I spent a lot of the summer thinking about teamwork.
In another part of my life, aside from Rabble Up, I’m the Managing Director for a campaign called Make It Work, which I co-founded along with some very inspiring leaders who I am honored to be counted among. We focus on economic security for women, men, and families, including equal pay, paid sick days, minimum wage, paid family leave, and childcare. It’s been such a joyride since we launched in mid-June. And, teamwork has been a big theme on our minds since then. We have spent the last few months starting to build a small team of awesome staff. This means doing an assessment of what we need, where the gaps are, and seeking out the right leaders to fill those gaps. A functioning team is the foundation of being able to make change in the world over the long-haul.
Additionally, one of Make It Work’s main values is the importance of community in the juggle between work, family, and all of life’s responsibilities. Parents find more affordable daycare alternatives through babysitting co-ops and exchanges, people rally together in support of paid family leave when they have a new child or a loved one gets sick, and restaurant workers go on strike until paid sick days become a reality. Clearly, we are stronger together than we are alone.
So with those examples of teamwork on my mind, I now turn to the importance of “teamwork” in the pursuit of one’s own self-care.
Let me explain.
As just one person, it’s hard to get everything done, and still maintain some semblance of sanity and groundedness. At this point in my life and career, I’m very clear that I need a team of people to help me out. You can call it community, chosen family, anything you wish. I choose the word “team” because it implies that we all have our roles to play.
I’m very lucky to have quite a team. My partner, our dog, my mentor and coach, family, friends, health care professionals, alternative health professionals, and many others, all play a role in my being able to do my work in the world, grow, change, and love as a functioning human (even my favorite spin class teacher is a major part of my team!). I’m also honored to play my role on their teams, too. Just like a sports team, we are greater than the sum of our individual parts.
And, I’m sure we can all point to an example (or 5) where teamwork has collapsed doing social change work. I know a few of the organizations and coalitions I’ve been involved with have been shining examples of poor management and non-existent teamwork. What a bummer.
So, how do YOU build a functioning self-care team? Some thoughts below.
Anger is quite controversial.
On the one hand, it can be consuming, destructive, and trigger dangerous or violent behavior. We know this all. too. well.
On the other hand, anger itself is just an emotion. In fact, it’s a healthy emotion to acknowledge, and full of active energy that can be channeled in the right direction. It’s also the best alarm system I have found for when a boundary has been crossed.
In truth, it’s an emotion that I dance with often. I’ve spent most of my life unconscious to the anger within me, or suppressing it mightily. For those of us socialized female, or raised in a household where anger had a complicated placemat at the table, it can be hard to even acknowledge the feeling.
But, when I first started becoming an activist in college, I saw the way anger could also be a powerful tool to motivate others and create change. Anger is an appropriate, and often necessary reaction to injustice, and a fuel that can ignite the rallying cries of passionate people. I spent a few years falling in love with the idea that it was ok to be angry.
I had officially discovered one side of the coin: A tool that can be leveraged in service of motivating and sparking change.
In fact, some of my most beloved activist mentors and idols wield the tool of anger like master swordsmen: with equal doses of elegance and power.
But what happens when we forget to turn off the fuel tank or hang up the sword? What happens when we let our anger seep into our pores, fill in our cracks, replace the hard work of actually healing and moving forward?
I have seen that consistently living in, and acting from, this place of anger can become a dangerous way of life. I picture a warrior constantly bracing themselves for a fight, even when there is no enemy approaching.
This is the other side of the coin.
We all have those voices in our heads that try and cut us down, make us feel small, or question our every move. It could be the devil on your shoulder, a parent’s doubting voice, or a deeply wounded part of yourself that is still living in survival mode. And damn, can they be harsh sometimes:
You’re not good enough.
You don’t look or act like other people do.
You’re not doing that right.
You’ll never be loved the way you want to be loved.
These voices have likely developed slowly over time, as a reaction to an experience or period in your life when it made more sense to be small, than to speak out and shine.
Your inner voices may have protected you for a long time now. And, they may have developed so gradually, that you might not even understand them to be separate from the rest of your soul.
But, these voices are separate from you. They are just renting space in your subconscious, waiting for you to shut them down.
It’s time to shut them down:
1) Give that voice a name. Call it The Hater. Call it Wonda. Just call it something that acknowledges that it is a different entity than YOU.
I have a constant and deep desire to push myself outside of my comfort zone on a fairly regular basis. It is, in fact, one of my core values. Someone in a training retreat recently described me as an “emotional edge walker.” This was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Mostly because, it wasn’t always true.
Fear and anxiety are not strangers to me. Risk-taking is not something that falls naturally within my wheelhouse. I will never truly understand adrenaline junkies. I force my risk-taking as a means to an end. That end, is my own self-growth and transformation.
So, I bring up this question: Are you a risk-taker?
Risks can take many different forms. For example, a risk might be a very literal sky diving adventure (which, btw, I will never ever do). Or, a risk could be starting your own business, raising your hand during that meeting, or even just smiling in response to some rude behavior. Big or small is all relative.
The common thread here, is the FEELING. That jumpy energy inside your gut. The nausea, the stomach twisting, the shaking hands. The blood coursing through your veins questioning why you would ever put yourself through this.
As the quote goes, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
If that is true, then I propose that the real value of risk-taking, is the pure and simple ability to bring yourself through to the other side of that intense and usually uncomfortable feeling.
A friend, coach, and fellow soul sister on the journey of life recently told me that anxiety and excitement are actually the exact same energy, just channeled in different directions. I believe her. Anxiety is what happens when you try and keep the moving energy at bay. Excitement is what happens when you just let yourself lean into it.
So, once again: Are you a risk-taker?
Are you able to get yourself through to the other side, to the breakthrough, of walking on your edge, whatever that edge may be?
You might not know what will be on the other side. But the fact is, you were damn well able to do it in the first place. And that, my friend, is brilliant transformation.
Social justice seekers are some of the most fierce edge-walkers I have ever come across. Our combination of passion, drive, and, let’s face it, a deep belief that we are right, creates the perfect landscape for risk-taking of all sorts. I need not point to recent examples of activists risking the ultimate price, their lives and the livelihood of their families, in service of change. (And to those folks, we bow down.) Even if our risks are objectively much less radical, the energy is still valid.
Each of us has the ability, every single human, to put aside anxiety and fear and take those leaps of faith.
Every year, every month, every day, every hour… How will you breakthrough?
I love you deeply, and so I have something to say: It doesn’t need to be this way.
Thank you for all your hard work and sacrifice. Because of you, we have won countless fights, made enumerable advances, and are further along on this fervent path to justice.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and though I’m not normally one to celebrate, I want to extend a gift to you (and no, it’s not a fuzzy teddy bear holding a heart. It’s even better).
My gift to you, this February 14th, is the permission to put yourself first.
Now the truth is, I once thought that I had to be exactly like you, working what felt like ALL THE TIME and disconnecting from myself just to get through the day. But as it turns out, I feel most aligned when I’m operating in a state of balance. I feel whole when my self-care is a priority. I love the world by loving myself first.
It’s not your fault. In fact, I don’t blame you at all. We SERIOUSLY need to have some conversations in this movement about organizational culture, fundraising requirements, and leadership training.
But in the meantime, do what YOU need to do:
1) It’s ok to say ‘no’ to things. Like, it’s really ok. The Earth won’t stop turning, and there will always be someone else who is right for the gig. Boundaries are wonderfully healthy things.
2) Putting your oxygen mask on first means you love other people more, not less. We are all more happy when you show up as the best form of yourself. Do what you need to do to be able to act from that place.
3) Working insanely long hours ALL THE TIME is not aligned with your social change values. Yes, sometimes it is very necessary. But those moments should be the exception, not the rule, and it’s high-time we put more distributive leadership practices into operation.
4) And, lastly, remember that the younger folks in the room are learning from you. Want the next cycle of awesome social change leaders to be more grounded than you are? Yup, then practice what you preach.
Believe me, this is all coming from a deep place of love for you, and for all of us fighting this good fight together. I honor your commitment and passion, so let’s all work hand in hand to reshape our non-profit cultures. I’m ready to co-design, are you?
With love and abundance,