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SOULcial Justice: Leading from the Inside Out

Greg-PTI Head ShotGuest 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:

SET GOALS: In addition to setting professional goals about the type of job you want or the path you want to create, I recommend setting at least 1 personal goal about something unrelated to work. For example, I set a goal to go to the gym 3 times a week and (by the end of the year) to bring back a DC hip-hop dance team that I started a couple of years ago called SOULcial Justice.

PLAN: As part of my planning, I create monthly plans and supplement them with daily and weekly lists. While it does mean that I am spending additional time actually putting these lists together, it’s helped me understand my priorities and focus on my “big rocks”. I learned about some of these tools from The Management Center: http://managementcenter.org/resources.

SCHEDULE NECESSARY THINGS: I found that it was easy to have my calendar filled with meetings, conference calls and events that could keep me busy all day and night. In order for me to make time for necessary things like meals, exercise and fun, I would actually schedule and put these things into my calendar. At first, it did feel weird that I had “lunch” or “gym” in my calendar but I never did schedule anything during that time—and it helped me to develop a consistent schedule where these things were prioritized.

PARTICIPATE IN MENTORSHIP: An important part of how I’ve been able to sharpen my skills and be inspired to be and do better has been by surrounding myself with a variety of mentors. I have mentors that help me with being a better manager in the workplace, with strengthening personal relationships and with developing my 10-year plan. To pay it forward, it has been just as important for me to also serve as a mentor. In many cases, my mentees teach me things I never would have expected and keep me grounded.

HAVE ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNERS: I learned that it is much easier for someone else to hold me accountable versus doing it myself. With this realization, I decided that I needed to identify accountability partners that shared similar goals and would be okay with sending reminders, following up and checking in as appropriate. For example, I have an accountability partner who sends me their monthly plans, weekly and daily lists, and I send mine in return. Another accountability partner I have ensures that I drink a certain amount of water each day.

While this list is not exhaustive, these are tools that have put me on a path toward personal sustainability. I am happier. I am clear on my purpose and vision. I am better equipped to take on even bigger challenges.

This is a continual process that requires patience, reflection and a personal commitment.

Some tools may work better than others and being open to the process will help you hone in on what will work best for you. No matter how hard it may be or the pressure you might get from others, remember this is about self-preservation and being better positioned to serve our communities longer term.

Cendana is the first openly gay and youngest-ever Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO, and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement. Cendana was named one of Washington, D.C.’s most influential 40-and-under young leaders, one of the 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30 & awarded the Next Generation Award from Metro Weekly, which recognizes the accomplishments of DC LGBT activists & artists under the age of 30. Previously, he served as the president of the United States Student Association where he played an integral role in the passage of the Student Aid & Fiscal Responsibility Act and Health Care, Education & Reconciliation Act. In his spare time, Cendana enjoys singing karaoke, choreographing dances and trying new cooking recipes. Be a part of his journey by following him on twitter at @GregoryCendana.

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