A few days ago, I heard a quote that made me pause:
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek
At Plenty, we believe that the center of strategy is passion, and those working in causes that they are passionate about are more effective and more impactful. Even outside of my work with Plenty, I wholeheartedly believe that all the work I’ve ever done has been rooted in purpose, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. So, while I'm not suggesting that Sinek was trying to spread anything more than positive inspiration, or that this idea can't serve as an evaluation tool for stress management, I would argue that working in the social space on a cause you care about will not eliminate your ability to become stressed from time to time.
My bone to pick with this ‘stress vs. passion’ concept goes deeper. Upon hearing this concept it immediately jumped out to me as an ideology that could push those of us working in social change to conceal the stress we experience in the name of passion. And in my experience, that’s not only unhealthy, but incredibly harmful to our well-being and the missions we serve.
In the nonprofit world, burnout is incredibly high. The stakes of our work seem to transcend a 9 to 5 mentality, and structurally, there’s immense pressure to make sure we’re raising and using our dollars in the best way we possibly can. With an objective like that, it’s imperative that, as an industry, we prioritize our wellbeing, our mental health, and our self-care.
Think about this: You're on a flight. You've settled into your seat and are about to pick up the copy of SkyMall stuffed in the seatback in front of you when you hear a "ding" ring out through the cabin. A flight attendant comes over the speaker system. You've heard this phrase repeated so many times that you could parrot it back in your sleep: "In the event of a cabin emergency... if you're traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your oxygen mask first before assisting others." This example illustrates the point that we have to help ourselves before we can help others – even if that is not our natural instinct.
It is important to note that this pattern of burnout and mental health concerns permeating the workplace transcends the nonprofit space. One example of this is seen in entrepreneurs who experience higher incidence levels of mental health conditions than almost all other professions. It’s something I’ve written about before, but here’s a refresher: Think pieces and articles are popping up left and right connecting mental illness to entrepreneurship and change-making. Some take the angle that mental illnesses are borne out of the stress of this type of work, while others suggest that those with mental health conditions are more likely to pursue these career paths. In a 2015 study, 72% of entrepreneurs polled self-reported mental health concerns.
Here’s the punchline – before you care for the world, you must practice self-care. Ensuring the wellbeing of yourself and your team is one of the most important aspects of leadership that you can employ. I’m learning to validate and prioritize my own wellbeing, and I attribute that largely to those who are modeling the behavior and importance by prioritizing their own. To me, that’s leadership too.