William Powers, the author of New Slow City, published by New World Library in 2014, addressed Colorado College students and parents Sept. 25 during Family Weekend. Powers’ book, a memoir about downsizing to a micro apartment in New York City, currently is ranked #29 in Amazon’s books on sustainable development.
Vanessa Voller ’16, a sociology major, is largely responsible for bringing Powers to campus. She applied for and received a Visiting Speaker’s grant for just under $4,000 from the Dean’s Department.
“The process is a great opportunity for students to learn about grant writing, a marketable skill,” Voller said. “I met Bill while studying abroad last semester in Bolivia and have since worked with him on a World Policy Institute research project. I knew the student body would be very interested in the topics in his book.”
Powers has explored the American culture of speed and its alternatives in some 50 countries around the world, covering the subject in books and in articles in the Washington Post and the Atlantic. He is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and an adjunct faculty member at New York University. Prior, he worked for two decades in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, and North America.
New Slow City follows Powers and his wife’s move from a 1,900 square-foot townhouse to a 340 square-foot space.
“Living small was freeing, not a burden,” he said.
He talked to a group of Colorado College students during lunch about living a smaller, slower lifestyle and related topics including the perception of time, sustainability, technology, and development. His public lecture later in the day drew about 80 attendees, including students, faculty, staff, and parents who were on campus for Family Weekend.
He described that by working smarter, focusing his time on the tasks that were most rewarding, and giving himself tight deadlines, he managed to work only two or three days per week, while still earning 70 percent of his prior income.
For students interested in applying a similar process, he said that Colorado College’s Block Plan could potentially be better than the alternative.
“It depends on the consciousness you bring into it. If you’re demanding and critical of yourself you’d end up with stress and overwork,” he said.
Voller agreed. “The Block Plan is innovative, and at the same time it’s an incubator for stress. I’d get sick every Block Break,” she said. “We wear this busyness like a status symbol. Is this the type of community we want to be creating at CC?”
Powers advocates less busyness in the realm of work by reimagining working 24/7 to mean working 24 hours a week over seven months and then taking “creativity sabbaticals” during the other five months of the year.
Voller has experimented with bringing the notion of slow to her life as a CC student and as an intern. She has found that developing an internal feeling of slow reflects externally and actually makes her more productive.
“In my freshman and sophomore years, I belonged to eight student organizations. This year, I’m part of just one,” she said. “In Denver over a 10-week internship, I worked from 6:30–11:30, then took a two-hour lunch. I’d do yoga, have lunch outside, then go back to work at 1:30.”
The idea caught on, and since then other workers at the company have adopted a more flexible schedule.
For those looking for a way to start small, Powers recommends taking five-day breaks from technology.
“Technology is incredibly helpful, and it can be efficient, but in many cases our time-saving devices have become time wasters,” he said.
He encouraged CC students to start thinking now about the lives they want to create after they graduate. He said that if they could find a way to get more financially independent doing what they love, they can gear their lives around the things that give them energy and joy. The payoff is worth it, he said.
“You should retire many times in your life, not just at the end,” he said.