competitive about every healthy change you make. You mention that you juice; they tell you that you should be drinking green smoothies. You tell them about an amazing walk and the one-upper boasts about their righteous run. If you are running, they have switched to Bikram yoga because it is so much better for the soul.
You know the type because we all have one in our lives. The one-upper doesn’t so much say that your efforts are wrong as much as point out that the way they are doing things is more right.
My first eco-friendly project was to switch out my conventional cleaning supplies for all natural products. I had written a magazine article on the subject and was appalled that I had unknowingly been storing a cache of toxic chemicals under my kitchen sink for my entire adult life. I lugged an entire line of green cleaning products home from the market and went to town on my apartment. I must admit I was pretty darn pleased with myself.
But when I mentioned my project to a friend, she shook her head. “No, no, no. To really be eco-friendly you have to make your own cleansers. Like I do.” She patted my hand and launched into cleanser recipes I should concoct.
Sadly, I couldn’t hear her advice over the steam coming out of my ears. I was furious. I had spent time doing research on products, spoken to experts on the subject and spent money buying better, safer cleaning supplies. I had even gone out of my way to safely dispose of my toxic products, thankyouverymuch. Why was I getting a dismissive pat on the hand when I felt that I deserved a pat on the back?
Since I surround myself with like-minded people who are all working towards similar clean goals, I think the Pollyanna in me expected gentleness, an all-for-one-and-one-for-all kind of sisterhood where accomplishments are uniformly acknowledged and back patting is a way of life.
But then I realized something: an eco-friendly life is still life. And, like all other communities, this community – do gooders, though we are – is not exempt from ego, from judgment or from one-upmanship.
Just like those guys I see in the weight room at the gym, trying to out lift and out squat each other, competition is a part of life. And, in and of itself, competition isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it is often what propels us forward and makes us challenge what we have long assumed to be our limits.
The problem is that – in making lifestyle changes, just like in lifting weights – if you try to do more than you can handle all at once, you’ll burn out (and maybe even hurt yourself.) Slow but steady wins the race. There is a reason these adages exist.
What I have come to learn is that there will always be someone who is willing to point out that he is guzzling three gallons of green juice to my 8-measly-ounces, and another who will critique my composting methods, despite the colony of worms I have living on my back deck. Another thing I have come to learn? I can’t listen to any of them. I am trying to make changes that feel authentic and important to me. And my guess is, since you are on this website in the first place, so are you.
But what to do about those pesty people who make us feel bad when we are trying to do good? I have simply vowed to press the mute button on the naysayers, whether they are real people who are trying to tear down my efforts, or the voice I hear is my own inner critic whispering that I am a failure for not leading a 100 percent eco-friendly, vegan lifestyle, as of, like, yesterday.
Everything in life is a process and this process of change and growth and exploration is one that I fully intend to enjoy, one-uppers, naysayers and inner critics be damned.