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3 Ways To Embrace Imperfection & Be A Gentle Environmental Activist

Anita Vandyke, MD
Doctor & zero-waste advocate
By Anita Vandyke, MD
Doctor & zero-waste advocate
Anita Vandyke is a qualified rocket scientist, medical doctor, and, most importantly, mother to Vivian. She was born in Guangzhou, China, raised in Australia, and currently splits her time between Sydney and San Francisco. She has a Bachelor of Engineering in Aeronautical Space and received her Doctor of Medicine from The University of Notre Dame Sydney. She is the author of A Zero Waste: In Thirty Days and A Zero Waste Family: In Thirty Days.
Last used 04.04.2022
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April 5, 2022
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Before my daughter came along, I was the stereotypical Type-A personality with a five-year plan, a regimented morning routine, and a daily schedule that was so tightly packed that my secretary had to schedule in toilet breaks.

But all this fell to pieces when my daughter was born. You see, babies don't have a schedule—and they certainly don't give a rat's ass about your morning routine. Five-year plans? Pfft, you can't even make a five-minute plan. This, you can imagine, for a Type-A personality, was a shock to my system. 

On the outside, I was pretending I was still managing. But the pressure I had placed on myself to have it all and look good while doing so was a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

Then came my "straw that broke the camel's back" incident. 

I was sitting at my favorite café after a 10-hour day at the hospital. I was currently on a surgical rotation and hadn't eaten all day, and all I wanted was a green smoothie. I said to the server, "No straw, please. I am trying to reduce my waste." He nodded and smiled. "Of course, we need more people like you." In that moment, I was the zero-waste girl, the bestselling author, the happy mother, the diligent medical student.

The smoothie arrived…and it had a straw. I immediately burst into tears. It was literally the (plastic) straw that broke the camel's back.

I was inconsolable. You'd think that that straw meant the demise of all sea life. You'd think that that straw was the cause of all the methane in our atmosphere. But really, what that straw represented was overwhelm. I was completely and utterly overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by being a full-time medical student; I was overwhelmed by being a new mother; and I was overwhelmed with trying to live a perfect, zero-waste life.

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How I'm now working through my eco-guilt.

Since becoming a mother, I've experienced "mother's guilt" on a regular basis. Unsurprisingly, as that day in the café shows, this guilt has also expanded into other areas of my life, including a newly formed eco-guilt. For the first time ever, eco-anxiety has entered the psychiatric lexicon. It's a term used to describe the anxiety that we face about the future of our planet. Eco-anxiety is a real thing; we should be anxious about climate change, plastic pollution, dying ecosystems, and mass extinction—but this anxiety should fuel our fire to want to make a change (no matter how small) rather than overwhelm us.

We don't need another thing to add to the guilt of motherhood, but we do need to appreciate that every small act leads to a bigger change—a change in mindset, a change in lifestyle, and eventually, a change in the well-being of our planet.

As I write this now, my hair is unwashed, the dinner isn't ready, the baby is crying, and I haven't prepared for my medical exam tomorrow. I am tired. This tiredness is more than just a general sense of fatigue. It is a bone-tiredness that comes with sleepless nights, and the guilt of not doing enough. Not enough for your child, not enough at work, not enough for the environment. Enough. Enough of that. Here are three ways I'm trying to embrace being an imperfect environmentalist.

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3 essential tips for being a gentle activist:


Go with the flow.

As a parent, I've learned to be flexible and not to try to control the outcome. This mindset also applies to activism. It is important to be adaptable and flexible when adopting your zero-waste lifestyle. Some days you'll be kicking butt, and other days you might be succumbing to plastic-wrapped snacks that your children are nagging you for. Don't beat yourself up about it. It is important to know that tomorrow is a new day, and you can always try again.

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Embrace the "mother" in Mother Earth.

Being a parent has made me so much more attuned to nature and the world around me. I think this is because I've come to realize how precious life is. Embrace the nurturing attitude that comes with being a parent, and use it to fuel the new habits you'll be adopting as a family.


Lead by example.

Children are our most important mirrors; they reflect the best and the worst of us. Your actions should reflect your values and the values you want your children to adopt. Let's be conscious of how we set foot in this world and try to leave a gentler footprint.

Adapted from an excerpt of A Zero Waste Family © 2022 Anita Vandyke. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Apollo Publishers. All rights reserved.

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