What happens when you start to lose faith in your awesome idea, you face a seemingly endless series of obstacles or people in your group start letting you down? You could throw your hands up in the air and give it all up. Or you can persevere and draw support from other sources.
Melissa Ezard tells her story of how she got past the frustration of other people slacking off to organise an event that changed primary school playgrounds.
“As part of my TAFE course we organised the first ever international rules interschool competition with primary school children. We had to organise media, elite players and get a company to sponsor us. It was exciting because we were making history. International rules is part soccer, part rugby and part footy and is played with a round ball. It is big at an elite level but we wanted to bring it into the playground.
The hardest part of it was dealing with the unmotivated people from my TAFE group. They did enough to get the grade and then didn’t bother showing up after that. On the day of the competition, we had to step up and take on more roles and jobs. It would have been easy to reason that because other people didn’t pull their weight, I shouldn’t have to. But, I knew that we had a goal to get to and didn’t want to let the kids down. They had been training for weeks. In the end, it was really good to be part of it and I’m glad I persisted with it."
Dealing with people who disappoint you
It can be tempting to name and shame people when you think they’re under-performing, But it rarely helps the situation. Put yourself in their shoes and consider that they may have family or health problems. Belittling people in front of others does more damage than good. It makes you look like an ogre and can scare people away from helping you in the future. Remember that first and foremost, volunteers are people.
As the leader of the group, you have to take responsibility for the mistakes that team members make. There’s no point splashing blame around after the event. It’s best to get over it, accept responsibility and help the person work through the mistake.
Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to take over and do it all yourself. But you have to avoid stress and burnout by delegating tasks. The trick is sharing your know-how with other people so that when disappointing mistakes do happen, they don’t happen twice.
- Feel like you’re always on the go?
- Never have time for anything, especially family and friends?
- Always tired even after a big sleep?
You may be under too much pressure and at risk of activist burnout. When you are in a state of emotional and physical exhaustion, you’re on the way to burning out. Take a quick quiz (10 questions) from the Change Agency (new window) to find out whether you are on the road to burnout and need to take action.
Canadian politician and environmental activist, Tooker Gomberg, ‘hit the wall’ after 20 years of activism. He never believed in burnout and never thought it would happen to him. He tells a powerful story about activism, burn out and how to avoid it. Read Tooker's letter that he wrote to his therapist in 2002 (new window).
It’s important to take time out to appreciate the little things in life. But this is especially true when you’re wrapped up in big picture problems and activism. Make sure you stay connected to friends and family and let yourself enjoy social occasions.
When everything feels like it’s all too much and you need a break, think about a plan to keep stress under control.
10 Commandments for Reducing Stress
1. Thou shalt not be perfect, or even try to be.
2. Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people.
3. Thou shalt leave things undone that ought to be done.
4. Thou shalt not spread yourself too thin.
5. Thou shalt learn to say 'no'.
6. Thou shalt schedule time for yourself, and for thy supportive network.
7. Thou shalt switch off and do nothing regularly.
8. Thou shalt be boring, untidy, inelegant and unattractive at times.
9. Thou shalt not even feel guilty.
10. Especially thou shalt not be thine own worst enemy, but thine own best friend.
Remember to look around
The world needs people who are motivated to change the world for the better. But you need to be able to stick around to see the results. Suffering from burnout is common in activists. If you’re aware that it exists and can look out for the signs, you can stay motivated for the long haul.
ActNow Toolkit - Just Do It - Advice on taking action and staying balanced.
HelpGuide - Preventing Burnout - Advice on burnout and signs, symptoms and strategies to avoid it.