A dear journalist friend of mine recently asked me about my thoughts on and experiences with activist burnout. Since I had recently emerged from the ashes of my own burnout, I felt inclined to write the following post:
Activist burnout is a soul-retching, paradigm-shifting, and horribly necessary experience. What began for me as a passionate zeal had to extinguish in a wisp of exhaustion. I had to learn the hard way because I'm stubborn. I would work 20 hours a day, I would eat and drink only the crumbs from the lunchline, and I would only sleep when tiredness literally overcame me. I would have done anything as long as our Vision was realized. Because I had woken up. And I needed to ring the bells in the town square so that others could know it was time. It worked. We were able to mobilize a national energy around an idea: a gathering. And that gathering would be conceived of, planned, and carried out democratically. It was hard work, but we did it with passion.
You see I think passion is as essential as breathing. When the world is in peril and you feel like you have been chosen you are compelled forward, energized by your own drive. True change comes when those who have the privilege and ability to act do not fail to act but embrace their destinies and serve their neighbors by fighting for a better day. We are those people and it is a 24/7 job- twice.
If I get down to brass tacts I guess I would have to recount the most stressful week of my life. That would take more time than either of us have. Suffice it to say that I did not sleep much, I rarely ate, and I took on way too much. I wanted it to succeed. I wanted to see people from every corner of the country sit down and the table of sister-and-brotherhood and have a conversation about their lives. To this end they produced a Vision. And because I believed in that dream I pushed myself to my physical, emotional, and spiritual limit. But I came out the other side a better man for it. But lessons hard learned are not lessons easily forgotten.
As I carry forward in this struggle of life and revolution I have found that I must temper my passions and meditate on those things that make our cause worthy. In that silent place I can find peace. That peace is necessary for the calm resolute posturing of a revolutionary. For in the end we must hold fast to our creed to give peace a chance. We preach and we proclaim that we must be the change we want to see in the world yet we neglect to discipline ourselves in a sustainable and balanced manner. I submit this suggestion to you humbly for I have been hardpressed and trampled by my own rash and reckless behavior. When I was a child I spoke like a child and when I was a child I acted like a child. I have learned better. I have grown up through the pressure cooker of on-the-job training. I was irresponsible with my health, my time, and my emotions. But hindsight is the only lens of clarity.
So, as I think about activist burnout I find myself smirking a shy smile because I know it was necessary. I knew i had to work myself ragged because this had to happen. History was calling and we would answer. And we did. But it came at a price: my ego, my health, and my perspective. Now, I am a more patient, disciplined, and humbled man. I now know I have limits and- through a very traumatic experience- know exactly what those limits are. I would submit to my sisters and brothers around the world committed to fighting for a more just world to be patient, deliberate, and wise. Because wisdom is more valuable than a host of actions and gatherings. If we can collectively commit ourselves to wisdom and patience then we can produce a vision that will culminate in goals, a strategy, and tactics. But only a calm and measured person can create such campaigns. An oak may stand strong in the midst of a storm but a hurricane will uproot it and toss it to the wind. A palm tree is flexible, bending and swaying with the wind. We must be as the palm tree and cling to our fate even in the hurricane of injustice. But we must be planted strong and flexible. We must temper ourselves and become wise in the eyes of all because perception is reality in the corporate television era.