In a thought-provoking and important piece for AlterNet, psychologist Michael Bader examines the common phenomenon of burnout in progressive organizations:
Progressive leaders, activists and organizers don’t take care of themselves very well. They get burned out and either don’t know, don’t care, or don’t know how to fix it. . . . It undermines their energy, passion and imagination, and it spreads like a virus through their workplaces and families. Almost every aspect of their lives takes a hit–health, relationships with friends and family, creativity, judgment, concentration, and mood.
Bader points to chronic understaffing, the burdens of constantly fighting defensive wars in an age of right-wing power, and a self-sacrificing “martyr culture” as contributing to burnout among progressive change agents.
Prescriptively, he draws upon lessons from organizational psychology and coaching to recommend how to address burnout, while urging that any fixes must “start with self-compassion and an ethic of self-care.”
It strikes me that Bader’s excellent commentary applies to the non-profit sector generally. I don’t necessarily equate “non-profit” with progressive political leanings, but I definitely see the connections between non-profits and dedication to cause-oriented work.
Non-profit employment attracts those who are drawn to changing society for the better. This can be a good thing: How many people get to earn a living doing something they believe in? However, it also feeds burnout tendencies that are exacerbated during difficult times. And nowadays, this is a brutal time for all but the most privileged non-profit organizations.
Bader’s call for an ethic of self-care may seem elusive to those who are fighting the good fight, but if you find yourself in this situation, take a look at his article and share it with others.