A few years ago, during an annual United Way community service day, I asked a volunteer if he knew anything about computers.
The desktop we offer for public use at our Hillman City Collaboratory Drop-In Center had been malfunctioning.
The volunteer, who had been busily working with his hands to assemble a shelf, said he was adept with computers and would take a look. That afternoon, he told me he had easily diagnosed the problem and had optimized its performance. Indeed, the computer now ran like a champ.
I found out the next day that he was the No. 3 person at Microsoft.
We probably shouldn’t be asking programmers to build shelves with us on volunteer days like this, I thought to myself. There’s a better way to utilize his deep well of experience for the public good.
We can’t forget to focus on our core strengths and our foundational passions, instead of being spread too thin. Most organizers and activists who I know live on the borderlands of burnout. This is not helpful to the movements, the people, or ourselves. One of the most important remedies to burnout is accepting the fact that you cannot (and should not) try to do everything.
Most of us wear many different hats in many organizations. We cannot respond to all our emails, and feel great shame for all of our shortcomings.
The glass-half-full view is that we care. There is work to be done, and we are have a body, a heart and a brain and want to dedicate ourselves to the work. On the flip side, we too often operate from the belief that nobody else can and will do it. Having boundaries and saying no takes not just assertiveness, but also the humility to admit that others can do what needs to be done, often better than we can.
The great subversive mystic, Dr. Howard Thurman, summed this up well when he said, “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself… And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
May you create a quietness in your life that you might hear the sound of the genuine in yourself.
May you surrender the need to do everything.
May you let yourself receive encouragement without deflecting, and may you give encouragement to others without jealousy.
Only when we live from our genuine will we find our true home in the movement of liberation.
Rev. John Helmiere is the Convener of Valley & Mountain - Hillman City.
Read the full March 13 - 19 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.