A Win Is the Beginning, Not the End
How to keep doing the work
For many, 2020 has been a time of increased civic awareness and involvement, whether we focused our energies on helping our neighbors deal with Covid, living more ecologically sound lives, joining in the fight for racial justice, or just devoting our attention to the election as if everything hinged on our all-caps rage-tweeting. Now we find ourselves in a new place, post-election, and many have breathed, finally, tentatively, asigh of relief.
But we are also exhausted, and there is still work to be done. Maybe you’re drained from 9 months of a pandemic. Maybe you’re depleted from navigating a recession. Maybe you’re deflated from watching millions of your fellow citizens throw their one precious vote behind someone who has been referred to at various times as a monster and a tyrant and a racist and a buffoon. Well, feel your feelings! as the therapists and kindergarten teachers say, about last night or today or the serene implacability of those Georgia returns. And then think about this question: How do I keep going?
We’re all going to need strategies that help us gird for the long haul, as well as the energy and motivation for the short haul. So, here’s some advice for that.
ID your values
“Do or do not. There is no try,” said Yoda, and also life coach and philanthropist Ruth Ann Harnisch, who points out that our actions are ultimately informed by our values. “One must know, especially now when all resources are so limited and so precious, what is most important,” says Harnisch. “Where do your highest values lie?” (And, she adds, is one of your highest values “living up to my highest values in every instance every day?”)
That may sound like a tall order when you may already be feeling stick-a-fork-in-me-I’m done from running remote Zoom school or stressing about finances or your at-risk family members in an ongoing pandemic. But therapist Shoshanna Hecht says that is exactly when your values can be the most grounding. “When exhausted and defeated, I return (and return again and again) to my values,” she says. “This is not just about knowing your ‘why’ or purpose, but drilling into guiding values that infuse your life and business/career. Being grounded in my values helps me continue to take action, including knowing when the ‘action’ is to rest, or when I need to take a pause, when I need to defer to others, let other people lead, so that I can then continue to engage well-resourced.”
Les Alfred, host of the wellness-focused Balanced Black Girl podcast, advocates taking the moment to just — take the moment. “When feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to focus on one step, and action at a time,” she says. “We can’t control every outcome, but we can initiate necessary conversations, we can tend to our spaces, and we can pause when feeling overwhelmed to focus on our breath.”
And sometimes it helps to zoom out and see yourself in the larger context of your history and legacy. “My ancestors endured conditions far harsher than those I face, which I find to be a source of tremendous motivation,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, NYT bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult and Real American. “My future grandchildren motivate me to do my small part. One day I just might be someone’s ancestor and I hope they’ll be proud of me.”
How to Not Look Away
Being thoughtful about how you approach a challenge means learning to sit with your anxiety
Don’t forget your mantra
I was watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for Halloween and remembered that it was the source of my high school yearbook quote: “Don’t dream it, be it.” It was a good reminder! (It’s a pretty good mantra!) This is where motivational books with wise, pithy aphorisms like Maggie Smith’s Keep Moving and and Cleo Wade’s Heart Talk and Kara Cutruzulla’s Do It For Yourself can be useful for crystallizing what can otherwise get jumbled up in our heads with everything stressing us out.
Harnisch says she has “emergency mantras” that include: I was born for this and every moment of my life has equipped me for this moment. She also recommends the more zen-like: I’m just here to do my part. “That’s to remind me I will never know how the story ends, I’ll never know how everything turns out, I’ll never know,” she says. “Neither did anyone who came before me. Because we don’t get to know so there’s no need to be anxious about it, just do what you’re here to do right now.”
So we’ve got our values and we’ve got our mantra. Great — except we’re exhausted. How can we motivate ourselves to keep fighting for something when we’ve just finished what feels like a marathon? How do we find the sprint left in us? Or… another marathon?
“When we’ve been through a challenge we need a period of rest,” says Lythcott-Haim. “But humans thrive when we have a passion or purpose and tackling the next goal toward that end is what keeps us going. So find your places of solidarity and community and nourish yourself there for a time, but then take that deep breath and put one foot in front of another.”
Harnisch agrees that rest is paramount. “Even the latest fitness gadgets insist you take recovery time or your scores plunge,” she says. “You must do as you are instructed on the airplane, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others, because you have to be alive and functioning in order to assist others.”
And while the election has certainly signaled the end of something (even if certain all-caps tweeters haven’t yet gotten the memo), Les Alfred doesn’t think that means the marathon is over. “Realistically we are very much still in the marathon with no end in sight,” she says. “What’s been keeping me going is celebrating the small victories on the path to liberation that have been achieved along the way, and being deeply committed to self-care to stay rested, fueled, and recharged to continue the marathon.”
Lythcott-Haims reminds us: “As long as you’re alive there will always be another hill to climb (and that’s a good thing!).”
Build — and cull! — your community
You need a community for support and fellowship and teamwork and collective action. Harnisch sees that as nonnegotiable. “Build your network of supportive other humans as deeply and widely as you can, because you will need the help of others, you just will,” she says. “Start now, no matter how isolated you feel, start connecting. Pick someone. Go.”
But what if those other humans are not, in fact, supportive? That may just be because they don’t know how to support you — and you may have to tell them. “There have been countless times I’ve felt frustrated and unsupported, but realized I wasn’t stating what I needed in direct, plain language,” says Alfred. “Whether it’s family, chosen family, or members of our communities, many of us have more options than we realize to give and receive support, and it starts with making the ask.”
But what if you tell them, and they still don’t get it? Well, says Lythcott-Haims, then it’s up to you to decide how you spend your time, and with whom. This is especially true for women of color, says Lythcott-Haims. “For me, self-care also includes speaking truth to White folks like I never have before,” she says. “In the last five months, I’ve quit organizations that refused to address their racism, refused to join organizations that wanted me as their token Black person, and called out friends and family for ignoring the pain I articulate.”
If they are not open to your feedback, and their behavior doesn’t change, then you have a choice. “How they respond speaks volumes about whether I will continue to welcome them into my life,” says Lythcott-Haims. “Sure, I wish they cared. But if they don’t, I don’t need that energy anywhere near me.”
All of this lays the groundwork for supporting your values, goals, and growth as you move forward.
“Building extraordinary coping skills is like muscle development: You can’t fake doing the work,” says Harnisch. “Results are inevitable if you do the work and impossible if you don’t.”