Joy is such a foreign word in 2020, right? It feels — especially right now as we await the outcome of the election in the U.S. — that we are surrounded by everything but joy — anxiety, anger, tension, depression, restlessness, exhaustion swirl around us.
But here’s a radical idea for your consideration: we are infinitely more powerful — in creating social change, or really in doing anything — when we approach it from a place of joy.
I know that the word “Joy” has baggage. A friend told me once that she hates the word joy. Thinking that seemed odd, I asked her why. She said “It feels too pushy, too much of a burden, too hard to achieve.”
I get that. I’ve been there. That place where you are so burdened that the concept of joy seems itself like a hurdle not worth overcoming.
I see this so often in the eyes of our exhausted, burned out social change leaders. Especially right now.
But you are infinitely more powerful when your actions come from a place of joy. Maybe joy isn’t the right word for you, but you have to admit that there is something incredibly powerful when you are connected to and acting from what lights you up. Use whatever word you want to describe that space — passion, energy, excitement, inspiration, imagination, happiness, bliss — but it is undeniable that there is something magical that happens there. Humor me if I use “joy” as a shorthand.
Sadly, for many social change leaders (maybe you too?) — especially as we near the end of a year that JUST WON’T QUIT — joy is extremely difficult to find.
But the search is worth it.
And I would bet that once (perhaps long ago) you found joy in your social change work.
Several years ago, I met a nonprofit leader who was lit up. She had founded, just a few years earlier, a model for innovative, game-changing economic development. And she was so passionate about it. She came into the office every day with ideas firing left and right. She was skilled at getting funders engaged because she was exuberant in the work. She was inspiring to watch, and the results she achieved were amazing.
But as the years passed, she began to work longer hours, take fewer breaks, bend to funder demands, refuse to ask for help. One day, she looked up and realized joy had completely left her. What remained was nearly constant anxiety and depression. She finally, and agonizingly, quit the organization she had founded simply because she was so miserable.
We can argue all day about the external dynamics that contributed to her downward spiral (difficult funders, lack of staff, challenging political headwinds), but she also had herself to blame. Because she stopped making room for joy.
Her passion — once so brilliant she could easily convince anyone to join her — had grown dim. When she stopped listening to and feeding that internal energy that drove her vision for change, her power disappeared.
What a loss. Not for her or her organization, though that is also true. But for the social change should could have delivered.
Again and again in the social change sector I have witnessed a lack of joy worn as a badge, or considered a right of passage. It’s as if social change leaders believe (myself once included) that the work is not effective if it is not tormented. If you are not miserable, you are not working hard enough.
But the opposite is true. You accomplish so much more when you are inspiring, joyful, energized, passionate. It is so much easier to convince funders to invest, your board to step up, partners to engage if you are emanating passion.
Social change leaders are so good at denying the fact that joy is a critical, foundational part of the job of social change. In fact, without it, social change is a pipe dream.
So do yourself and your social change work a favor and take a break. Go do something that brings you a moment of joy. Then start doing that (or something equally joyful) every single day. Make joy a part of your daily diet and watch your social change results grow.
You can learn more about how joy leads to abundance in my upcoming book, Reinventing Social Change, out February 2021. To get book previews, pre-sale announcements, and other exciting offers related to the book, make sure to join the Social Velocity e-list here (and you can download a free guide on moving your organization from scarcity to abundance).
Photo Credit: Fuu J