Guest Post by Gregory A. Cendana
Cendana is the first openly gay and youngest-ever Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) of the AFL-CIO, and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement.
I’m known by many for having a Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop! kind of lifestyle.
And it’s true.
I’ve found a way to balance all the important things in my life: family, friends, work, dance, local DC politics and the list goes on.
Believe it or not, there is no secret potion or pill to my seemingly endless energy. It lies in the practices that I’ve developed for personal sustainability and the amount of self-love I have and continue to prioritize.
People, especially students and young professionals, are sometimes made to believe the only way you’ll be successful is if you work non-stop, and that pushing one self toward burnout is part of a process of “paying your dues” before you can ascend into leadership.
This was definitely how I felt, especially when I moved to Washington, D.C. more than 5 years ago. I found myself waking up early, staying up late, and constantly on the grind. During meals—if I even ate them—and when I was with family or friends, I’d be on my phone answering emails or continually adding to my never-ending list of things to do. There was always someone to respond to or something urgent that needed to be addressed (or it seemed that way, anyway).
I’ve been told before that organizing, fighting for social change and movement-building should be treated like a marathon, not a sprint. My life experiences have reminded me over and over that this is true.
Personal sustainability is the best thing you can do for yourself and our collective quest for social justice. I believe success should not be calculated by how long or much you work but rather by how effective you are in the goals you set for yourself.
You may be asking, “how did you do it Gregory?”
Here are some of the things I did that helped me find balance in my life:
Rabble Up is a coaching and training program specifically designed to meet the needs of emerging social change leaders.
Unlike other life or career coaching, or traditional leadership development workshops, I address and respond to the complex and evolving needs of people in their 20s and 30s with social change values and the need for some savvy support. I focus on personal sustainability, self-awareness, and self-love as the primary tools for my work with clients.
But, to take a step back, I want to share how I came to see this type of support as a need.
Rabble Up is, without a doubt, my passion project. As I say in my bio, I spent years working in non-profit organizations and foundations, learning the in’s and out’s of the field. It’s been a great ride, and I feel lucky every day to have made it this far.
At the same time, as I spent more and more of my life inside the progressive movement, I began to notice some startling trends:
1. Younger leaders are burning out before they even start.
Young activists are falling down, and falling down fast. Burnout is no longer a phenomenon—it is a near-certainty. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
- When will the long-hours, unpaid internships, and lack of mentorship become just too taxing?
- When will the part-time job to pay the rent win out over volunteering for the local community-based group?
Rightfully so, young people have big questions about pursuing social change as a viable career.
2. Access to leadership development resources are thin.
For the most part, the highest caliber of leadership development trainings exist in New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and other major cities. While this might not be surprising, it is cutting us off from millions of potential leaders that don’t have access to those in-person trainings, or for whom the culture and language of progressive activism is not within reach.
Especially for young people of color and LGBTQ folks, the battle is still an uphill one.
Are marginalized young people being left behind by our current leadership development channels? (click to tweet!)
You have a great idea that never gets down on paper.
You continuously make plans with people and then cancel at the last minute.
You keep putting off that activity until tomorrow (and now it’s been six months).
Lack of follow-through plays a larger role in our lives than some of us would like to admit. Well, no more. It’s time to face the fact: you have commitment issues, and it’s time to deal with them.
As adults, we have to push ourselves through all kinds of challenges, some little, some huge: finding financial stability (as best we can); choosing healthy relationships with lovers and friends; and generally dealing with the ups, downs, and crashes of life.
Recently, however, I’ve started to notice a phenomenon in how many people I know or work with deal with these challenges: They just don’t do anything.
As it turns out, commitment issues extend far beyond serial dating. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re all guilty of it:
“I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
“I can always do it later.”
“I’m scared of…x, y, or z happening.”
These common procrastination techniques might be fine when it comes to smaller projects or assignments, but this attitude of flakiness and lack of follow-through can quickly turn into a way of being in all areas of your life.
I’m not a stranger to getting into ruts, and it usually starts with a lack of commitment to my own happiness.
Over the years, I’ve developed a few ways to break through the blocks, follow-through on what I KNOW I need to do, deal with the challenges before me, and commit to getting out of my own way:
1. Be Your Own Self-Leader
Many of us do-good-types are very good at fixing problems that exist externally in the world. We are moved to action by injustice or hardship, and have no problem jumping into a project that needs our help. Taking this same attitude:
What would it look like to be the advocate of your own needs? (Tweet it!)
No one else is going to do it for you. If you want or need something deep down, it’s time to go out and make it happen. No excuses. Fight for yourself. Be your own best advocate.
I recently asked a room-full of emerging social change leaders to close their eyes and picture their professional selves in 5 years. Everyone closed their eyes, and sat with the visualization. After the exercise, I asked for reactions. A few folks shared their visions– brilliant and inspiring.
Then, one brave woman stood up and said, “That exercise really stressed me out!” I LOVED her honesty, and it really got me thinking.
Projecting into the future has always been one of my go-to tools whenever I’m feeling stuck, bored, or just planning for my next steps. I love imagining myself 5 or 10 years from now. My Type-A side is nicely balanced with my inner day-dreamer, and visualization remains one of my strongest manifestation tricks.
But, for some, or maybe even for many emerging leaders, conjuring up that vision is terrifying or impossible:
How am I supposed to know where I want to be in 5 years, I’m not sure where I want to be next month?
I like what I’m doing now, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue this work for 5 years?
I don’t see how I can support myself financially doing non-profit work for the long-haul?
These are all valid feelings.
If these types of questions are resonating with you, I encourage you to throw away the idea that you need a “5-Year Plan” and just simply start with one basic question for your work NOW:
What does it mean to be a leader when you’re not the boss, don’t have a fancy title, or are the youngest person in the room?
Just because you’re not the “decision-maker” at work, doesn’t mean you aren’t making decisions all-day long that can get you noticed and appreciated for the role that you do play.
And, experiencing the trial and errors of leadership—without the mind-numbing pressure of a higher-up position—is a great way to get to know yourself, and your inherent leadership skills and passions.
What to do when working for social justice actually means sitting in front of a computer and fighting with the photocopier…
I’ve known for a long time now that my purpose in life was somehow connected to changing the world around me. Fighting for justice, working for social change, and resisting the mainstream in some way. Over the years, this has looked like different things, with ups and downs all along the way. Living my dream? Sure! Loving it every single day? Not so much.