Two of the biggest catchwords of the 21st century are “paradigm” and “sustainable”. I’ve noticed that college professors and the overeducated use the word “paradigm” a lot, while society’s fancy pants and hoity-toity tend to over-use the word “sustainable”. If you hear someone use both words in the same sentence you can bet your boots you are in the presence of someone with pink palms who belongs to a country club, is adorned with big shiny baubles, prefers their chicken to be “free range” and adds an “e” to words like moderne. They attend the theatre while you and I go to the theater.
I try not to ever use the highfalutin word “paradigm” because I find it much overused and also because I have no idea what it means. For all I know a “pair-a-dime” is just a nickel short of a quarter.
The hip word “sustainable” is especially popular with the environmentally conscious. I know one young man who actually graduated with a sustainability degree in college who is now waiting tables at Olive Garden. His life isn’t exactly what I’d call “sustainable”. And when an “e” bank that only loaned to alternative energy companies went bankrupt a year ago I’m quite sure it was because it had more Vice Presidents of Sustainability than it had depositers.
I’m probably the most unsustainable person in the world. Recently I read a list of the 10 most unsustainable professions in the country and I was surprised to discover that I’ve made a career out of four of them: I’m a writer, owned a newspaper and have been a rancher and a cowboy. According to the experts none of these careers was “sustainable” and I should have ended up a homeless person living under a bridge with all my possessions in a shopping cart.
Personally, I think all this sustainability stuff is unsustainable. You can go to all the sustainability conferences in the world and have a rock solid business plan but the minute you put your plan into action, it will stop raining, you’ll lose a lease, a mad cow will pop up in your herd, your horse will put you into a body cast for six months, Ted Turner will buy a ranch right next door with bad fences and stock it with bison, the climate will change (as it always does), or you’re wife will leave you and take your sustainability with her.
What could possibly be more sustainable than a cow ranch where it rains semi-regularly, you have a gaggle of able-bodied children to provide free labor and a wife with a job in town? And yet we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of just such family ranches in the past twenty years who found that you can live off of a ranch, or you can improve a ranch, or you can pay off a ranch, but you can’t do more than one at any given time.
Steve Jobs was one of the co-founders of what has grown to be the largest corporation in the world. The casual observer might think that if anyone had a sustainable job it was Steve and yet he was fired from his own Board of Directors and died way too early from pancreatic cancer. His death was a reminder that life itself is not sustainable. We all have an expiration date no matter how sustainable you think you are.
I’m a big believer in timing and luck. That’s the only explanation I can think of why one child gets born in a castle to royalty while another to poverty in the slums of Calcutta. (Wealth, I’ve found, is a highly heritable trait.) One deadbeat stays broke buying lottery tickets while another wins half a billion in the lottery and starts collecting Bugattis and Ferraris.
The only constant in business these days is change and it’s how you adapt to this change that determines your sustainability. So go ahead, write all the sustainability plans you want and figure out a way to hand down your ranch to the next generation, but be advised that the government can change the rules or move the goalposts at any time.
The only thing I’ve found in life that’s sustainable is love. Love of your spouse, your kids, your country and your God. And that’s been the paradigm now for over 6,000 years.