Earlier this week, a piece that I wrote was published on The Pastry Box. It’s about the self-imposed and social pressures that can lead to personal burnout and community dysfunction.
No mission, project, or community is big enough to sacrifice your health or well being; your responsibilities to yourself, your family, and your loved ones are just as important as a worthy cause or an investor’s profits. If a cause or a project can only survive by chewing you up, it deserves to die.
Growing up in a religious community, then working on the staff of a large church, was an interesting education for me. I learned about the complex dynamics of volunteer-dependent organizations, and I saw first-hand how social pressures can keep people grinding away at work that’s killing them. In a mission-based organization, there’s a real connection between how much you do and how much you care: workaholics are presumed to care more about the mission than those who stay at home, and labor can easily become a substitute for piety. It’s the Mary/Martha thing writ large.
The shaming and scolding that evolves out of that (like a PBS pledge drive, but for work instead of money) is usually intended to spur folks on the sideline to action. Often, though, it’s heard loudest by the tender-hearted people who are already overloaded and overwhelmed. Not enough people to keep the soup kitchen open late? You should work longer. Too few helpers to set up chairs before the Sunday service? If you really loved God, you’d be there…
When I started working in open source about a decade ago, I was struck by the similarities. Although the mission was different, the social dynamics and lionization of self-sacrificing super-volunteers was the same. It’s hard to balance passion for a mission or cause with a commitment to self-care, but it’s necessary. If we don’t do it for ourselves and encourage it in other community-members, we’re slowly destroying the people who care the most.