Making a Career in Social Change Sustainable

Like the anticipation of experiencing childbirth for the first time, there are many elements that come with stepping into a leadership role in a social change organization that no one bothers to mention before you begin. Before you cut to the chase and scroll on down to see what I’m talking about, catch the lesson: you can actually of have your favorite $7 gluten-free blueberry muffin and eat it, too (or however that saying goes).

Let’s face it — it’s way more fun to gush about the prospect of holding a cooing newborn baby than mention the likelihood of sore breasts and post-birth constipation. Similarly, for new leaders within social change organizations, the appeal of “birthing” new strategies which catalyze programming, services, and advocacy for target communities is an understandably more invigorating exercise than, say, descending into the underbelly of asking for money, human resources drama, competing priorities, politics, and more. If I’m being honest, constipation can also find itself on this list, too. Stay hydrated, people!

As a former executive director— and, for what it’s worth, a mother of two — I’ve made it my absolute business to get real real about both sides of holding positional power within an organization committed to advancing social justice. It’s my life’s work to create sacred space for social change professionals to experience pathways toward being uniquely, individually, and fully themselves while also consciously contributing to this great social experiment we call civil society. I deeply want professionals in the space of social change — regardless of whether it is a government, non-profit, philanthropic, corporate, or social enterprise entity — to be whole, happy, and healthy people first. I help people experience fulfillment in their social change career.

Looking back on the years of my own and other’s leadership journey in the social change space, here’s what I need you to know: the road to success is paved with many illusory obstacles that seem insurmountable. The truth is that you were called to leadership for a reason that was personal to you. While there is no “I” in TEAM, there surely is a “ME” that requires regular nurturing and notice. When we remove ourselves from the equation of why we “do the work,” we’re more likely to fall prey to saying any combination of the following:

  • I’ve never felt lonelier.
  • I feel like a slave to the dollar.
  • I can’t recall the last time I exercised and/or slept a full 8–10 hours.
  • I’m stretched too thin.
  • Someone is always upset with a decision I’ve made.
  • Internalized oppression is real.

I’ve witnessed firsthand many of the symptoms of leadership that make really smart, committed, and passionate people want to hightail it for a seemingly less demanding profession. Moreover, I’ve seen many amazing professionals never enter the social change space for fear of experiencing any of the aforementioned discomforts. The reality is that the more we truly prioritize our well-being by being more transparent, healthier, empathic, and measured people, the more aligned our work product will be to the societal shifts we are seeking. Eat, exercise, sleep, laugh, learn, cry, listen, set boundaries, and delegate….and be the liberated social change leader you know yourself to be.

Masharika Prejean Maddison is a social change coach who spent way too many years thinking it was completely acceptable to drive alone in HOV lanes because she allowed her internal gremlins, Shame and Blame, to ride shotgun in her life. Since relegating them, she’s experienced a significantly more enjoyable version of leadership and life. These days, Masharika works alongside social change professionals who are ready to overcome their own obstacles, live whole, happy lives, and meaningfully contribute to positive social change efforts.