I started a new job about a year ago. I direct a program for a human rights organization, and while there are plenty of good and worthwhile things about the work, there’s also a lot of bureaucracy.
I don’t just have to do my job, but I have to report what I’m doing and what I’ve got to show for it regularly along the way. There are the weekly check-ins with my boss, the quarterly board reports, the accounting for my budget and the expectation that I’ll constantly flout my accomplishments to the powers-that-be to remind them my work is worth supporting.
I understand that a large organization needs to keep track of what its employees are doing and how they’re spending the organization’s money. But it takes time, effort, and thought. It’s a commitment.
I think the problem isn’t so much that I’ve had to keep checking in with the higher-ups in the organization, but that I haven’t made an equal commitment to checking in with myself. Between a new job and my coaching practice, I’ve gotten so focused on meeting other peoples’ expectations that I’ve forgotten to regularly consider and pursue some of my personal interests, goals and intentions. So I’ve let other things that are important to me – both people and activities – fall away. Feeling at times overwhelmed by new responsibilities, I’ve come to see those things I enjoy as what I’ll do when I retire and have more time.
Of course, I’m not retiring anytime soon. Even if I could, I don’t really want to. I’ve built a career working on issues I care about and think I still have a lot to contribute. The work also informs my coaching for other advocates facing similar strains. But human rights advocacy isn’t the only thing I care about, and it’s not something I can do all the time.
Recently, I was speaking to a group of summer interns, mostly law and grad school students seeking advice on how to create a career advocating for human rights and social justice. One of them asked me how I keep doing this without getting so discouraged or depressed by it that I give up. She described how even over the course of the one summer job, she was finding it difficult to read all the e-mails that fill her office inbox daily with stories of human rights abuses around the world. And she wondered if she’d have the stamina to work in a field where you’re constantly bombarded by all that bad news.
“How do you do it?” she asked.
“I don’t read those e-mails,” I answered.
I don’t have to. I’m not responsible for knowing every bad thing going on everywhere all the time. And if I did read them all, I’d be too depressed, outraged or traumatized to actually do my job. Even keeping up with the catalog of horrors I’m responsible for responding to can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. I have to put limits on it. I think all advocates do.
That’s why check-ins with yourself are so important. Are you nurturing the different facets of your life – physical, intellectual, creative, emotional, and inter-personal? Are you engaging in activities and interacting with people that bring you joy?
Reflecting on the past year, I think I’ve let a lot of those things slip in my own life. I don’t run or bike as much as I used to, I’ve dropped art classes and my weekly meditation group, and I don’t spend as much time with people who are important to me.
So I need to recalibrate, to recommit to those areas of my life and make time for them, even if it means I spend a few hours less working each week. I know that if I do nurture other aspects of my life, the time I spend at work will also be more productive. (Tony Schwartz, founder and CEO of The Energy Project, has written a lot about this.)
As summer comes to a close, this a good time to consider, where is your life out of balance? And what new commitments do you want to make?