Don’t Overextend Your Activism

Academic discussions around activism often fail to include the consequences of being burnt out.

Robin Doyscher, Guest Columnist

Anecdotally, I’ve known a lot of eager young people who have followed the same cycle within their journey through activism. They start all wide-eyed ready to begin taking on the world’s problems with their newfound independence and knowledge, but struggle to know where to start, or even how much of themselves to give to any particular cause. They keep reminding themselves to keep racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, class conflict, religious discrimination, ethnic discrimination and all the various forms of bigotry in their mind when they consume media or have conversations.

These young people are admirable, kind and thoughtful. They are also on the path to completely losing their energy in these fights. I know––I was one of them once. 

I used to stress myself out over every problem in our society. The way I interacted with others, indulged in hobbies or approached work, was from this place of fear over doing or saying the wrong thing. And no, this is not a “Robin’s leaving the left and decrying cancel culture” type of event. I mention this as being an example of how not devoting your energy to thoughtfully impacting a few things can be dangerous.

This is not to say that we can’t focus on more than one thing. We should engage with social issues when we can, but we should keep in mind how we’re personally feeling. I was especially really burnt out emotionally around the George Floyd incident, as a Black person I felt I was constantly educating and advocating to a thankless world. It was exhausting. I didn’t truly feel in a position to affect positive change until I took a step back, took care of myself and returned ready to actually help people.

If you’re a young person, my best advice would be to keep fighting for as long as you feel you can stand to. I know that the world may feel insurmountable at times, but we need every good person we can get to enact real shifts in our society to liberate those that have been stomped under the many boots of various systems. Feeling obligated to help out without understanding your own capabilities and capacity is just asking to feel disappointed in yourself and powerless.Be ready to support communities that desperately need it, but don’t do it at the expense of your own wellbeing. You can truly engage more frequently with tough issues if you just give your brain space to decompress and process your own life.