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How to Keep Your Sanity While You're Saving the World

Everyday, advocates across the US do vital work to help transform people, communities and society. How do they make sure they take care of their own mental health?

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Slowing down how we engage each other. We gather for a few hours a month and we’re intentional about not cramming the agenda with so much stuff that we have to move fast and everyone just gets two minutes to talk. We slow down the pace of how we interact with each other to give people a chance to go around the circle and really share with one another and to have other people to really listen.

One of the questions we use for that exercise is the simple question, How are you doing? In our personal lives and in our work lives we make the “how are you doing” question so transactional. In these spaces we are asking the question and giving people the chance to not just say “fine” or “ok,” but what’s the back story behind why you’re feeling fine or ok. Or if you’re not feeling fine or ok, what’s the back story behind that? And really taking the time to listen.

For the first time in human history we’re getting to the point where people feel like they have more things that they have to do or want to do in a given day than there is time to actually do it. This work around slowing down the pace is about making people more conscious of how fast we move, but also making us more conscious of what our commitments are and what our priorities are.

Vulnerability and authenticity. Over time, we’re creating a space where people feel comfortable enough to drop the mask that we all wear in our work in terms of projecting to other people what we want them to see versus who we really are. That’s about not only giving each other the chance to engage our authentic selves, but it’s also about dealing with all the stress associated with not being our authentic selves—with not being able to come into the work as we are, but instead being preoccupied with what we want people to see and what we want people to think about us.

There’s a great book that informed my thinking on this, it’s called “ Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America.” It talks about the emotional and psychological toll as women shift their public personalities in order to be able to engage different circles. Imagine having a safe space where over time people feel like they can come as they are and they don’t have to shift. The argument around the space work is that we don’t have to do retreats once a year, we can create the retreat experience at least once a month. And so this idea of being vulnerable, being our authentic selves, it can become a way of life. It can become a habit. It’s not just something we do at retreats.

Why it’s crucial for effective racial justice work. This is necessary inner work to allow us to be open to engaging people who don’t look alike, don’t think alike, don’t talk alike, haven’t lived alike. There’s so much real and perceived difference in our work, particularly just in people. Not just race and ethnic difference, but even how we think differently about the work. It’s important that we create these opportunities where people are learning how to open themselves up to receive people who they see as different. That allows us to do this work in deeper and broader ways. These tools are about helping us to see beyond what’s immediately in front of us. It’s easy to get caught up in the immediate fights we’re dealing with, but it’s also important that we step back and attempt to see where we’ll be three to five years down the line.

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