What Makes a Good Life?

Last night I “just happened” to find a link to the Good Life Project video page, and I “just happened” to watch over an hour of Jonathan Fields’ conversation with Alex Hillman and Amy Hoy about “bootstrapping, community, and fun.”  If you aren’t familiar with the Good Life Project, this video will give you a good sense of what they’re about:

They even have an early fall “Summer Camp for Aspiring World-Shakers” that sounds like a lot of fun … and a lot of inspiration.  I don’t think I’ll be going this year, but just reading about the program warms my heart and encourages me to start building something similar, but not identical, with a joyful learning community in These Parts.  It also gets me thinking about what makes a good life, and about how my definition of a good life has changed over the years.  This piece, which a Latin Family member “just happened” to share the other day, probably played a part, too.

At one time, Before Children, the thought of spending a quiet day with The Boy as he recovers from minor surgery … well, let’s just say it wouldn’t have been at the top of my list.  Today, I can’t think of anything better to do.  When circumstances change, perspectives change with them … and that can affect your notion of what a good life is and how you might go about making one.

When I was a newly-minted teacher, I thought I’d be able to make a good life within Schools As They Are.  I certainly wasn’t blind to their faults, or to the ways that they serve young people and families poorly.  But I thought I could make a positive change, at least on the micro-level of individual interactions with particular students and their families … and I hoped that positive change would be contagious.  I also thought the rest of my life could rotate around my professional life and identity, and I thought there’d be enough hours in the day to do everything well.

Reality intervened, of course.  But I still hear from Latin Family members of that era pretty regularly.  They share pictures of their children, news of their families and careers, recipes, sometimes even advice in their areas of expertise.  I’m grateful that they’ve been able to make a good life for themselves, and I’m grateful for that chapter in my own life.  I’m glad we were able to align our needs, to borrow a phrase from Chris Lehmann’s brilliant post … and I’m glad that I didn’t always impose my own needs or claim to speak for them when disagreements and conflicts arose.

To borrow Richard Elmore’s framework from the “Leaders of Learning” edX course, I guess we were making a good life in a hierarchical collective way.  It worked well because we had a general agreement about the purpose and value of our shared work, because preparing for college and going to a good one still represented a ticket to success for most Latin Family members.

And then, slowly but surely, the world changed.  D’s story is probably symbolic, and so is T’s.  Both “just happened” to switch over to Latin from Another Language as seniors; both loved their time in the Latin Family; both are still in touch with me from time to time.  D worked at the Local Bookstore for a while, rising to a management position as she slowly worked her way through a program at the local community college.  T went to a Nearby University for a semester or two, but some “family drama” intervened.  She’s living in a Small Nearby Town, working there, thinking about maybe going to the Nearby Community College for something or other.

If you asked them, both D and T would probably say life is pretty good.  It certainly is for D and her husband; I know because I “just happened” to see them yesterday.  But for D, T, and so many others, the simple process of making a good life turned into a longer, more difficult road than what Ms. X, Mr. Y, and I told them.  “Go to college,” we said or implied, “and you’ll get a nice, safe job in a nice, large company … with benefits and everything.”

The reality?  A totally different world.  Of course, there are still some large organizations where you can make a good life, as B and K and lots of others are doing.  There are still some good colleges that will prepare you well to make a good life, and lots of Latin Family Members are attending them.  But there’s not one simple, guaranteed way to make a good life anymore … not the way there seemed to be when I was young and the world was different.

That makes for a harder world in some ways, but I guess it’s an imperfect, yet excellent world.  It’s the only world available in any case!  And I keep thinking about making a good life with, not for a joyful learning community … and how that works in a world where the simple, guaranteed ways are no longer simple and no longer guaranteed.  How do you make a good life in a world that’s more distributed than hierarchical, a world where the tools designed for limited, slowly-changing knowledge can’t even begin to manage the constant, overwhelming flow of newly-generated information?

How do you avoid the life-equivalent of 20th-century-model failures like this one?

There are so many ways, of course, but a primary one is to build a joyful learning community around the endeavor.  Don’t try to be the hero, and don’t try to do everything yourself.  Look for right times and right opportunities, and move forward joyfully when it’s time … and don’t be afraid of temporary setbacks and failures.  Good advice for me on the brink of Something New, and good advice for all of us as we navigate a new reality.

I wonder what other insights and discoveries await!

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Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 7:07 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] do, in the distributed framework that will nourish, not starve my soul?  Or in the terms I used yesterday,  what will make a good life for me and my […]


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