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3 answers for a young activist
May 27, 2009
Once or twice a month
I get an email from an aspiring activist, social entrepreneur, or
nonprofit professional who has just moved to the Bay Area and wants
to set up a phone call to discuss the Bay Area's, "social change
scene." I usually agree to the calls. My one requirement is
that they send me 3-5 questions beforehand that they want to discuss
during our half hour chat. Recently, a young woman sent me questions
that were different than the kind I usually receive.
They went beyond, "Where
can I find a job?" to, "How do I live my life?" I
thought I'd share some of my answers with you, and hope you'll add
yours in the comments as well.
are the 3 most common mistakes (the kind that serve as a barrier
in achieving your big picture dream) you see people making?
a. Not realizing
that "for sure" doesn't exist
There are very few things
in life that are 100% guaranteed, which is scary, but if you have
a big dream for your future, chances are achieving it will involve
taking some risks and leaps of faith. There will never be a guarantee
that you will succeed, but on the bright side, there will never
be a guarantee that you will fail! Even if you feel like you need
more experience, more skills, more time, more money, more confidence,
more whatever before you can pursue your dream, take a step, even
if it is a small one, towards your dreams.
b. Not breaking big dreams
down into small actions
People can feel so overwhelmed
by their big visions that they become paralyzed. Breaking down what
you want to do into small, manageable actions can help you move
through your paralysis. Also, taking action often provides answers
to questions that thinking will never provide. I thought I wanted
to be a massage therapist, until I took a class and realized on
the first day that I had to touch hairy, naked people I didn't know!
Needless to say, I did not pursue that path.
c. Not balancing planning
Some people are very
flexible. They live on intuition and instinct and can change their
plans on a moments notice, but if you don't mix some planning in
with instinct, you'll spend all of your time putting out fires and
taking opportunities that may not ultimately lead you to your goal.
Other people are planners. They map out every step that will take
them to realize their vision. Unfortunately, things don't always
go according to plan, especially if you are starting something new,
and you need to be able to come up with alternative solutions and
course corrections, or you'll become frustrated and burned out very
quickly. To succeed, you'll need to balance flexibility and planning.
are the fundamental rules you live by (the ones that make someone
successful) And/or what are the important practices every successful
changemaker incorporates into their daily routines?
I can't speak for other
people, nor can I say that I do all of these things, but I aspire
to follow these "rules."
a. Family and friends
When you are on your
death bed, will you be thinking about how you wish you had written
more emails, or went to more conferences, or wrote more reports?
I doubt it. The call to, "make the world a better place,"
can be exciting, energizing, and all-consuming, but don't forget
the people in your life who mean the most to you. How you live your
personal life can be just as world changing and impactful as how
you live your professional life.
b. Make time for the
three R's: rest, reflection and recreation
Social change work happens
over the long haul. You may not see the results you want to achieve
in your lifetime (i.e. the end of poverty). Most people who do social
change work do so because they are emotionally connected to a cause.
That emotion can give you energy, but it can also exhaust you. It's
important to make space for regular (daily, weekly, monthly) times
to reflect, rest and recreate to keep you fueled for the long-term.
c. You have to take care
of yourself as well as take care of the world
How many people do you
know who work in the social change field and are doing incredible
work, but are unhealthy either physically, mentally, emotionally
or spiritually? Just like giving to others can cheer up a self-absorbed
person, giving to yourself can energize someone who is always giving
to others. As Seane Corn said in my interview with her about Off
the Mat, Into the World:
"We use the analogy
like when you are on an airplane and they say, 'If there is ever
a problem and the pressure drops and the oxygen masks drops from
the ceiling, put it on yourself first, and then put it on your child
or friend.' It is the same thing. You have to nurture and nourish
yourself before you can truly be active in the world in a sustainable
promising and exciting trends in the social change space do you
see developing in the next 5-10 years?
Whether it takes the
form of social media tools, like wikis, or a conference, like Opportunity
Collaboration, or a generation, or an economic necessity, I think
collaboration is going to be one of the hot trends within and outside
of the social change field.
b. Truly sustainable
With thousands of nonprofits
and NGOs already in existence, and new ones starting each year,
even without today's economic difficulties, something has to change
to keep all of these organizations afloat, not to mention effective.
Unfortunately, some programs won't survive these challenging times,
but the ones who do will have used new, innovative models like the
ones described in A Hybrid Strategy for Tough Times. I believe the
result will be more sustainable and healthier organizations than
we have today.
c. Truly sustainable
Not only is the way organizations
sustain themselves going to change, so is the way social changemakers
sustain themselves. Members of Generation Y are looking for jobs
with a work-life balance. Organizations like the Seasons Fund for
Social Transformation are funding programs that, "couple the
expansive power of personal transformation with the public work
of repairing societal ills in the United States." Programs
like Off the Mat, Into the World are providing tools for people
who are, "interested in conscious activism and service."
Hopefully, the activist as martyr archetype will be replaced with
the activist as well-rounded citizen.
* BlogHer Contributing
Editor, Britt Bravo, also blogs at Have Fun * Do Good and is a Big
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