October 2011 Archives

Burnout is Bad for the World

To: Social Entrepreneurs Everywhere
From: A Friend

Take care of yourself.

I just returned from an eye-opening week of hanging with and talking to social entrepreneurs and others in the change-the-world ecosystem who met at Opportunity Collaboration in Ixtapa, Mexico.

Jonathan Lewis' third annual "un-conference" provided a context for exchanging ideas, trading business cards, finding partners, and making deals.  My main objective in attending: talk to as many early stage social entrepreneurs as possible and understand what they're up against.  While there is much to tell (and I will: keep reading this blog, thank you; and stay tuned for my upcoming book with Cynthia Koenig, What I Wish I Knew Then: Becoming a Social Entrepreneur), one observation struck me again and again:  You must take care of yourself.

Changing the world as a social entrepreneur is hard work and it's not for everyone.  The hours can be crazy long. Your friends' and family may think you're climbing too steep a mountain or, worse, throwing your talent away.  Your experience attracting money can be like using one magnet to try to attract another.

Yet we need world changers, and you know it.

So, what do you do?

Many social entrepreneurs work with such devotion to their cause that their  ...

... PICK ONE
  • best friend 
  • uncle  
  • sister  
  • mentor   
  • (insert someone else with a bit of detachment) 
has to scrape them off the floor before they permanently seep into the floor boards.

While they're running their social enterprise at warp speed, they fail to realize that they're damaging their health and setting themselves up for crash-and-burn failure.  While sprinting may seem like the fastest way to get what you want done, it often becomes running over people you need and away from clear-headed thinking.

Also: isn't it ironic that social entrepreneurs -- who genuinely long to make the world a better place -- can be creating hellish conditions for themselves and those who work for them?

So, change the world.  But "be the change," as Gandhi said (or didn't).  Work hard, and lead by modeling the kind of world you want others to enjoy.  Sustain yourself so you can sustain your work.  Manage your own energy as you would manage your organization's precious resources.  Organizations best at addressing problems and building systems of lasting change begin with people who are whole.

Consistency and being "present" --   not dissipation  --  can change the world.

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