Why You Should Stop Trying to Save the World

I get it. You’re committed to making a difference in the world. You love you what you do and you’re good at it. But you struggle with finding the right balance between work and having a fulfilling personal life. And as a result of the pandemic, your life and work are further complicated by change, disruption, and uncertainty.

But here’s the deal: we’ve experienced a collective trauma that has dramatically changed how we approach life and work. We’re grieving the loss of loved ones and a way of life that will never return. The world has changed and will continue to evolve as we figure out what post-pandemic life will look like.

While there are many unanswered questions about the future, here’s what we do know: there is no going “back to normal.” Even as we settle into the next normal, the anxiety most of us felt during the first few years of the pandemic will not disappear magically. Stress and burnout will undermine our recovery if we don’t make personal and workplace well-being an urgent priority.

The Challenge

You’re not alone, and you’re not imagining things. The pandemic has contributed to a number of stressors that have made finding balance and getting things done more challenging. In my work with changemakers on creating a culture of well-being in the sector, I’ve noticed a few persistent challenges.

Prolonged Uncertainty: The past few years have created prolonged uncertainty and disruption, which make planning challenging. We thrive with routines and having a sense of control over our life and work. An absence of predictable routines and personal control negatively impacts our mental health.

Social Anxiety: Now that pandemic restrictions are easing up, there is less virtual socialization and more face-to-face interactions. There’s uncertainty and uneasiness about returning to the old norms such as hugs, handshakes, and social gatherings. There’s also the awkwardness about sharing life updates—especially if you’ve undergone an important life change, whether it’s having a child, moving, or dealing with an illness or loss. 

Work-Life Imbalance: Boundaries between work, life, and even the days of the week have been blurred beyond recognition. And it’s become increasingly harder to manage expectations from a distance.

Workplace Burnout: Mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion from chronic work-related stress and overwhelm have skyrocketed in recent years. This exhaustion can stem from having unclear goals, unmanageable workloads, unreasonable time pressures, limited resources and support, lack of flexibility, and interpersonal conflicts.

Collaboration and Technology Overload: The onslaught of using video conference platforms and other virtual tools for everything from work meetings to family holiday celebrations has resulted in overload, burnout, and screen exhaustion.

On top of all the challenges described above, chances are you’re suffering from what I describe as Intention Deficit Disorder (I.D.D.), or a lack of intention or clarity about why you’re showing up to your life. This means you’re probably crystal clear about the mission and vision of the organization you serve but have much less clarity about your own personal mission in life. Or you give so much to your work that you barely have anything left over for yourself and your family and friends.

I know because I used to be like you, and I’ve helped countless professionals just like you over the years. During my previous career, I was often on the edge of burnout trying to do my part to fulfill my organization’s vision of a world free of HIV and hepatitis. Things were so out of control at one point that I was depressed, had gained a ton of weight, and wasn’t eating or sleeping right.

But no matter how long, hard, or smart I worked, there was never enough time or money to get it all done. I realized that even if I worked myself to death, the work wouldn’t stop. The emails would keep rolling in and the projects would keep moving ahead – this time without me.

Why It Matters

The truth is, for many of us, the need for what we do has never been greater. While demand for social sector services may have increased as a result of the pandemic, resources haven’t. Yet we all have the same 168 hours in a week. And we’re all having a human experience called life. This means we all have an expiration date.

It’s also true that our obsession with “multitasking” and “leaning in” is impacting our ability to be effective and impactful. Moreover, research now shows that working long hours (e.g. 50+ hours/week) makes you less (not more) productive.

After flirting with burnout and exhaustion, I realized I needed to take time to refill regularly because I couldn’t continue to pour into my colleagues and our work from an empty cup. If I wanted to make a positive impact over the long term, I needed to start investing as much in myself as I was investing in my work.

What to Do

If you really want to make a difference, start by taking time for yourself right now because you can’t “change the world” if you’re not around long enough to make that happen. Also know that emails, projects, and other work will never stop or slow down enough for you to catch up. Your work will never love you back. And there will never be a perfect time to take time for you. If you’re doing worthwhile work, there will never be a shortage of challenges on your plate.

So, I hereby give you permission to stop trying to save the world. If you stop thinking you must go to work each day and save the world, you lift a tremendous burden off yourself and those around you.

Yes, go out and do good. Work hard. Make a difference. But also make time to be present for your family and friends. Have a hobby. Take care of yourself.

Most of all, take some time to consider these important questions:

  1. At the end of your life, what will your impact or legacy be (personally and professionally)?
  2. Are you currently investing your time in ways that align with the impact you want to have?
  3. What changes must you make to live a life aligned with the legacy you want to leave behind?

Need support getting on track? Grab the free Work-Life + Tech-Life Balance Assessment to get started.