9.24.2010

on saying no

One of the most challenging - and most important - parts of being an activist is learning how to say no. If you're an activist, you've been there. No, more than that, if you're an activist, you live there, almost all the time.

Setting boundaries and limits is important in all aspects of life, and something many people find it difficult to do, whether for work or family obligations. Many of us have had painful experiences around giving too much, and have had to learn to set firmer and more explicit boundaries. You've been there, I've been there.

But today I'm writing about boundary-setting in relation to grassroots activism. When you're an activist, you're working hard to achieve goals that you care deeply about. Time is always short, as everyone is juggling several pursuits, trying to squeeze unpaid activism around other non-negotiables. Hopefully - presumably - you enjoy what you're doing, and you love the people you're doing it with, so the activism doubles as a social life. That helps, but it doesn't make the issue go away.

When you're passionate about your cause and serious about getting things done - and there's a chronic shortage of time, money and people - it can be very challenging to say no. You find yourself squeezing in ever more tasks, whether or not you foresee the space and time to get them done.

And once you're in an activist network, you hear about other causes, other actions that need your help. You hear about events - talks, demonstrations, shows - that you'd like to attend or be part of.

We've all known activists who can't say no, and end up either freaking out, burning out, not making good on commitments, or all of the above. It doesn't help anyone. And we all know - theoretically, at least - that our own health and well-being must come first.

I think the single greatest challenge of being in graduate school - even more challenging than the chips truck! - at this time of my life is saying no. I did a mediocre job of it my first year; I need to run a tighter personal ship this year. There is work, school, and the war resisters campaign. I am determined to swim twice a week, and take Tala on a long walks another two days. And that's it. It has to be.

I need to re-learn some basic lessons in boundaries. Just because there's space on your calendar, doesn't mean you can say yes, and fill it in.

Just because you live nearby, doesn't mean you can attend.

Just because you're needed, doesn't mean you can say yes.

You can't be two places at once.

All humans need to rest. Each of us has different needs. Just because someone needs less rest than you, doesn't change your own needs.

Who ever thought I'd need Nancy Reagan?

3 comments:

Some Person said...

This is a reason I perennially invoke as to why I'm not as involved in activism as I once was. I became the point-person on too many projects, and there was always that nagging feeling of guilt that would haunt me if I wasn't going to edit this newsletter, host this event, or make this donation. Eventually it was too much.

I would be more willing to pitch in if I could get a guarantee that I was reducing the activism hours of current staffers - and that I would get a "guilt free" clause for setting my limit at X amount of hours, no more. Causes have a tendency of not working like that, however.

L-girl said...

I became the point-person on too many projects, and there was always that nagging feeling of guilt that would haunt me if I wasn't going to edit this newsletter, host this event, or make this donation. Eventually it was too much.

That's the perfect example of the importance of learning how to say no. Better to do some, continually, then try to do it all, and have to leave. IMO anyway.

L-girl said...

that I would get a "guilt free" clause for setting my limit at X amount of hours, no more.

You can get the guilt-free clause, but you have to give it to yourself.