How to Stay Engaged When the Work Becomes Overwhelming

Movements need strategic planning.

Movements need strategic planning.

Activists are working overtime. The common person is becoming an activist. In these times, when tides are changing and many are feeling the onslaught of consistent attacks on human rights, it is easy to become overwhelmed. This is energizing work for many. But it is also demoralizing, hard heart work at the same time. We all need a roadmap to deal with this dichotomy. The last few days, I felt like I haven’t been able to come up for air, that I was hit by one large wave, and each subsequent wave had me washed up in the turbulent, with sand and salt water stinging my eyes. I needed clarity. So, I went back to my roots, to what worked for me in the past.

How to have the most impact

  1. Get strategic. Develop a daily, weekly, or monthly action plan. Write it down.
  2. Be deliberate. Don’t shoot in the dark at whatever social media is going crazy about that day even though you will want (and should) to address some of that. Decide what you are going to do each day and what organizations matter to you. Figure out where you can have the most impact. Do that.
  3. Watch the news, but be careful of the source.It is easy to become saturated with rehashed news. The facts are important. Get them, analyze the facts, develop your opinion based on the facts, and act. Don’t let the constant analysis derail you from the action.
  4. Check two to three organizations you trust for updates on their progress each week.Support the grassroots work by donating or by spreading the word. If you cannot donate, promote their work. There is more work needed to be done with less resources. Help them do their work.
  5.  Call senators, congresspeople, school board members, council people, and state reps to address your concerns. Better yet, show up at their meetings with constituents or request a meeting.Remember, you hired them. They work for you. Writing them helps, but it is known that they respond better to calls.  Save their numbers in your phone. Don’t waste your time looking their number up each time. Then send a contact card to a friend so he or she can call as well. The work was done, share it with others doing the work. Time is valuable. It really only takes a minute to call, I promise. But before you know it, your name will be in their mouth. You want it there. Use scripts if you want. Many organizations have them posted.
  6. Schedule time for this work. Add it to your planner.Try to use only the time allotted for this work. Sometimes, life will get in the way. You won’t be able to get it done and you will feel defeated. Other times, a topic will come up that needs immediate attention and you will need to add more allotted time. By having it your time scheduled, you are less likely to get off track in either direction.  It is easy to see the depth and breadth of the work and have it take over your life. This is why we work in teams. No one person can do it all.
  7. Set aside time to learn about issues, policies, process, and yourself.Schedule this too. Read a book. Read neutral media. Read the mission of an organization. Review what the data says. Take time read the language of a bill or proposal. Learn the process. Then follow the process towards action.
  8. Engage others in their views, but don’t get stuck in an argument.Learning from others is crucial. Understanding other viewpoints is crucial. Expressing your viewpoints and providing evidence to back up your views is crucial.  However, also crucial to abandon dialogue that is causing you stress. harm, or is simply going nowhere. Make your point, move on. Don’t let it personally derail you. Don’t get sucked down into a spiraling argument. Detractors are just detractors. We can have civil conversations where real change can happen or we can just get sucked into an unwinnable war where we get upset. Don’t give up the time you have to do the work by spending it arguing and draining your emotional resources. Accountability work can be done on the flip side.
  9. Remember the concrete work.When you get discouraged dive back into the concrete work. It means you have been spending too much time around the rhetoric and arguments, and not enough time taking concrete action. Concrete action will always calm your nerves.
  10. Step out of your comfort zone.If someone engages you and tells you their struggle, listen. If someone tells you that you are not helping like you thought you were and you feel discouraged or personally offended, listen harder. I have been called out on more than one occasion, (even if not directly) for having the right leaning, idea or motivation, but going about it a completely wrong way. And sometimes that realization stings, because I disappoint myself. But that is not on the other person to fix.  It is on me to fix. Don’t lash out at the messenger when they tell you their story. Sometimes this work requires growth. We may think we are helping and sometimes we really aren’t. While that may really hurt to hear and we might just want to defend ourselves, don’t. Listen, learn, grow.
  11. For every global or national action you take, take one in your community.Work in your community will have a direct impact. It will also come back to you alot faster.
  12. For every local action you take, take a bit of self care.True self care. Something that will nourish you. Time with family. Fresh air. Sunlight. Time alone. Something spiritual. Time with a friend.  It is essential to continue the work.
  13. Join an organization where there are physical meetings to attend.Virtual meetings are beneficial to attend, but face to face is better. It is important to surround yourself with others working on a common mission. You will feel inspired by those around you. Do not isolate your work. Consider becoming a board or committee member. Attend a meeting. Serve. We need you.

This work can be draining. With laser focus and applying some of the steps above, I have been able to avoid some (not all) of the fatigue that comes with the territory. Use these tips to inform your work so that you can have the greatest impact possible.

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