Has Exhaustion Hurt Our Advocacy Efforts?

In our world of metrics and indicators are we missing something?

When we talk about the obstacles to transformative success (for whatever issue that may be) we talk about things like political power and corporate control.  We do not usually talk about the role personal exhaustion plays in success.  I recently came across a Huffington Post article on ending burnout in social change movements and our inability to build a thriving future on a platform of exhaustion.  Which got my wheels turning a bit.

Has exhaustion and burnout impacted the advocacy community in Maryland – specifically that of the environmental community?  Can exhaustion be linked to to the lack of success on bay and climate efforts?

“Overwork is a near-pandemic amidst people who are devoted to making the world better, whether you’re paid or volunteer, an organizer, educator, artist, entrepreneur or any other kind of change-maker.

It’s the conversation we’re not having, and we need to.”

I completely get where the author is coming from.  Advocacy work does not fit into a neat little 9-5 box.  Exhaustion can result in poor work performance and ill-planned campaigns.  I would easily wager that exhaustion in advocacy has risen with the evolution of the internet, wifi, and smart devices.

Is the exhaustion the author discusses a baseline exhaustion that has always existed in nonprofit work or is this a new level of exhaustion from our inability to disconnect from work?  Or, as I suspect, is it exhaustion derivative from decades of the same lax-luster campaign plans and voluntary efforts?

“The world does not need your 13th or 14th or 15th hour each day. It does not need more email blasts or campaign plans written with bleary eyes.”  

The above statement is very true, but I would add that the world does not need your 13th or 14th or 15th poorly planned email that is a part of an equally as poor strategy.  It is understandable to me how movement burnout could result from decades of the same voluntary approach and groups silo-ing themselves.  These strategies do not produce the desired end goal and just compound one another as organizations continue to apply them over and over in hopes something will change.

I believe burnout is a side effect of continuing to engage in the same ill-producing strategies and the lack of transformative success.  I think this is what we have seen in Maryland.  The tides do seem to be turning though.  Groups are becoming more cognizant of diversifying their alliances and breaking their silos.  Strategies are evolving and strengthening, but it is a slow process and will take time to permanently separate from the same lax-luster strategies we have been deploying for decades.

In a commencement speech given this year, Jim Carrey addressed the graduating class and shared “I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”  I could not agree more with this statement.  If you put your energy into the same strategies that have been ill-producing for decades and lax-luster at best, you will be successful, but only in producing the chronic exhaustion the author attributes to the lack of transformative success.  I firmly believe in doing what you love, but you must take a 30k foot view to understand if what you are doing will ultimately achieve your end goal.  If not, re-strategize and change course so as not to fall into the rut of exhaustion and underperformance.