A Late Night Conversation– How do you Stay?
It was a late night sidewalk conversation I still remember. Nora, a wickedly amazing younger colleague, asked us “How do you do the work? How do you stay?” Her question caught me off-guard, she’s young and eager, how could she think of leaving the field? I sobered up quickly from my half-glass jalapeno margarita, and told Nora that she has to stay in the field of community building—we need her, she is the current and next generation of leaders.
At the PolicyLink Equity Summit Nick Tilsen, a Native American economic justice leader, talked about seven generations: “Honor three generations of the past, you are the present generation, and work for three generations ahead.” He also said to learn from your elders, you may not agree with them all of the time but they can be your greatest allies and wisest supporters.
This is for you Nora and other social justice leaders, you are the present and the future. I may be older, but I’m not old enough to be wise or profound enough to be your elder; just old enough to buy the drinks without getting carded. This is also a thank you to our elders and a invitation to the three generations ahead of me.
“Social justice work moves at a snail’s pace, on a turtle’s back, at a rodeo.” Dr. Donald Felder
Social justice work moves at a snail’s pace, on a turtle’s back, at a rodeo. Imagine that and you’ll get a sense of how long you need to work to see change. Dr. Felder’s quote also reminds me how crazy the work is and how crazy I also have to be to get anything done. Equity work is personal, there is no way to make it anything but personal. These are some steps that have helped me stay somewhat sane.
Seven Survival Steps
1. Find Your Tribe: Find some friends and colleagues whom you like and gather. About every six-eight weeks I get really antsy and that is my clue that I need to gather my Fakequity Fighters for breakfast or happy hour so we can vent, laugh, and problem solve. Good things come out of these sessions (like this blog). When we gather we allow ourselves to talk honestly about our successes and struggles. I also find they push me to think more creatively and to think about equity more deeply. I don’t know if I give the same to my friends, but maybe my gift is I send out the doodle poll to schedule.
2. Learn: Recognize your experiences aren’t the same as anyone else. In order to get the work right we need to continually learn and adapt our thinking. Read a lot of different articles and books, listen to your elders, and learn to spot fakequity. Spotting fakequity is a skill you will build, as you learn you’ll begin to sniff it out and then be able to call it out.
3. Call out the fakequity and ask good questions: Dr. Donald Felder is one of my amazing mentors and board members. He is trying to teach me the skill of asking a good question. Dr. Felder has honed the craft of asking questions that push people to understand the change and thought process he wants them to pursue and see. It is a Yoda-like skill I have yet to master as I’m only a Jedi-in training.
4. Don’t Read Noisy Blogs or Comments: It is tempting to read noisy ranty blog and newspaper comments, but as another friend once said “I feel less than human [after reading them].” If I don’t have a relationship with the person writing them, then I probably won’t fully understand their thinking. I don’t like getting mad and yelling at my computer and I don’t find it a productive use of my time, so I’ve decided to stop reading newspaper comments and I limit my reading of ranty blogs.
5. Drink and Know Your Non-Negotiables: Go drink water (you thought I’d mention alcohol), go for a walk, breathe, and figure out your non-negotiables. The only way I can stay in the work for the long-haul is taking time to also do things I love. Find something you love that isn’t connected to your daily work and do it. Put it on your calendar and hold the time. Heidi, a fakequity fighter, thinks best while bicycling and loves the activity. Jondou is great at BBQ and takes great care in feeding others grilled meat (if you’re vegan you get one grilled cremini mushroom). CiKeithia dances her heart out at Zumba. These gifts are equally as important as their professional work, save some time for you. Community work requires time to think and doing something for yourself will lead to interesting connections.
6. Say Yes (and No): Say yes a lot. Say yes to the things that are scary and push you in new ways. Say yes to meeting people you may not want to meet with. Say yes to embracing the weird space of not having answers or knowing what the heck is happening. It will lead you to new experiences and you’ll meet people who can help you along the way.
Saying yes, also means becoming very clear about when you will say yes and help you define when to say no. This year my organization has built new partnerships because we said yes to embracing new work. Saying yes also meant we were saying no to doing other things that weren’t right at the moment. Saying yes to partnering with organizations that align and who bring great support and partnerships to our coalition partners is a win. Who we said no to are activities that aren’t mission aligned nor racial equity focused, or perhaps just not the right time.
7. Don’t be a Jerk: Racial equity work is about relationships, put people first. It is really that simple, put people first and don’t be a jerk. Be a good partner, open doors literally and figuratively, share, and be nice. Fakequity = Jerk. Equity = harder work of sharing and being open.
There are a lot of other tips, but we’ll save those for another time. Feel free to share what works for you, I’d love to pick up a few new self-care tips. It is easy to talk about self-care and harder to do, so maybe your tip is the magical one.
Posted by Erin