When I say this year has been bananas, I’m not kidding. In the last twelve months of focused, frenzied, nonstop activism, I’ve learned lesson after valuable lesson about what it means to truly make change in my community and beyond. This kind of rapid learning on the fly is what happens when you get thrown into the deep end to sink or swim, right? Turns out, I can swim, but not as fast as I’d like. Yet. Still, the experience has been invaluable, even if a little batshit crazy. Here are some of the things I know now that I didn’t know this time last year:
You can’t champion every cause
Initially, I joined every organization I could find (and even helped start one) and went to meetings or an activity every night of the week and all day on the weekends. This feverish insanity went on for months. It helped to fully immerse myself in the local political climate, becoming knowledgeable about all of the issues that mattered. Unfortunately for poor, introverted me, there were way too many issues that I cared about. I ran myself ragged and fell into a perpetual state of bleary eyed exhaustion that wasn’t emotionally or physically healthy, nor was it sustainable long term. It took going through a hurricane to realize that I needed to prioritize and carve out personal time or I was going to burn out all together.
People will disappoint you
I’ve met more people in the last year than I have in the last decade. No joke. Riddled with anxiety and unable to remember a person’s name for the first twenty times I ‘meet’ them, I think I’m doing pretty damned well holding it together socially. I’ve met some seriously kickass people since the 2016 election. These folks are closer to me right now than people I’ve known for decades. We’ve been battle tested and run through the ringer together. I’m stuck to these fellow activists like glue and would drop everything to show up when they needed me.
But there are also people whose conduct, lack of interest, overall shitty attitude, and unwillingness to follow through on anything they commit to doing are constant sources of frustration. My mother didn’t raise a goldbricker, so if I say I’m going to do something, I damned well do it. I can’t understand people who don’t show up or complete a task they’ve volunteered to undertake, but they are out there. Everywhere. I’ve tried to come to terms with this, but it still burns me up every time.
You won’t always get it right
This was another lesson internalized the hard way. I don’t think there’s a task I’ve taken on this year that has been done the right, most expedient way the first time. I recalculate. I reassess. I go at it from another direction, keeping in mind what didn’t work the last time. It’s labor intensive and aggravating to the point that I’ve considered tearing my hair out by the handful or screaming my throat to bloody ribbons. Instead, I soldier on, wiser for the inevitable fuck ups, because what else is there to do?
You will fail over and over again
Seriously, this kind of work is unpaid and unforgiving. You try, you fail, and you try again. That’s the long and short of it. Get used to falling short, to nonstop hustling that never manages to reach the goal, to pouring blood, sweat, tears, and expletives into the cause only to end up right back where you started. Don’t let it discourage you. Just keep on keeping on.
There is always work to be done
I’ve learned to juggle more causes than I’d have believed myself capable of a year ago. And when one campaign ends, another three are right there to take its place. Causes multiply depending on the number of organizations you join, and the tasks are never ending. Training is sparse, there are no guidebooks, and you’re going to do a lot of guesswork, but when in doubt, act like you know what the hell you’re talking about. You’ll figure it out along the way. I sure as hell did.
You will be more fulfilled than you ever imagined
This is the real shocker from 2017. I’m exhausted, running on caffeine, chocolate, and cheese, constantly frustrated, and feeling like I’m being pulled in thirty different directions at once. But I’ve also never been more certain that my life is serving some higher purpose than I am right now. I honestly feel like I’m making a real difference, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything in the world, even though I sorely miss my cozy little existence of binging on books and Netflix while ignoring the rest of the world.
You will realize that giving up isn’t an option
After every heartbreaking loss or setback, I’ve found that my resolve only strengthens. I’m not quite sure what happened to the Negative Nancy I used to be 12 short months ago, but nowadays getting pushed down only makes me spring back up with even more piss, vinegar, and old fashioned determination. I will see this through, whatever the cost to my personal life or sanity, because I already know the high price of complacency.
I have many more lessons to learn, causes for which to fight, and frustrations to mitigate with lengthy happy hours spent bitching, commiserating, and planning with my fellow activists on balconies shaded from the Florida sunshine. I wouldn’t have it any other way, honestly and truly.