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Rebounding from Burnout: Lily Morse

After a year and a half of pushing myself to work on environmental activism for 20+ hours every week, while balancing a rigorous high school schedule, moving across the country during COVID to a place where I knew no one, and never taking a weekend or break, I was

exceptionally burnt out. I also was depressed, anxious, and desperately without hope. I wanted to give up.

From my first climate justice strike at age 13 until now, at 17, I’ve given my all, through the

wins, losses, tears (both happy and sad), frustration, hope, passion, excitement, hopelessness, and love that makes up youth organizing. I’ve learned a lot, had the privilege to work alongside inspiring young activists, and connected with amazing friends and mentors. I’ve loved it, but one can only give so much, until one has nothing left to sustain oneself, let alone give to the movement.

I got into climate justice work because I was terrified for my community, our world, and our

future; yet despite thousands of hours of work in climate justice efforts and tangible success, I still felt immense despair and a debilitating burden. Despair was stealing my time, energy, and ability to take action. It was only through pausing my work, focusing on my mental health, and shifting my perspective by reading (“All We Can Save” was a big influence - would highly recommend it!), mentorship, community discussion, and reflection, that I was able to repel despair. I’ve started to see being a young person today as a gift; we have an incredible opportunity to reconstruct this broken world.

It’s our power and privilege, not a burden. When we can see a future for ourselves, we can get to work building it. Burnout forced me to see a new perspective — recognizing that sometimes the best thing a leader can do is intentionally step back, relinquish my somewhat dictatorial control (oops..), and allow others to step up. When I started delegating responsibilities and power, not just small tasks, the team became dramatically more engaged, empowered, and hopeful. I tried to limit lectures, and instead facilitated conversations. By loosening my hold on the process, space opened for new ideas, perspectives, and passion. The team was the most engaged, energized, empowered,

and hopeful than I had ever seen. Also, watching your friends and teammates rise as leaders is one of the most fulfilling feelings. I had been so distracted by “doing” all the work, because of my intense fear of failure, that I wasn’t “leading”. Even though my team had always been capable, my old leadership style didn’t allow them to come forward and shine. We’ve gone on to do a lot that we're very proud of, but I think the most significant impact on me was less about what we did, and more about what we learned. If we are trying to bring a sustainable world, we need to be able to sustain ourselves first. I learned from experience that I can only give so much, until I have nothing left to sustain myself, let alone give to the movement. Sadly, my experience is not unique; I have watched countless peers and fellow activists fall into this same trap—overworking, being consumed by despair, and eventually burning out. This is why I believe that despair is the biggest challenge we face today. Despair, apathy, and guilt are what fossil fuel companies, and other oppressors, want us to feel, because when we’re weighed down by fear, we give up, rather than demanding change. If we can shift our mindset to one of hope, community, and vision we can take action and build our future. While burnout is debilitating and painful, it taught me something that no amount of reading or lectures could have. Through this deeply personal experience, I’ve chosen to embrace hope instead of despair. Because I’ve worked through immense challenges before, I'm prepared to support others through these challenges as well as be able to support myself.

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