In the last few months, I've noticed a trend showing up in my meetings with folks from all kinds of organizations and in all sorts of roles: a new level of exhaustion is profoundly impacting so many of us.
When I shared this reflection recently in an NTEN newsletter, lots of people replied to say that yes, they feel this, too.
I'm not saying that anyone's mission isn't necessary—critical, even—or that folks haven't been dealing with exhaustion, burnout, and stress for this entire pandemic (and even before, of course). The work we are all doing is essential, and that's honestly part of the exhaustion. These conversations reflect that what folks are doing is so overwhelmingly important that the depth of exhaustion feels equally overwhelming. So, when this issue comes up, I’ve been making a point to also talk about what people are doing to manage and care for themselves. Here are some of the strategies that I've been using.
Standing firmly in our values, I'm finding energy and strength in collective action. The systemic challenges we are fighting against are, by their very nature, huge. So, finding places where I can take values-aligned action, whether it is large or small, gives me positive fuel to both rest and to know I can keep going. For example, NTEN is part of multiple coalition campaigns targeting the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and more; big groups with big asks, but finding opportunities together with others to call for change helps me feel strong.
Connecting in community, I'm discovering so much value in relationships. It helps to talk with others to share the good and the bad and the hard. I've cried with friends and colleagues in grief from the loss of loved ones and cheered as others achieve personal and organizational goals. This is true outside of work, too. My daughter and I have been saving and investing in regular trips to our local free pantry where we add whatever we can whether it is food and water or warm socks and gloves. In community, we have abundance, and remembering this has helped me better ask for help, share and support others where I can, and minimize isolation.
Deeply listening to my needs, I'm using paid time off and the health benefits covered in my insurance, and taking breaks for my mental and physical health throughout the day. Importantly, I try to post to Slack (the internal communications tool we use at NTEN) to make clear that everyone can take these breaks as they need them, and that everyone should be using their paid time off too. While I'm immensely grateful for these privileges, I acknowledge that they should be available to all of us. As someone with lifelong chronic health and pain issues, I'm not new to these needs and yet I’m still finding it harder than I wish to care for myself. Talking about my needs and what works for me has opened up so many valuable conversations and opportunities for deeper connection with staff and community members over the years. And, it helps me be accountable to myself and actually do the things I say I’m going to do since I’ve already communicated my intentions to the team. That accountability piece is sometimes the most important to me.
Maybe some of this is true for you, too? Hopefully, together, we can continue to find strength in collective action, support in community, and care in acknowledging our needs. We are always in this together.