The last two months I spent burned out with Activist Ennui. What is Activist Ennui? Well, according to Dictionary.com, Ennui is a
“a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest;’”
Activist Ennui is an interesting specimen. It usually involves things like disillusionment, worry about finances, burn out, depression, lack of energy, and drive. It is difficult to deal with and difficult to move on from. For most, it comes on after some kind of setback or disappointment. Suddenly, all the activist balls that you have up in the air (because we all know that a good activist can’t say no to any opportunity to help out!) fall to the ground around you and you are upset; you question the state of your activist existence.
You wonder if change will ever happen? Are you making a difference? Will you EVER make a difference? How can you spend your life facing up to the challenge and the opposition? How can you pay your bills while doing this? And alternately, how could you ever take a soul-sucking job that you hate where you do things that you aren’t passionate about? You KNOW that you were born to do this work! So, why is it so hard?
Other common aggravators of Activist Ennui include worrying about things like your children’s or your own dental bills when your employer can’t afford to provide you with a dental plan, or worrying that your employer or the organization that you have founded can’t afford to provide you with a paycheque. Ugh. The activist life is not an easy one. While Antigone was able to pay me part-time during the fall, I am currently working for free for The Antigone Foundation while working 4 or 5 other part time jobs (I can never keep track of how many!). I am lucky to be able to somehow make this delicate balance work right now, but I don’t know how sustainable it is and though we have a ton of great and exciting ideas for raising sustainable funding for our organization, I worry that some of those will fall through.
Over the course of my Activist Ennui, I talked to a lot of people who had been there and done that. Who had wallowed in Activist Ennui and come out the other side of it. They sympathized with me. They had been there. They had gone months and years without pay. They too had taken on too much at work and in their volunteer lives. When you are someone who is passionate about a cause, your cause is both your work and your hobby. So you fill your life with your cause. You give all your time to it. You are willing to sacrifice higher salaries and downtime to make that difference, to change the world!
But I am learning that you also need to take a break sometimes, to enjoy life (because apparently it’s been going on while you’ve been busy making activist plans), to live in the moment, and to focus. That was what someone told me was the most important thing to do to change the world – focus and I think that makes sense. She told me:
Making things happen in the world is hard, hard, hard work! Whether it is creating a company, changing a law, affecting behavior in some form or another, getting that “it” to change to something more noble, inclusive and/or empowering is very hard. Humans are frail, selfish and limited in their scope of capacities. If you want to feel like you made a difference with your life on this planet…the more diffusely your energies are applied, the less substantive impact will result in a timely manner….focus is the key
So, I have been trying to focus more closely on my work with Antigone and the paid work that keeps me able to continue to do this work with Antigone. That has mean having to make painful decisions to step down from my positions with other organizations. One of which was my position as a Board Member for the Canadian Women’s Voters Congress. The CWVC is a phenomenal organization run by amazing people who are working hard to provide education to women who are interested in running for office. It is one of my favourite causes and organizations but I finally had to admit that I couldn’t sustain my commitment to that organization while trying to make Antigone and my part time jobs work! I encourage you all to get involved with that organization if you have any extra time! It’s the worthiest of organizations! I intend to continue to be involved with it in the future!
What I have learned from my period of activist ennui is that apparently, I am only one person. I think that is what we activist types need to remember. We are each only one person – but we are also one FULL person. We can’t just cultivate our activist selves and forget about the other parts of ourselves. While we do have to focus, we also need downtime and leisure and fun and friends and adventure and family and other activist soul mates who will keep us going when we feel burned out (thank you to the gals who keep me going!).
We need balance, something which is difficult to achieve when you can’t even remember how many part time jobs you have! But it must somehow be negotiated. Personally, I am trying to enjoy the moments in life and not to rush by them as they pass.
What are you doing to achieve balance in your activist life?