Burned-Out Activists

Last week I went down to the Central library for a meeting with some activists. We did some work and talked about this and that. Then the topic of burnout came up. Somebody or other had put in lots of good work and then left the movement entirely.

“Still, that’s great if somebody can come in and give it their all for a year,” somebody said.

Really? Is that good? To work yourself like a dog for a year and then give up, leaving everybody else in the lurch and needing to work twice as hard because you are gone?

“It would be better if they could put in half that much effort for two years,” I observed.

You know, or a quarter for four years, or whatever.

Lefty activists get to feeling that there’s some crisis that needs their immediate attention, and that most of the world is oblivious to it, and that they are urgently needed because they’re the only ones who can help. Well, yes, the world is in crisis, but the thing is, no one person can fix it.

I take inspiration from the Serenity Prayer, used in AA to help folks chill out: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” (And holy moses, somebody needed it bad enough to tattoo it on their body!)

And the airplane advice: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”

So how can activists prevent burnout?

1. Recognize the signs. If you wake up thinking about your cause every day, you’re in the danger zone.
2. Put in half the effort. Keep your commitments, but make half as many.
3. Take a day of rest. If the Judeo-Christian God did it, so can you.
4. Take a vacation.
5. Curb those messianic thoughts. That’s right, you’re not the Judeo-Christian God.
6. Ask for help.
7. Think ahead two weeks. Are you coming up on anything that’s going to demand huge amounts of effort? If so, consult #6 and #2.
8. Look around you. Is somebody else in your group verging toward burnout? Can you help?
9. Find something you enjoy doing, and then go do it every day.
10. Laugh.

Well, those are some answers. But they lead to a large and important question:

Can I take my own advice?

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