How-To Manage Mission-Related Martyrdom

Every social entrepreneur knows there if is a huge difference between burnout and bummed out. Some days, indeed most days, we in the social sector are grieving over deplorable income inequality, the pathology of poverty, grinding gender discrimination and the talent loss of economic inopportunity.

As Jessamyn Lau, formerly of the Peery Foundationnotes, “There are bad days, definitely. Those days, I need to call my friends to talk me off the ledge.”

Every social entrepreneur develops their own unique coping mechanisms to simultaneously escape the heartache and strengthen their social change reserves. Some examples for you to try on from Café Impact’s most recent how-to social action video:

  • Tending personal health and losing weight. — from Keely Stevenson, Chief Executive Officer, Bamboo Finance USA
  • Running and turning off the smartphone. — from Patrick Gleeson, former CEO,Meyer Family Enterprises
  • Heart-centered inner discovery and Zen spiritual practice. — from Ashwini Narayanan, former CEO, MicroPlace
  • Watching junk TV and reading Harlequin romance novels. — from Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Founder/Director, Akili Dada
  • Holistically integrating personal faith, personhood and professional life. — from Kari Hayden, Principal, m.o. Partners

In my case, I escape to spy novels and political news. For me, pointlessly swearing at the TV about some mean-spirited policy stupidity from the radical Republican rightwing is inexplicably reviving.

But after all is said and done, what really counts is the work itself. The mission triumphs over despair and dejection.

As Alain De Botton wrote in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work: “When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn…”

“It is because we are meaning-focused animals rather than simply materialistic ones that we can reasonably contemplate surrendering security for a career helping to bring drinking water to rural Malawi or might quit a job in consumer goods for one in cardiac nursing, aware that when it comes to improving the human condition a well-controlled defibrillator has the edge over even the finest biscuit.”

Except for the misfit and the martyr, most of us work towards social justice during our lifetimes with different levels of intensity. That’s normal, and as it should be, but when you are engaged full out, work-life balance is sometimes not an option. Be kind to yourself.

– Jonathan C. Lewis, Host/Founder, Café Impact (original blog at Huffington Post)