It should come as no surprise to most who know me that I’m a bit of a workaholic. It is a tendency in me that has gotten worse in my role as Executive Director of a non-profit. There is always work to be done. For example right now the world is on fire. Tonight in Los Angeles I mean that literally as the Saddleridge Fire burns in the San Fernando Valley. In the next hood over from me, in El Sereno, there was a smaller fire that my adult child could see from her window. Some of the work the org where I work has been engaged in for the last few years has been providing support to day laborers and household workers impacted by wildfires. While so much of fire relief efforts have focused on homeowners, little attention has been paid on those who work within those homes: the people who clean those homes, care for the children and elderly in those homes, trim the hedges around those home. After last year’s Woolsey Fire we reached out to and supported hundreds of workers who lost their jobs because of that fire and whose health was compromised because of that fire. Because so many of the workers are undocumented there is no FEMA for them and they (rightfully) are wary of sharing information with big non-profits that could potentially offer support. Earlier today staff at the organization where I worked tried to contact as many workers as we could because we know that workers are behind those houses and homeowners featured on the news. We wanted to get a sense of how many workers are working in the Saddleridge area – were they evacuated or were they told by their bosses to guard the house, the way so many workers were told to do during the Woolsey fire and yet this weekend I’m supposed to rest.
About a month ago the organization where I work began working with a consultant/coach. Originally the management team and I, all women of color, reached out to her for help dealing with issues of sexual and gender harassment within our membership. In our initial meeting, the consultant, also a woman of color, via Zoom looked at me and the three other member of our leadership team and asked, “Ok but what about all of you and how you work, especially with one another”? We all started bawling.
The management team, which includes me and three others, we all love each other deeply. We laugh a lot at the office and in the course of our work but we also work really really really hard until we are exhausted. The world around us is on fire. For so many of our members it has been on fire for a long ass time. This means there is always need because there is always injustice, someone hasn’t gotten paid, someone is struggling with addiction, someone is sleeping in the street, someone needs an attorney for an asylum hearing. And we are now a financially solvent organization of 17 staff, five locations, and three programs, so much of the work is unfunded. So much of the work is about emotional labor expected of us as Women of color and we replicate and feed into fucked up expectations of sacrificing and caring for others, including one another until we are exhausted. 10 plus hour days are a norm and we all bring work home with us, until this weekend.
Our first one on ones with our coach/consultant left us all crying. We feel unseen. We lack confidence in ourselves and to some extent in the rest of our teams. I know I felt as Executive Director it was part of my job to always be working, to carry so much, too much. In my second one on one with the consultant she gave me homework. I had to cancel appointments. We all had to examine why were doubling up or even tripling up in meetings where one of us would suffice. I had to admit to feeling so tired some days that I would come home and cry and literally Google “Burnout” because I knew that is what I was feeling after nearly five years of bringing the org from the brink of closure to thriving. So one of our homework assignments was to not work any weekends for the remainder of this month.
We all made excuses like but four of our sites are open part of the weekend and what if something happened.
Like what, she prodded. Like someone died? Someone was deported?
Someone could be dissappeared by the cops or ICE.
Does that happen every weekend?
No of course not but the spectre of these things happening always looms, ready to appear so I felt like I always had to be on, checking my email, texting and if those things weren’t happening there were still grants to write, reports, work plans, donor letters.
Those aren’t your three D’s (deaths, deportations, disappearances ), the coach reminded me and she made me put in my work calendar that I was not going to work on the weekend unless one of those three things was happening and I had to invite the rest of the management team to do the same. The consultant ( I will use consultant and coach interchangeably) made me write an out of office email auto response.
These things seem so simple when I write them now but in the moment, with the world on fire, they felt really hard. When I told my younger child about this homework she was excited. It meant she wouldn’t be competing for my attention. Tonight is the eve of that first no work weekend and a part of me is excited about the possibilities. Maybe I’ll actually use my Bomba skirt this weekend that has been hanging sadly on my closet door after weeks of not going to Bomba classes or events that I had all intentions of going to until I let work take priority. Maybe I’ll finish reading that book….err books that have been piling up on my bedside table. Maybe I’ll ::gasp:: write.
The world is on fire but that doesn’t mean I have to burn out with it. That doesn’t mean the incredible team of women I work with have to burn out with it.
Let’s see how this first weekend goes.