What holds us back from change? One of the most pernicious ways our impact as change makers is lessened is in the false conflicts we have absorbed around our wellbeing and our impact.
Often, these are ideas we internalise without questioning, so ingrained are they in our understanding of the world.
The way to be most effective is to work as hard as possible.
To show vulnerability makes us weak – the most powerful leaders do not admit their doubts or failings.
The most impressive achievements are those achieved by heroes working on their own, unsupported by others.
At times each of these beliefs may have even served us. A powerful work ethic, the ability to shield our doubts with confidence, and the tenacity to keep going even when many other people give up, has been behind some of the biggest shifts we’ve seen in the world.
The beliefs which hold us back from change
And yet these ideals can also lead to an undoing of much of the change we strive for. As Adrienne Maree Brown writes in Emergent Strategy, the focus of change making work is evolving and growing.
“We have lived through a good half century of individualistic linear organizing (led by charismatic individuals or budget-building institutions), which intends to reform or revolutionize society, but falls back into modeling the oppressive tendencies against which we claim to be pushing.”
Here are how these 3 lies keep us stuck in those old ways of being – and how to move past them.
When we associate the impact of our work with the amount we take on, we find ourselves on a path to stress, exhaustion and even burnout
This can lead to gifted leaders for change getting to a place where they are unable to continue their work because of the personal toll it has taken on them. Time and again I’ve seen incredible managers, advocates and change makers choose to give up the valuable work they are doing when it impacts them on a personal level beyond a point they can endure.
What if we understood our longer term impact as inextricably linked to how well we take care of ourselves and each other? How much more energy, clarity, and hope could we bring to our work if we put the importance of our own wellbeing as a resource at the core of what we do?
When we think we are unable to admit our vulnerability, we find ourselves suppressing or hiding the parts of ourselves and our organisations that need to heal
An example of this at a large scale is the recent #OxfamScandal and resulting exploration of sexual abuse in the international humanitarian sector as we see the great lengths that development charities have gone to to paint themselves as faultless saviours begin to fall apart. On a smaller scale, that might mean we feel unable to ask for help when we realise we’re stuck or confused, so we find ourselves working in ineffective ways.
What if the very hallmark of an effective approach to change was to acknowledge vulnerability and be open to a constant exploration of all the ways in which our actions betray our missions? What if we asked for help early, and often – before we reached crisis point? What if we saw our greatest power as leaders as being in the way we were able to draw on those around us to meet our needs?
When we hold individuals as the epitome of what it is to make change, we lose the power of collaboration, and connection
The tendency of our culture to celebrate the success of lone individuals is the final narrative we can become more conscious of.
Of course, there are certain charismatic figures who we remember as they have had a special and particular role in changing the course of history. The celebration of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life and work over recent days has been a clear reminder of that. Gandhi is another example of an individual whose contribution changed history; Martin Luther King Jr. also springs to mind. But none of these people created change alone.
A resilient culture is one which prioritises the power of networks and communities to effect even greater change. Organisations that are resilient and flexible even when they are made up of humans whose lives ebb and flow and take unexpected turns.
What if we rejected the ‘hero narrative’ of change and saw our greatest power as being in what we can achieve together, not alone? What if our narrative became one of connection and collaboration instead?
A different way of doing things
At Jijaze, we believe we are more effective as change makers when we’re better resourced.
As change makers, we should not have to choose between being competent and having a manageable workload; between our rest and replenishment, and the difference we are making in the world.
We understand that as change makers our work is uniquely important, and the challenges around making time for ourselves are different.
This is why we work in small groups, like our Mastermind, and why we created a separate online community (away from Facebook) to explore these issues alongside each other.
Our next Mastermind begins in May and we are currently open for registration. If you’d like to find out more about our process and how it can open up your change making work to possibilities beyond these 3 assumptions, you can take a look and find out more here.
And let us know in the comments if you’ve come across these lies – and what strategies you have to get round them.