To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence.
More than ten years ago I was fully immersed in the not for profit world. I was running Sanctuary Victoria, a community organisation I had founded to sponsor refugee families languishing in refugee camps, finance their travel to Australia once approved, and ensure their successful settlement on arrival. The volunteering role quickly spread to my evenings and weekends. I was lodging refugee applications with the Department of Immigration, corresponding with refugees around the world, running fundraisers, and helping newly arrived refugees settle in Melbourne.
In 2007 my family hosted a Congolese family of five, who Sanctuary had brought to Melbourne from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Mum, dad and their three little girls lived with us for seven weeks until we were able to secure them adequate rental accommodation. It was an incredible experience, intense, exhausting, rewarding. As a mother of two young children I was working round the clock, with no space or time to take care of myself. How could I, when the need was so great, right under my eyes? Luckily I had the support of a great team of volunteers who helped me provide practical skills and advice for the family to start a new life in Australia.
A year later, I joined the Brotherhood of St Laurence as a Strategic Development Officer and then an Acting Manager of the Ecumenical Migration Centre (EMC). My work and volunteering roles became an all-consuming, frenzied ‘doing’. I was starting to have sleepless nights, I was constantly tired and suffered from headaches. My energy decreased and so did my passion for my work. Looking back now, I can see that I was burnt out. I lasted less than two years before I resigned.
A drive to ‘save the world’ can lead to burnout, exhaustion and despair, to the point where we may feel the need to withdraw from the very work that has given us meaning. Burnout is not the same as exhaustion or compassion fatigue; burnout has a vicious impact on us because it robs us of one thing we need most: hope. It can also leave us feeling angry at the rest of the world, shame and guilt at our failures, and frustration at the systems we are trying to change. This is common amongst activists, social innovators, community organisers, and change makers.
Frenzied doing robs us of peace and wellbeing, while also robbing the world of passionate, committed, engaged people. The last thing we want is for change agents to withdraw from the work they’re doing. What would happen if activists took a ‘Not Doing Day’ once a month? What if each movement prioritised stillness, patience, waiting and silence on a regular basis, at every meeting, every protest?
What would happen if practices included:
“I meditate once a week, especially when I feel overwhelmed by the issues.”
“I wander aimlessly through the natural world I’m trying to save.”
“I turn off the laptop, TV and social media for an hour every day and I read fiction.”
“I sit in stillness and quiet every time I feel like shouting at someone for not caring enough about social issues.”
Also, what would a ‘whole of system’ approach look like for building healthy and resilient work cultures? From my experience as a leadership educator and consultant, when it comes to tackling complex challenges, it is not sufficient to focus only on building individual skills. The challenges faced by anyone who suffers from burnout, exhaustion and despair are also systemic in nature. Therefore they require approaches and interventions that go beyond traditional learning and development interventions, and work with the whole system, taking a long-term, experimental view to making progress.
With this in mind, I am excited to be partnering with Dr Azita Moradi, a psychiatrist and resilience expert, bringing together our expertise across leadership, coaching, organisational change, medicine, mental health and mindfulness. We are creating a suite of programs and offerings to help people thrive, not just survive, in these complex and uncertain times.
Join us for our one day program in Adelaide on 15 August or Melbourne on 6 September. For more information and to register visit our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.