Melissa Everett's Professional Site

A sustainability maven explains what she actually does for a living…


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Early on, I tried to be a computer programmer to show Dad that I wasn’t flaky – which I was.  I quit before they fired me and hitch-hiked 14,000 miles around the U.S., Canada and Mexico by myself in 1980.  I wrote journals in truck stops and browsed in small town libraries.  I was picked up by a schoolteacher in California who made a detour through a nearby orange grove to fill a box (and my backpack) with oranges.  I had scary moments and expansive moments, and definitely developed some survival skills.  I came home with muscles for the first time in my life, and with a sense of clarity.

Communication, research and bringing people together….   engaged citizenship to oppose environmental hazards and stand for human rights… The first stepping-stone was participant-observer journalism, including covering a massive Take Back the Night women’s march in Boston and being one of 2,000 citizens arrested for peacefully blocking the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant construction site, an experience I wrote about in a cover story for New Age Journal.

The longer I was involved in advocacy, the tougher the questions seemed.  I moved into psychological research and shifted from articles to books, focusing on the changes in consciousness that give rise to civic engagement and dissent.  As I realized how many principled citizens faced backlash – whistleblowers, for example – I realized that the work of changemaking is not so much about knowing the right answers, but about helping people to take stands in personally appropriate ways.  I had the privilege of interviewing many people who had turned their lives upside down in the service of their values. Motivated by the richness of the stories I had to tell, I taught myself to be a good public speaker – in large part by giving a few horrible talks, one with my parents in the audience!

Having gotten through my midlife crisis early, I developed a fascination with the world of work and the development of work ethics.  I wrote Making a Living While Making a Difference: Conscious Careers for an Era of Interdependence to take a deep dive into that subject matter.  With the book as a calling card,  I had the privilege of helping a huge variety of people to figure out their paths:  from Harvard Divinity students to MBA candidates at Penn, to midcareer civil servants being laid off, to recent immigrants and 9/11 survivors in New York City. Carrying the book with me as I moved through life’s next opportunities, I had the opportunity to rewrite it – twice! – finally getting it right.  (And yes, I am the kind of person who thinks that is fun.)

For fifteen years, I have been a professional in the arenas of environment and sustainability,  with a clear awareness that we only protect the environment by creating low-impact, high-quality human communities.  I’ve had a chance to create and direct a regional nonprofit organization, Sustainable Hudson Valley. I’ve met pioneers like Hunter Lovins and Michael Shuman.  I’ve gotten a Ph.D. in the field and met practitioners in a dozen countries.   I’ve reframed the organization as many times as I’ve rewritten Making a Living While Making a Difference.  And the diligence is beginning to pay off.

While I truly do see work as play, I also know how to play for real.  I’ve watched a marionette performance in Prague, climbed a steep little mountain in Mexico, participated in a 200-person swim across the Hudson River, and just grew my first jalapeno pepper.  I spend half my time in the Hudson Valley of New York and the other half in Connecticut, a lifestyle that lets me cross-fertilize a great deal.  I keep rollerblades in the car, and have never met a Thai meal I didn’t like.




Written by melissaeverett

August 22, 2011 at 12:29 am

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