There is nothing more vital to succeeding, in my opinion, or in the case of activists, not burning out (which I learned about the hard way following the 2016 election) than surrounding yourself with people who energize and inspire you. In my case, and in the case of many introverts like me, this becomes doubly important, because I think introverts in an activist role in any capacity often find themselves drained. Self-care is difficult for anyone dedicated to a cause higher than themselves, so in the interest of promoting self-care, I will dedicate this post to it.
Self-care is something which I personally struggle with sometimes. It can be hard to find a line between doing what feels like enough (spoiler alert: it never feels like I’ve done enough), and doing what is actually “enough” (which is what we can realistically contribute without nearing the point of self-destructing.) I recently found myself hard up against my limitations when I got sick late last week and had to cancel a meeting with a group from a nonprofit called Sustain DuPage, whom I have wanted to meet with for a long-time. I had to self-advocate and be honest with them, and tell them we were just going to have to reschedule. I was terrified. What if they decided I was a junk human who didn’t deserve their time because I clearly wasn’t dedicated to taking care of the environment if I cancelled for a stupid cold? What if they thought I was incredibly rude?
I rescheduled. The world went on. They were fine with it. I’m meeting with them at a later date. In retrospect, what would have been rude would be sitting through our meeting coughing all over them and getting them sick. I also wouldn’t have been able to give the meeting my undivided attention and thought. Unfortunately, I didn’t extend the same courtesy to an individual I care very deeply about, and I got them sick. I am not perfect.
So, how do we avoid getting to the point where we have to make these tough calls and cancel meetings? How can we conserve energy when we are constantly giving energy to the people who we have to explain our cause to again and again? When we put our physical bodies and mental faculties to the cause, it can be incredibly easy to get carried away, volunteering for every opportunity we possibly can, in order to feel like we’re making a difference.
For me, it’s a combination of things. The first is knowing my limits. I know that there is only so much I can do without burning out. It’s kind of an intangible knowledge—it’s not like after two volunteer events in a week I am done. It’s careful thought about each opportunity and whether it makes sense for me where I am, how much I’ve done lately, and how many other obligations I have on my plate at the time. Self-knowledge is vital. It’s also important to engage in things that feed you in other ways—yes, those of us who engage in activism and volunteerism know there is a definite positive benefit to giving of ourselves. It makes you feel great to know that you’ve made a difference for something you’re passionate about. However, we sometimes need to step back and do other things! Do you like to read? Watch movies? Play an instrument? These things are not frivolous wastes of time- they feed our souls, our hearts, our bodies, and our minds, and they help us to rest for the long road ahead. Changing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.
Finally, I try to surround myself with people who energize and inspire me. It’s not easy, because the world is so vast and we don’t always get to choose the people in our immediate surroundings. However, we can make sure to notice, cherish, and make time to spend with people who do inspire us. I have been very blessed and privileged lately to work with some incredibly passionate people at work on some projects that are near and dear to my heart because of their direct alignment with writing and conservation, respectively. I also had the joy of meeting with the aforementioned fantastic folks from a local nonprofit, Sustain DuPage (which you should definitely check out- I’m just starting to get involved and I am already so fed and ignited by the energy in this group and their passion for all they do.)I have found myself, in small moments during meetings with like-minded individuals, feeling incredibly appreciative and blessed. When I notice and feel this energy and positivity, it feeds me for some of the more difficult encounters I have throughout the day. I also try to build a loving community around me in other places—at the yoga studio where I practice, in my family, and in my friendships.
Self-care isn’t easy, especially when you want to change the world, but these are some of the ways I try to make it happen. I’m not always successful, but when I fall off the horse, I have to try to get back on again. I hope that sharing my experience helps you to remember to take care of yourself. This world needs you more than ever!