I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to sustainability. Sustainability is most often associated with environmentalism and overconsumption. Fossil fuel, for example, is a finite resource and therefore unsustainable. There is only so much oil and coal to be had. Whether there is enough to last the world twenty more years or three hundred more years, at some point the resource will run out. An energy policy based on the primary consumption of fossil fuel is unsustainable.

It isn’t just the environment

This is not an article about environmentalism. While that is one of the most common areas in which sustainability is discussed, sustainability can be applied to any situation in which a finite resource (fuel, money, time, food, etc.) must be relied upon. When you consume more than you add, you reduce the number of resources that you have. This is true for a society, a family, or even an individual. If I make $70,000 a year, but I spend $75,000 a year, I am maintaining an unsustainable lifestyle. At some point, unless a change is made, I will either run out of reserves. I will spend any money I have saved and I will use up any money that people are willing to loan. If I do not change on my own, change will be forced upon me. The situation will grow worse and worse until it is either fixed or disaster strikes.

Some Things Cannot Last

Life itself, at least on an individual basis, is unsustainable. Your body is a finite resource. Each day on earth, you use a little bit of it up. Even a healthy lifestyle is unsustainable. A well-cared-for body still comes with an expiration date. If you’re lucky, you have a hundred years. Most of us have somewhat less. Sometimes, when we think about sustainability, we have to be realistic. Just because a resource, such as your body, is finite, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. It just means that you have to use it wisely and well, with the knowledge that it won’t be around forever.

Writers and Resources

When you are dealing with a finite or variable resource, you need to plan for that. This is especially important for writers. A writer frequently has to deal with limited resources. Money, of course, is the ultimate limited resource. When you are out of money, it is hard to do much of anything. Time is a limited resource, especially when you have lots of work or a deadline to face. Interest and enthusiasm are variable resources. You can only do work you don’t enjoy for so long before it starts to take a toll.

Is your Writing Career Financially Sustainable?

Whether you are a freelance copywriter, a contract technical writer, or a full-time reporter, you should be considering the financial sustainability of your career. There are many types of writing careers, and there are issues to be faced in every one of them. Even the safest sounding of careers can have sustainability issues. Much of it depends on you, and the way you approach your career.

How long do you need your career to be sustainable?

When considering the sustainability of your career there are some questions you need to ask. The first question is how long do I want this career to last? Most people don’t intend to stay in the same job, or even the same career for their entire life. You might want to be a freelancer today, but you may not want it ten years from now. When considering sustainability, it is good to have a finite period of time in mind. If you don’t have a specific idea of how long you want your career to last, then a good time period to use is twenty years. Feel free to pick your own value though. If you do have an idea of what you want to transition to next, and when, part of your consideration should be about how you are going to position yourself for that next position.

How much money is enough money?

Money will always be a primary issue. You not only need to consider your income. You need to consider your spending. You also need to ask how much damage a major crisis would have on your income.

For almost three years, I managed to live strictly off the money I made from my websites and some freelancing. I never had enough money to put much of anything aside. I just managed to meet my obligations and no more. There was more than one point at which I thought I wasn’t going to meet my obligations, but somehow money always came when I needed it. That doesn’t mean that the career choice itself was unsustainable. I was very careful with the money I did have coming in, and that helped. I spent money only on essentials and made do without almost anything else.

That was a long time ago, and my situation has changed. I work a regular job now and income isn’t a sustainability issue. That doesn’t mean that finances are no longer an issue. When I had very little money coming in, I spent very little and I did my best to avoid debt because I knew how difficult it would be to pay back debt with so little money coming in. Unfortunately, the lessons I learned as a frugal blogger and freelancer did not carry over when I moved to a full-time income. I have acquired debts and spent money on items I never would have considered when I had less income. Financially, there are still sustainability issues in my life.

Can you make it through a crisis financially?

One of the key improvements that a full-time job has provided, is health insurance. As a web publisher and freelancer, I lived without it. If I had gone through even a minor medical emergency, it would have crushed me financially. Now, I have a job with paid time off and fairly good health insurance as well as short and long-term disability insurance. I can handle a minor or even a substantial health emergency. A while back I spent several days in the hospital because of my gallbladder. In earlier days, that would have been a killer financially.

Can you save for your future?

Another advantage of my current situation is that I now have retirement savings. I have access to a 401k, a pension program, and even stock options. Saving for the short term has been a problem for me, but saving for the long term has been somewhat better because of all of these programs. There are similar steps that independents can take, but it is more difficult.

More importantly, I have started to look at ways to maintain an income after I “retire”. I don’t anticipate having a day, at least in my sixties and early seventies, where I’m not doing something for money, but I don’t want to work a full-time job much after 65. That takes planning and looking at what my sustainable choices are.

It isn’t about career choice

It may sound as if I am knocking my time as a blogger and freelancer. I’m not. Being independent was not the central problem that I had. The central issue was one of income. I did not take the steps that would have added to my income and helped me save for emergencies or get insurance. Had I run my career more wisely then, I may never have needed to move to a “more secure” job.

The thing that you want to keep in mind is that you are looking for a way to make the right choices to keep doing what you do. That’s the part that is sustainability.

  • Have you planned?
  • Have you looked into your resources?
  • Do you know what you want to do?
  • And do you know what you want to change to doing later?

These are things you need to ask if you want your career to be sustainable.

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