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Burnout buster for social change agents

I took a walk today and was delighted to discover this teeny-tiny egg shell at my feet on the way home. Like a little piece of the sky. I made a nest from grass clippings to honor the creature that gave birth to it, and the creature that was birthed from it.

Before I took my walk, I was feeling discouraged and frustrated. Wondering whether my work made a difference. How I would keep going despite all the challenges. Crispy around the edges, if not quite burned-out.

A tiny soft voice that I could just barely make out whispered “get outside.” I’d been ignoring her for hours, but she’d made some sort of deal with my dog to guilt me out of the house. (One of the many things I like about dogs – they seem to be aligned with wise mind more often than not.)

What does your tiny soft voice say? If you’re feeling burned out, you’ve been ignoring her, or him, for a while now. Start listening. That voice will lead you to signs of new life, reasons to have faith and hope, and clear evidence that you’re making a difference.

Tell me what you hear and what you learned in the comments.

Get your own dang french fry!

Every year in August and early September, mournful kazoo-like sounds distract me from work in my home office. Without even looking up, my heart does a little empathy flip. The sound is a baby crow trying to understand why it’s mama and papa are no longer feeding it.

Now whether you like crows or not (and they seem to be more fashionable lately, thanks in part to Crow Planet, which I adored), this scenario has got to pull at your heart strings a little.  I find myself thinking “Just give him a goddamn french fry already! Its not like you didn’t steal them from my neighbor’s dumpster anyway! Poor thing.”

But the parent crow remains coolly oblivious to the pleading, eating the entire french fry/soiled cardboard/carrion right in front of it’s progeny. You’d think crows are terrible parents, but they’re one of the most doting, family-oriented birds in the animal kingdom.

In order for the baby to have any chance of survival (and most crows die before they reach their first birthday) the parent has to let go. The baby crow doesn’t understand this, of course, and I project s/he feels abandoned and terrified. And hungry.

Puts me in mind of the many times I’ve felt the same way – lost, scared, fresh out of faith in the world. Hungry for love and comfort. When I can get quiet and pay close attention during those times, I remember that these feelings lead to a greater sense of spaciousness and peace than I’ve felt before, a clearing out and letting go that was absolutely necessary for a big leap that I didn’t know I was capable of making.

Maybe the parent crow is silently beaming through the barrage of pleading “I have faith in you – I know you can do it – go find your own food so you can come back to us!”

Is the universe sending you a message of faith that you’ve been mis-translating? Tell me all about it.

What’s your Invictus?

If you haven’t seen Invictus yet, don’t miss it in the theater. I was resistant at first because I’m not a rugby fan and it looked like it might be a bit cheesy in that way sports movies can be.

I was wrong, and I haven’t talked to so many people about a movie in years. Especially not a movie about real events and real people. (Well to be totally honest there was too much rugby for my taste, but it was a Clint Eastwood film after all!)

We all know the incredible story of Mandela’s 27 years in prison, eventual release, election as South Africa’s first black president and how his leadership and faith has helped his country heal from devastating racism without any major violence.

What this movie focused on was a seemingly minor situation unfolding against the backdrop of these incredible personal and historical feats:

Mostly-white South African Rugby team loved by most white South Africans and loathed by most black South Africans has a chance at the Rugby World Cup. Mandela gets pressured by his closest supporters and allies to change the name of the team and bring on more black players as part of his new administration. He refuses, to the dismay of his colleagues and many of his citizens.

Instead, he personally befriends the unassuming (and somewhat desperate) white captain of the rugby team and shares with him that the team’s success has the potential of uniting the whole country during a very divided time.

The film is called Invictus because it’s the name of a poem Mandela relied on to help maintain his faith and perspective in jail. Mandela shares this poem with the rugby Captain, which in turn inspires him, and he’s able to inspire his struggling team to victory. And, Mandela turns out to have been right – it does unite the country, at least for that day.

How did Mandela have the courage to stay true to his convictions, despite so much hatred and opposition? What enabled him to withstand the pressure not just from his enemies, but from his closest friends?

Most of us won’t ever be caught up in the cross-hairs of history in the way Mandela was, but I know I deeply resonate with the question of how to keep my faith and motivation going through tough times.

Regardless of the scale of change we might be working toward, or the challenges we might face, each of us is tasked with finding our own version of Invictus, something to carry us through and help inspire those around us. What’s yours?