It’s been a while since I last wrote here, and it’s been a complete and utter whirlwind. I want to begin by apologizing for my mysterious disappearance and my unannounced multi-month hiatus from writing. Damn, do I miss it.
Here’s a quick run down on all that has happened in my life. I wrapped up my cross-Canada trip. I officially completed my university degree. I moved into a new house. I traveled to the tar sands for the Healing Walk. I got the job. I’m now the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, an organization that mobilizes youth across the country to take action for climate justice through major PowerShift conferences, the fossil fuel divestment campaign, and other youth organizing. It’s incredibly exciting. There is so much beauty in the work I get to do on a daily basis, and in particular in the amazing individuals all over this country that I get to do that work with.
But for the sake of honesty, I have to admit, it’s also incredibly challenging. I work alone; I don’t really have a team of colleagues, or any colleagues for that matter. I make scary, big decisions often single-handedly. I ask for a lot more help than I would like to. I have to fundraise money for my own salary, along with all of the projects the organization runs. I have to say ‘no’ a lot. I have to let people down. And I’ve had a really challenging time making the adjustment to this work. And that is an on going process.
What I’ve realized through this last two and a half month period is that I’ve lost a piece of me that was so vital to who I am. It’s the piece of me that does things like write this blog. It’s the piece of me that takes care of myself, that prioritizes my own needs, wants, and most importantly, desires.
I traveled to Ottawa and Montreal recently for work and I really struggled there. It’s hard to organize from one city in another, to travel places only briefly with few connections, to sleep on couches, to not have things go as planned. And while all of this is also so amazing, having to juggle so many things, and to feel so alone in that, was dragging me down. I got really stressed out, and I got pretty sick, and instead of pushing though I decided to miss out on some relationship-building and connection-making, to throw two hundred dollars I don’t really have out the window, and hop on an earlier flight home. And that was really hard to do. It took a lot of courage, and it made me feel weak. And now telling this story feels difficult and vulnerable too. I feel ashamed to be sharing it. But I think this kind of story is one that needs to be told more often.
The work we do in social change or environmental justice movements can be so tiring, and so draining. Any job can be. But this work in particular, while often being so inspiring, is also so frustrating. The challenges we face seem endless. We lose hope, we burn out. It’s incredibly hard work, and I’ve seen so many people struggle with it.
What I realized when I was in Montreal was that if anyone else had asked me what they should do in a similar moment, I would have said without hesitation “Fly home. Put yourself first. Take care of yourself.” But as soon as it was about me, I had such greater difficulty making that decision. I celebrate self-care in everyone else. If I ask a volunteer to do something, and they say they can’t because they are too stressed out, too tired, or have too much on their plate, I celebrate that. I say some variation of “Thank you for being honest about your capacity. That’s hard to do, and really amazing.” But I find it so much harder to mirror that attitude and that outlook with myself.
And then I realized how ridiculous and hypocritical that was. Before I started this job if someone had asked me what I wanted to do I would have said I wanted organize for climate justice, but ensure I focus on sharing my knowledge, passion and skills for taking care of myself with others. Yet here I am, letting so many of the things I stood for slip through my fingers.
If we want to build a movement, if we want to create change in the world, it is going to take time, immense energy, endless passion, and countless individuals. We cannot sustainably build that movement, and foster that change, if we don’t take care of ourselves and each other in the process. It’s hard. It’s hard to say no, to turn things down, to admit that we aren’t all super human all the time. But we aren’t. And that’s okay. And I am not. And that is also okay.
So this is my effort, my commitment, to do the best that I can at taking care of myself and to spend the time I need to find the necessary balance. Although the work that I do often makes me feel as though I am swimming as fast as I can to a shore that only continues to grow further away, I will try and spend more time doing the things I love (like writing about the tough stuff!), and spend more energy taking care of myself. I probably won’t be great at it right off the bat, but I’m okay with that. I will just do the best that I can. And I will invite you to do the same. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves, and for our movements, will be to take a step back and not do something. And I am trying so hard to be okay with that. I want to give everyone everything. I want everything to work out perfectly all the time. But that’s not realistic, because I’m only human.
I am just me. I am just one person. I am just one person doing the best I possibly can. I will make mistakes. I will probably make big ones. I will fail. I will turn down opportunities. I will let people down. I might let you down. But it is not because I’m not giving this my all. It’s because my ‘all’ cannot be everything, my ‘all’ cannot do everything. And that is okay.
If we put all that we can possibly give together, if we nourish ourselves and each other, if we commit to this for the long haul, we can build the power and the longevity we will need to win these fights. But we must do so mindfully, consciously, and filled with care for ourselves and for one another.