I’m tired, y’all.

And it’s not just new parenthood that’s making me tired (although, having a child is L I T E R A L L Y exhausting). I’ve been tired. I stay tired.

For years, I’ve felt like I’m swimming, doggy paddling, in a giant ocean. I get a gasping breath and then am swept under the surf, rolling with the current under the mirror-like surface. I’m below for far too long. My lungs are pushed to their limits each time, as I flail, wholly at the mercy of the waves. Until randomly, I’m jettisoned into fresh air, able to grab on to a piece of driftwood and stay afloat for a short while. Just long enough to stop panting and catch my breath. And then a sneaker wave comes, and I’m towed back into the suffocating depths once again.

And it goes on and on like that. It’s exhausting.

I imagine that some of you understand what that feels like. Overwhelm and burnout are notoriously common in the nonprofit and social sectors. We’re asked to do so much with so little. And if we don’t, the work doesn’t get done, the community doesn’t get served and someone’s needs go unmet. The weight of that reality is an anchor, resisting against our frantic attempts to get a breath of air.  

Sometimes that weight is so great, I stop trying to get out of it. I succumb to gravity, letting myself get pulled down into the abyss. I sacrifice my body and mind for the needs of others, shutting down different parts of myself and devoting all I have to the work. And unsurprisingly, I suffer for it.

And then sometimes, it is the proverbial weight of the world that drags me down. That’s where I was in 2020.  The compounding impacts of the pandemic and racial justice movement kept my head below the tide for months at a time. Seeing the ways these societal forces were ravaging Black communities and families was too much to handle. I didn’t know how long I could carry it all without drowning.

Then in 2021, I got the opportunity to do something about it. I joined a subgroup of the Transforming Solidarity Collective – NEW, Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA), Michigan Community Resources (MCR), Co.act Detroit, and Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) – on a special project. This subgroup, led and inspired by Shamyle Dobbs, CEO of MCR, was putting together research and recommendations for a new nonprofit sabbatical. It would be the first of its kind to center the sector’s BIPOC leaders. We also aimed to address cultures of burnout and prevent the vicious cycles that harmed us. And while it didn’t attend to our present fatigue, the opportunity to effect the sector and our communities was meaningful to everyone involved.

Almost two-and-a-half years later, our work is complete and The Rest and Liberation Initiative report has been published. 

Now that the work is done, I’m reflecting on the length of the process. We initially expected to be done with our work in October of 2021. Little did we know just what a big project we were undertaking – and how much it mattered to us to get it right. Of course there were also some human things that delayed our work – my own health and parent leave being two (2) of those factors. But I’m struck with the lesson nonetheless: we can’t create rest while moving with haste and urgency. There simply is no way to slow down without slowing down. 

In a culture that demands instant gratification, creating spaces and moments of rest is like swimming upstream. Just this week, as I’ve been trying to work out some scheduling for my team, I’ve had to remind myself not to fill every last minute. We have to give ourselves time and space to breathe. We have to budget and plan for the unexpected to emerge – not knowing what it will look like, just knowing that it will come. We have to be willing to do a little less in the short term, so we can do a lot more over the long term. And if we want rest to show up at work and at home, we have to practice it.

Because without rest between the waves, we’ll drown.

I’m grateful for the chance to live this practice at work. I’m learning how to balance my whole humanity with productivity just like all of you, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m starting by holding some space between what I take on and the actual limits of my capacity. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. If you want to join me in the journey, feel free to check out the Rest and Liberation Initiative report as a helpful starting place. And to reach out to swap ideas or share stories – we can learn a lot from each other. In the meantime, I’m going to wrap up this post and savor a couple minutes in the sun on our back porch. The hibiscus plants just bloomed and the hot pink blossoms are inviting me to breathe in their scent.