Musings of an Exhausted Activist


I don’t know about you, but the world seems extra full of things to worry about these days. Here at Alteristic we are all about addressing social issues that impede progress toward safe and equitable communities. And, my friends, issues there are a plenty!

Turn on the news, open the newspaper, sidle up to the water cooler, or even just look outside and you will be confronted with a barrage of things that feel urgent to tackle. There have been too many nights in the past few weeks where I have laid my head down on my pillow to sleep only to find my brain simply swirling with thoughts. Thoughts of the human costs of some of the things facing us as a society – thoughts of the children and adults impacted by harmful people and policies. Thoughts of people marginalized from services and safety. These thoughts always leave me with one fundamental question:

Am I doing enough???

Am I doing enough to use my voice? To demand change? To prevent harm? When I ask myself these questions, I often end up feeling guilty. My mind begins to then swirl with things I haven’t done – rallies unattended, blogs unfinished, letters to the editor in draft form in my head.

I know I’m not the only one who is feeling this way: a little crispy around the edges, a little scared to turn on the news. Going through the day just waiting for the next urgent issue to be revealed.  These feelings of not doing enough, of guilt, and ultimately of activism burnout are totally normal and expected. And while it is helpful to know that these feelings are normal, it doesn’t help them go away.

But the question I’m really interested in answering is what do I do about this dynamic? Because a burnt-out activist can’t lead a movement or even sustain participation in one. And I’m not talking about workplace or professional burnout. I’m lucky to work for a company that has great health benefits and a generous leave policy where I’m encouraged to take good care of myself.  But after I clock out, the world keeps spinning and the urgent issues I don’t address as part of my work-life are there waiting.

This is a question to which I feel compelled to find an answer because we can’t afford to stop working on urgent issues until we have achieved our goals of safety and equity for all. The stakes are just too high. Over the next few months, I’ll be focusing on figuring out how to fight off activism burnout in the face of the overwhelming issues facing us all. If you are reading this and can relate to some of what I’m feeling, I’d love to hear some ideas from you.

And in the meantime, just for today, I’m turning off the news and taking comfort in one of our foundational guiding quotes: “No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.”  And when I lay down tonight and my brain starts swirling with things undone, I will remind myself of my community, of each of you working alongside me and contributing your somethings.  And I will give myself credit for the somethings I have done.

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