“Do not aspire beyond your scope and your own being.”
This is one of the lessons that Pitchi, the robin bird taught to the Anishinaabe people long ago.
When I read these words in Ojibway Heritage, I felt a deep resonance inside.
Here was the robin bird, the very bird that I was named after, sharing with me one of the simplest yet most powerful lessons. And this lesson aligned with exactly what I had come to realize over the last few years.
I have been trying to do too much.
I have been aspiring beyond what I am capable of and I have been spread too thin.
I thought I could do it all.
In 2018, I embarked on a project to grow and forage 100% of my food for a year. Although I had an incredible amount to learn, this was very much within my scope. Since 2013, my form of activism has been to embark on extreme adventures that immerse me in an issue that I am passionate about and that take others on the journey with me. I explore and I share my exploration through writing, speaking, videos and interviews with the media. Through these activism campaigns, I have deepened my practice of living in harmony with Earth, humanity and the plants and animals we share this home with. At the same time, I have brought millions of people along on this journey. I am truly living my purpose in life, which is to live a life of truth and integrity (being the change I wish to see in the world), while inspiring, educating and empowering millions of others on this same path of truth and integrity through sustainable living.
This is what is within my scope and my own being. But I thought I could do it all.
At the same time as I embarked on Food Freedom, I also launched numerous community programs – Free Seed Project, Gardens for the People, Community Fruit Trees and Community Compost. I had been doing some of these programs a bit since 2014, but in early 2018 I was approached by Live Like Ally Foundation. They were excited to partner with me to expand these programs to help others grow their own food, compost, plant fruit trees and live more sustainably. I was elated for them to provide the finances to help me to accomplish something I so deeply desired to accomplish. I wanted to be of service to my local community in Orlando and to our greater human community.
So, at the same time as I was embarking on the incredibly time and energy-intensive project of growing and foraging 100% of my food for a year and building my tiny house from secondhand materials, I was launching numerous community initiatives which meant managing a team of people, managing relationships with our program recipients, managing the money, documenting the initiatives and creating templates to help these programs be duplicable in other communities. It was a lot to take on and I thought that I could do it all.
I was excited about every facet of this activism and this service, but I often found myself overwhelmed and anxious. I found that there was never enough time in a day to complete everything I hoped to. I worked morning to night on many days, but my “to do” list did not dwindle as much as I hoped. Rather, I found myself constantly adding to my “to do” list. I was in love with so much of what I was doing and I constantly had new ideas that I wanted to pursue within the programs I had developed. But again, I was anxious and overwhelmed.
I hadn’t expected that I would be overwhelmed. I thought I was taking on a proportionate amount of service to what I could feel comfortable doing. This was the beginning of my journey of realizing that I just could not do everything that I thought I could.
Onto 2020, I had completed my year of growing and foraging 100% of my food. I had moved on from Florida after my two years there as planned. I had developed these programs to a certain extent, but still had much development to do. I had been on a world speaking tour and had one-and-a-half years of my life planned, but those plans crumbled with the onset of Covid. So I had to decide what to do next. I landed upon returning to Florida to host a team of people to work on these programs in service to Earth and humanity. I found someone who offered a home to do a work trade with so that I could host this team of people and I brought on about nine people for a three-month internship. In exchange for lodging and food plus a stipend, they worked on these community programs with me. There was a lot of excitement and joy for this opportunity to live in service while deepening their own connections with Earth.
I found the months ahead to be the most anxious of my life. While taking on the task of being of service to the community, I had taken on a more time and energy-intensive task of managing a team of people. I had some experience in this, but not in this way. I was responsible for their service, their food and their lodging. And I lived in the home too, so I had a personal relationship with each member of the team. What I found was that these relationships and the logistics of management were so time-consuming that I was struggling to find the time I needed to focus on the programs themselves. I was struggling to bring integrity to the programs. I had assumed that managing people would not be too difficult. I had learned a lot over the last few years of working with people and thought that I would be able to apply what I learned to manage a team with ease. However, I had substantially underestimated the task at hand.
Throughout this time, I had plans and aspirations to continue my activism campaigns, writing, video production, speaking and media interviews. All of these forms of service were neglected. And ironically, these are all the ways in which I had found a flow and great success in reaching humanity with messages of positive change. There was no certainty that the programs would be a success, but I thought I could do it all so I pursued them. At the same time, I had so much personal growth I was working on especially educating myself on environmental justice and the intersectionality of Black and Indigenous liberation with environmentalism, overcoming my racial biases, understanding my privilege and my place in society and making my service more accessible and inclusive.
After six months of service with my team in Florida, I decided to move to Asheville, North Carolina. Three of the teammates moved with me and we continued our service there. I had already been realizing that I could not do everything that I thought I could, so I was cutting back and focusing on the programs that were the most productive and impactful – Free Seed Project, Community Fruit Trees and Films for the People. This freed up more time for my other service and activism. My skills as a leader and manager had improved, but I still found myself overwhelmed and anxious. There was still much conflict in my relationships and I was struggling a lot. I was just trying to be of service, but still the relationships took so much of my time and energy.
In early 2022, I came across Nonviolent Communication, also called Compassionate Communication. Actually, I had heard about it for years, but finally decided to take some classes. I hired a local facilitator named Steve Torma to share NVC with my team. Over a period of seven weeks, he came to the house once a week for a two-hour education and practice session. It was deeply transformational for me and life changing for many of us. Through NVC, I learned the skill of empathy. I learned to communicate more compassionately. I learned how to relate in a way that met others needs to be understood, to be seen and heard. I learned so much. But it didn’t come overnight and it didn’t come easily. It took practice. For the year ahead, I practiced NVC for up to twenty hours per week. I took 101, 201, 301 and 401. I read the book four times. I took 101 numerous times. I incorporated the practice into all of our team meetings. It was transformational. But it wasn’t magic. I still struggled in my relationships with teammates. I still struggled to manage in a way that met the needs of the people who worked with me. At the same time my anxiety and stress was decreasing drastically. My relationships were improving. My management was improving. My life was substantially more wonderful.
I hosted a team in Asheville for a total of one-and-a-half years. Much of the team changed from season to season as they were generally shorter-term positions. As I reflected on my challenges, I was very happy with where I had come as a manager. I was very happy with many of my relationships. But the struggle continued. At the same time, I started to analyze my last five years of running these community programs to see how much we accomplished.
Over five years, we:
• Provided free seed packs to 40,000 people, schools and organizations. With these seeds we shared the potential to grow and eat millions of dollars of homegrown, healthful food.
• Planted over 2,000 Community Fruit Trees in communities across the United States.
• Built about 30 Gardens for the People, with the people.
• Created and installed 15 Free Seed Libraries and established a template program for others to start their own.
• Launched two Community Compost Programs and established a template program for others to start their own. These programs rescued thousands of pounds of food from going to landfills.
• Created educational guides and videos to help people grow their own food and plant fruit trees.
• Supported teams of interns in St. Petersburg, Florida and Asheville, North Carolina planting and growing in the community. These interns deepened their skills of growing food and sustainable living as they worked and lived in community.
• Volunteered hundreds of hours with the communities we served including working side by side with the St. Pete Youth Farm for three months to help build up the farm.
• Produced around 200 videos supporting grassroots activists, nonprofits and initiatives, with the last few years especially supporting Black and Indigenous women. These videos were viewed millions of times.
• Provided scholarships to dozens of people, primarily people of color, to attend transformational events and classes.
• Directed thousands of dollars of funding into grassroots nonprofits.
We did all of this on a relatively small budget.
One of the reasons that we were able to do it on such a small budget was because I created these intern and volunteer programs where I provided food and lodging in exchange for service. This allowed me to use the nonprofits resources in a more effective manner and to provide a higher value to the teammates. But what I found is that the money that was saved was not creating the outcome I desired. Where I saved money I had to put in an incredible amount of time into the management of relationships as well as the logistics of managing a house, sourcing the food and attempting to provide a deeply meaningful experience and education for the team. As I reflected on the last five years and analyzed them, I saw that it wasn’t adding up. The time and energy that went into all of that did not equal the outcome of service and impact that I was striving for. And it was all coming at a huge cost to my own health. I had come to the full realization and acceptance that I could not do it all.
My most effective form of service – my activism and simply letting my life be my message – had fallen by the wayside. My own integrity had been shaved away a bit as I worked to earn money to support the initiatives and the team. I found myself stuck in situations of whether to live in my highest integrity or make exceptions to support the organization to be the most impactful. An example of that was when I did a commercial for Acer Laptops in exchange for $32,000 for the nonprofit. Not a penny of that went to me (Learn about my personal financial commitments here.) But I played into the greenwashing of Acer and I lost some of my integrity as I earned the funds so we could help more people through our programs.
I was still living in integrity to a large degree, but I didn’t even have the time to write about it, speak about it or do media. I did manage to do two major activism campaigns during this time – 30 Days of Wearing My Trash in LA and 30 Days of Foraging 100% of My food. I also completed two books for children. I was saying no to most of these opportunities. Although in some ways my life was transitioning into a higher state of integrity – I was overcoming racial biases, overcoming sexist biases, becoming a more empathetic and compassionate person, developing important skills as a leader – my integrity was not as high in living in presence and mindfulness, living sustainably, simply and independently of destructive systems as I wanted it to be.
I reflected on the truth that I was doing too much to do it with full integrity.
We rushed in choosing our Gardens for the People recipients. Because of this, many of the gardens didn’t last. We often got our Free Seed Packs out late, resulting in people starting their gardens late in the season. Being over-tasked, we didn’t put enough diligence in to communicating with our recipients to find out how the programs were working and not working.
After a few years of trying, I came to terms that I was not going to be successful with getting these programs to run without me. I always thought I would be able to establish the programs and almost completely pass off the management, but it took me so much longer to establish the programs than I expected, my own management skills got in the way and I wasn’t able to bring in the right people.
It was clear that I couldn’t do it all. It was clear I had to make conscious and strategic decisions of what to continue and what to put a pause on or stop doing completely.
At the same time I had another big realization. I don’t actually love managing people. I don’t want to manage people. Managing people does not bring me joy. It is a means to an end. I am trying to be of service to Earth and humanity and that is the purpose of managing people. Yet such a huge proportion of my life had become dedicated to managing people. This disproportionate allocation of my time and energy was not in high integrity. To live in integrity, I needed to take a break from managing people and dealing with the logistics of hosting a team. After three years, it was time to put a pause on the community house.
In late 2022, that is what I did. I went to Florida for the winter. I paused some of the programs. I stopped doing fundraising. I ended most of the bills of the nonprofit. I decided to put much more of my time and energy into my own activism and equally importantly to put serious time into bringing everything in my life into integrity. Within a couple weeks of leaving the house in Asheville, I did a ten-day silent meditation retreat and it was incredibly transformational. Clarity and focus returned to me like I had rarely seen it in the previous five years.
As I worked to bring everything I was doing into integrity and to fully catch up in life, I continued Free Seed Project and Community Fruit Trees. I created a substantial educational video series on how to grow your own food, which I’d been wanting to do for years. I also took much time to myself to connect with Earth. But although I had learned the lesson that I couldn’t do it all, I struggled to put that into practice. I started two new initiatives, the Grow Your Own Toiler Paper Initiative along with my activism tour of Florida as well as the Food Forest Starter Bundle. I underestimated the workload of both of these campaigns. I also brought on teammates (now as solely paid teammates without lodging and food) and still struggled with management. I found myself overwhelmed and anxious again, although very much in love with the service that I was doing. But I saw once again, I could not do everything that I thought I could.
It is now late 2023 and I have been diligently catching up on much of what I’ve not found time to do in the last few years. I am cutting back on my programs. With some sadness, I have officially put a pause on Free Seed Project and Community Fruit Trees for 2024. I ended Websites for the People. I have paused the Food Forest Starter Bundle and the Grow Your Own Toilet Paper Initiative. I hosted my first immersive schools this year – Barefoot School and Foraging School – and I have completed them.
I created a few videos that share an update on my life. I am actively writing about 40 articles that I’ve wanted to write for the last five years, many of which are foundational to my activism, specifically to my life being my message. I am completing my Food Freedom book, which is three years delayed. I am completing my return to Robin from Rob, which with ten years of public work, has been quite the project in itself. I am putting time and energy into updating much of the content I’ve made over the last ten years. And after a few years of neglecting my website, which is my central resource for education, inspiration and empowerment, I am doing some back-end improvement. One of my big missions this year has been to break free from industrial clothing and transition into wearing 100% homemade, natural fiber, naturally-dyed clothing. This has been on the top of my list of goals since 2016 and I am only now nearing completion of this goal. I will be doing my second ten-day silent retreat in December.
Throughout all of this, I am working diligently to solidify my vision and my strategy of how I can be of best service with the life that I have. I have learned clearly that I can’t do it all. I deeply believe that to me more effective, I must do less. I must do less, so that I can do more. I must do less, so that I can do everything I do with integrity. I believe the highest service that I can offer to the world is to be the change that I wish to see in the world and to live it out loud. I would love to be able to offer physical resources such as seeds and trees to every person who would like them. I would love to be able to provide grants to every budding activist and community initiative. But I have seen quite clearly that I can’t do that right now and still give my greatest gift to humanity.
For now, I will be returning to my activism. My next campaign is in the planning stage and I will be in Los Angeles for this. I will share this campaign in the near future. In 2024, I will focus on living in a deep state of integrity with Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives. I will carry out numerous activism campaigns. I will write, speak, produce videos and do interviews with the media. I will support other activists and humans in service through my presence and my online platforms. I will meet with colleagues and collaborate with them in spreading messages of positive change. Through living my message, I will positively influence many of the fellow humans whom I meet, wherever I go.
I will continue to live my simple life. I will live closely to Earth. I will take care of my body and my mind. I will do my best to speak compassionately and be empathetic with others. I will act from a place of love. I will practice mindfulness and presence. I will celebrate life and celebrate others. I will live in gratitude, the greatest medicine I know. I will own few possessions because I will feel complete with the gifts of Earth and humanity. I will live radically outside of destructive systems. I will continue to deprogram my biases and the dominator culture within me. I will continue to embrace truth, transparency, non-delusionalism and impermanence. I will practice the art of silence and of mindful walking. I will harvest my food from the Earth. I will walk with my bare feet on the Earth. I will bathe in Earth’s water. I will place my highest value on relationships, rather than money and material possessions. I will disconnect, in order to truly connect. I will foster inter-dependence, rather than the delusion of independence. Through all of this, I will strive to be of highest service to Earth and humanity.
Reflecting on the last five years, while I do mourn when I was not as compassionate with my teammates as I would have liked, I think that everything happened for a reason. These few years of struggle have no doubt been an investment in my next few decades as a leader and as a servant.
I did not accomplish all that I was aspiring to from these years, but I accomplished a lot that I didn’t plan to. I believe that much of what I did accomplish will be incredibly foundational to all of my service ahead. I am so grateful that I didn’t go on for many more years without learning these lessons and gaining these skills. I am also grateful to have learned these lessons now and to be acting upon them now, as I could very well have gone on for decades more thinking I could do it all.
My balance now is to live within my own scope and my own being. I will certainly have the temptation and the desire to do it all, or at least more than I can. And I’m sure I will take on more than I can sometimes. But I will do my best to stay within my scope and my own being, striving to focus on one task at a time with mindfulness, presence. and integrity.