Sustainability Prelude: Why I’m doing what I’m doing

Ambivalence and uncertainty seems to be a recurring theme in my life.  For many people, these emotions may cause anxiety. I am no exception to this feeling, but I try converting it into a sense of excitement and wonder.  To gain clarity about my next step, I took out a sheet of paper and wrote down 20 things I must do before dying.  As if this wasn’t a difficult enough task, I chose only 1 out of the 20 that would have the greatest impact on my life if I started doing it immediately.

I did this exercise in late 2012, as I was nearing my graduation from with a BA in International Relations and Chinese. I had received a great formal education and lived in China for 2 years, polishing my language skills and working for the Chinese Travel Channel.  I had the opportunity to go back to China and pursue a career in the entertainment industry and although it seemed like a dazzling path, I felt like something was missing.


I love to entertain but I also want to do something that is personally meaningful, I want to help bring about a better world for people on Earth and I didn’t feel like the entertainment sector would be the arena to embark on this journey. Hence, out of the 20 life goals I wrote down that day, I chose: the creation of a Green City and, eventually, a Green World in which the human ecosystem is intimately integrated into the larger ecosystem of our planet – a sort of human-nature integration. I aspire to help transition human society to a way of living that regenerates the ever-decaying ecological health and human physical, mental and spiritual health.

My motivation comes from observation of the obvious: a continual decline of the state of the natural world and a continual decline of quality of life – people spend less time with each other and are more disconnected from the world around them. Despite all of our modern technological advancements, life is losing its meaning for many people. It’s a perpetual cycle of repetitive work in the name of economic growth that is devoid of creative self-expression and other meaningful ways of living in the name of truth, love, justice, peace, and fun.

Unsustainable cityUrban Sprawl

Who said that advancement in modern technology can’t be fun? Who said that working can’t be fun? Who said that school can’t be fun? Not only are these things fun, they are fascinating. And when approached with a genuine sense of love and discipline they can be extremely beneficial to life on Earth. But, unfortunately, most people are not having fun in life and they dread waking up every morning to live another day dedicated solely to meeting their survival needs. It’s good to remind ourselves that there is a difference between surviving and living, and most of us, quite frankly, are not living.

Today, most people do not go to work simply because they adore what they do and they want to make a meaningful contribution to the planet. Would you be at your current job if you were not getting paid any money? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? Some people really do love their job and for them, that is wonderful! But there are many people for which this is not the case.

On that day in late 2012, I thought to myself: How would I be spending my days if all of my basic survival needs were taken care of? Sure, some people would be unproductive and choose to be lazy all day. But I predict that doing this everyday would get very old, very fast. So, what would I do on a daily basis? Why am I here right now? What do I want to achieve? What am I doing with this opportunity to live as a human on planet Earth?

As these thoughts ran through my head, I jotted down some attributes to live by: happiness, daily healthy eating, sincerity, no verbal complaining, etc. Although I continue to cultivate these objectives on a regular basis, I chose to create a timeline and dedicate much of my energy towards creating a Green City – even though I had no idea where to start.


One day, I was sitting in my office at the USF Confucius Institute and told my boss about my Green City ideas. Astonishingly, the next step in my journey was literally only a few steps away. I had never even heard of the Patel College of Global Sustainability until that day and it was across the hall, on the same floor of the building I worked at!

I began the Master’s program in Global Sustainability the following fall and after a year and a half of coursework on sustainability principles, architecture, economics and engineering I had set the foundation and the connections from which to start building a sustainable city. Now, in my final semester of the MA program, I am in Asia once again, but this time, instead of acting on TV, I’m working towards building the Green City.

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