I've spent the past 7 semesters doing activism at Brandeis. Even while abroad studying comedy in Chicago, I did activism at Brandeis. In fact, I was more active from afar because it felt more manageable. And that's what I want to write about now: managing it. Because trying to change Brandeis, Waltham, Massachusetts, the Northeast, colleges across the United States, America, the Western Hemisphere, the world, the universe…. can get pretty exhausting.
So, here are a few lessons I've learned. I'd appreciate it if you shared with me whether you've experienced similar or different things, any advice or empathy you have to give, and words of inspiration.
From my first exposure to Brandeis activism (which came in the form of Sahar Massachi recruiting me to write for Innermostparts in Upper Usdan midway through my first semester here), I was warned about the evils of Burnout. It was built up into this big scary thing that would happen to me without my knowing it.
Examples of things I have heard about burn out:
- "Don't invest too much energy into this project or you'll burn out"
- "Activists at Brandeis tend to burn out quickly, they have great ideas but then they drain themselves and give up on them. Don't do that."
- "I've been working to make Brandeis more sustainable for the past 2 years and now I'm a junior and I'm going abroad and I don't care anymore. I've been burned out."
Despite all these warning and words of caution, despite seeing my friends burn out, I couldn't figure out how to avoid this trap. I say "trap" because Robert M. Pirsig refers to things which block our gumption (read: energy, motivation) as such in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the most insightful book I have ever read. I fell into this trap upon returning from Chicago to Brandeis, second semester junior year, and I have not been able to recover since. I went from planning numerous events and leading multiple clubs to maximizing the amount of time I could spend by myself in my room, because I realized that was what I really needed. I am just now re-learning how to do come back from a burnout.
Which leads me to my next point..
I reached my peak of involvement sophomore year. Here's a list of what extracurricular activies I was involved with that year:
- reviving Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance
- writing for the Justice Arts
- serving on the Brandeis Pluralism Alliance Steering Committee
- being a Waltham Group Kids Connections Coordinator
- writing for The Blowfish
- Tutoring through English Language Learning
- Serving on the Freeplay Theatre Board
- Trying to start a Brandeis Improv Club
- Boris' writer contributer
- Co-founder of Little Hands video sketch comedy group
- Interning at Second Step Domestic Violence facility
- Acting and filming things around campus
- Working at Einsteins
- Managing Innermostparts
While this may seem like a normal schedule to many Brandeisians, looking back I realize how exhausting it was. I never spent time in my room, I spent little time with many of my closest friends, I was a mess. I felt I had no control over my life, since I was so devoted to making these groups work, and doing everything I could to "make a difference."
I would spend hours thinking and debating with friends over whether you should feel guilty for not "doing enough." As though there's such a thing as enough….As though anyone has a right to make you feel guilty for not trying to make a difference…As though guilt is a good motivatonal tool.
I realize now that while splintering myself all over the place and doing everything I was interested was great for broadening my horizons, it was my ego driving me to do as much as I could, and not my passion for change.
3. Messiah Complex
Andrew Flagel talked about this at the Club Conference at the beginning of the semester, and it really stuck with me. I went through most of my time at Brandeis with a Messiah Complex, subconsciously thinking that I needed to do things because if I didn't do them no one else would, and that that would be a problem. While that kind of thinking can drive you to do effective, productive things with your time, it can also lead to Points 1 and 2. And, perhaps the larger problem, it is simply not true.
Repeat After Me:
I am not the only person who can plan an event.
I am not the only person who can lead a meeting.
If I do not do this, it will not mean the end of the world.
Brandeis can exist without me.
These steps are not meant to devalue your significance- if you tell me you play a vital role to your organization, I believe you. If you say that if you do not submit those forms to Finance Board, no one else will and your club will get no money and then no one will come to your events since there's no free food and then everyone will sign off the list serv and then your club will be dechartered for lack of activity then perhaps you're right. The thing to realize is that just because those things may happen does NOT mean you must be beholden to your club. As much as your club does for the world, there are things that are more important. And there always will be.
So do your club, your friends, your roommates, and especially yourself a favor and admit to yourself that YOU ARE NOT BEHOLDEN TO YOUR CLUB.
NOTE: The terms club, cause, campaign are used interchangeably throughout this post. I also use the concept of club and social activism interchangeably at times because that has been my experience at Brandeis (I think every club I was a member of was arguably a proponet of social change).
Well, that concludes this post. It turned out a bit differently than I expected, and it was a good reason to avoid finishing my 10 page Shakespeare paper. I intend to write 2 follow-up notes before the semester ends- one on Lessons from a former Finance Board Representative and one on Most Important Things to Know When Planning an Event at Brandeis.
If anyone is reading this and would like a note targeting something specific they have encountered, feel free to let me know.