One of my colleagues has just joined us from working in an institution where everybody was expected to be in all the meetings all the time, and then do any kind of thinking or writing or creative work on the weekends. She had become used to that as a norm.
For the first couple of months she worked with me, she would say things like, “I’ll totally get you that report on Sunday night.”
And I would respond, “No, you won’t. You’ll get me that report two weeks from now, on a Thursday. You have a child at home. You have a health condition.”
I would watch her orientation to scheduling her work and meetings and would notice her making eight to ten check-ins with grantees who are all dealing with urgent security and protection needs. And I would respond, “Let’s talk about secondary trauma.”
Valuing our work by producing a lot is so prevalent under capitalism. Then throughout social good organizations we internalize it by saying to ourselves, “Thinking is a luxury. Feeling is a luxury. Processing trauma is a luxury. Being creative is a luxury.”
This is the massive decolonization process of my own consciousness. There isn’t one day in my life as a leader—in my morning coffee routine or in my long meditations or even in my dreams—that I don’t realize something that’s weighing on me internally, such as, “Did we handle that situation? Did I do the right thing?” Unless we as leaders, particularly Black and Brown women leaders, begin to honor thinking, feeling, healing, and creating as our birthright and as “real work” time, we will never be able to rid ourselves of the idea that we are here to make widgets for Massa.
So we have to reckon with our unsustainable and terrible patterns as individuals. As leaders we can no longer value our worth by how many meetings we’re in, by how much time we’re spending interacting with others, or by producing something for someone else’s purposes. We almost never calculate in our work hours the time for reflection, evaluation, learning, reading, generating collaborations, sector building, or having a non-urgent but absolutely important conversation.
My friend recently observed, “You just don’t grind on the weekends. I see you working really long and hard on the weekdays and then, like, you’re out there sunbathing, drinking wine.” I shared with her, “It’s taken me a long time. It’s been a journey to not feel a sense of anxiety or guilt that I’ve dropped the ball on something.” There’s always so much work, so here’s what I am really trying to embody and model as a leader for my team: I have learned that after rest and play, I am 100% more productive, effective, useful, smarter, clearer. I have learned to show up in our staff meetings present, clear, and rested. I have learned that a decision made on Friday afternoon after a long week is not the same one I make on Monday morning. The decision I make on Monday morning will be a better one than the one made from a sense of depletion.
When we don’t schedule our vacations or don’t resist the temptation to plug in while we are away, then neither we nor our team members have to confront what is perpetuating the idea that we don’t deserve rest, and that our unfatigued selves matter to our families, communities, organizations, and movements.
But we do. Give yourself permission to rest.
The above is an excerpt from Leading with Joy: Practices for Uncertain Times by Akaya Windwood & Rajasvini Bhansali.
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