Stories from my personal journey learning about and delivering Nature-rooted programs across three different countries
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The truth is, I didn't really want to run a business. Business to me was about profits, and spreadsheets, and marketing - "selling" your idea or product to others in order to make money. Transactions.
I wanted to be outside, engaging with the "real world", feeling the sun, rain, and wind on my skin. And helping others do the same. I wanted to immerse myself in meaningful work, where I could feel I was making a difference and supporting communities (human and more-than-human) to thrive. Relationships.
And I believed, and still believe, that learning should be free. Why should the opportunity to deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world be restricted to those with the privilege of a full bank account? Especially when that privilege is often determined by circumstances beyond our own control. The luck of the draw. Those who score an upper hand when they are born (including myself!) continue to hold that upper hand?
So everything I offered through Forest Schooled when it started as a blog was free. At least for those who already had the money to access a computer and the internet (let's not be disillusioned here). But I made it as accessible as I could with the resources I had. It was my side project as I continued to work for non-profits and schools to do the work that I love and know I'm good at: creating and delivering programs, providing caring spaces for those who often feel uncared for, and linking myself and others to the natural world who society has come to neglect. The blog was a way for me to share my stories as I did this with the wider world, and it became encouraging to see that it inspired and supported others in its own way. It became another means of "doing the work".
But even public- and grant-funded institutions like non-profits and public schools aren't immune to the grips of a financially driven world. Values that are espoused for working towards a "greater good" are so often compromised for the security of a paycheck. I experienced this over and over, as I moved from work place to work place in an effort to try to uphold my values whilst also "surviving" in this current system.
But the thing is, I couldn't find anywhere actually managing to do what they were saying they wanted to do (or at least doing it well). Environmental organizations who held missions to protect green spaces were investing in construction developments for hotel chains in other parts of the country to earn money to do it. Sacrificing one green space for another? Is that really protecting green spaces? Or just the one your community sees?
It made me feel hopeless. Like being community- and ecologically- minded in this world just wasn't possible. So I succumbed to anxiety and depression. I think it's important to share that. To de-stigmatize talking about issues around mental health. My body literally shut down. I couldn't eat anything but rice without feeling sick to my stomach. I had headaches almost everyday. I felt exhausted and, on particularly bad days, I couldn't string a coherent sentence together. All I could do was stay in bed.
What was happening to me? It was scary.
I knew I had to do something to help myself. The gentle and patient care of a loving partner and finding an incredible counsellor who values holistic healing were two major things that helped get me out of bed and back on my feet.
The other, and probably most significant factor was listening to, and believing, that there is a different story to be told.
I listened to the audio book of If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie.
I watched videos of Pat McCabe "Woman Stands Shining."
And I supported events where diverse speakers could share their experiences, which are different from the dominant narrative. This video of some amazing young people I worked with last summer is powerful.
In other words, I started opening myself up to the voices of those who have been formerly disregarded and silenced.
The world is listening to those stories even more now due the hard and inspiring work of movements like Black Lives Matter. These voices cannot be ignored anymore.
We must hold ourselves accountable to change, otherwise we are perpetuating violence and oppression.
Hard to hear? Yes. Harder to experience? Even more so.
In times past when I noticed businesses and workplaces not holding themselves accountable to values of equity... inclusion... justice... (for people and the environment), I tried to speak out. Do you know how often I heard a version of the phrase, "We're not ready yet..."? And in moments of fear I would quiet down, tell myself I needed to be more patient, that it was me that was causing the problem.
This past year I stopped doing that. If others aren't ready, then I'm going to try it myself.
We need a different way of living. A way that centres the health of our communities in all that we do. That builds trust and authentic relationships. That acknowledges modes of exchange other than money and does this through the lens of reciprocity. That works to restore and repair damage done.
That is why I turned Forest Schooled into a business. Am I scared? Shitless. But I don't see another way. If business is still the language of this world, then I'm going to learn it and craft some new words and sentences until I have a way to dialogue in a manner that speaks to my heart.
And if you're another soul out there working to do things differently too, please reach out. The more we support each other, the more strength this new story gathers, and the more likely it will be to inspire change.
So, without further ado, please join me in welcoming Forest Schooled to the new world of business:
*"As Gary Nabhan has written, we can't meaningfully proceed with healing, with restoration, without "re-story-ation." In other words, our relationship with the land cannot heal until we hear its stories. But who will tell them?" - Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 9
And if you'd like to join me in this brave and challenging task to re-imagine the business world, please check out our online Professional Learning Community: GROW your Nature Business. GROW stands for Gatherings for Reflection, Observation, and shared Wisdom because we're acknowledging that we are all learners and teachers who can support one another through our individual and collective processes of growth and transformation. I've also created an online resource called Planning your Nature-based Business which includes access to my business plan template specifically adapted to speak to both business language and the hearts of nature-based entrepreneurs.
Hope to see you soon.
Caylin (Forest Schooled)