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The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World without Losing Your Way Paperback – November 15, 2006
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"If I had but one book to spend hard-earned cash on this year, this one would be it, hands down." -- SusanG, Daily Kos
About the Author
Hillary Rettig worked for 11 years as a business coach and microlender at two nonprofit agencies in Boston, roles in which she helped hundreds of people from all backgrounds start and grow businesses in fields including art, technology, personal services, professional services, manufacturing, distribution, and retail. It was in the course of this work that she became acutely aware of the forces that hold so many talented, energetic, ambitious, and visionary people back, and it was this awareness that catalyzed her current mission.
Hillary now offers uniquely targeted and effective coaching and workshops on designing solutions for both procrastination and perfectionism. She is the author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block and The Lifelong Activist. Hillary's articles have appeared in Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Future Buzz, Time Management Ninja, Tomorrow’s Professor, Authors Helping Authors, and numerous other publications. She's been interviewed in Entrepreneur.com and elsewhere.
Hillary is a vegan, free software advocate, lover of life and dogs, living kidney donor, and former foster mom of four teenage Sudanese refugees. She was born in the Bronx and now lives in Kalamazoo, MI with her partner and two rescue dogs, Billy and Petey.
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I have one sticking point: Her coverage of burnout. Ms. Rettig admits that she comes from a business background and that some people will not like that perspective. I am one of those. Only on this one issue, but it's a big one for me.
I do not agree, as she says, that the most common cause of burnout is "living a life in conflict with your values and needs." She qualifies her statement by prefacing it with "PERHAPS the most common.." The word "perhaps" means this is her unsupported opinion. I hope that activists who are suffering from burnout will seek and consider other information of a more psychological nature.
The life-values notion absolutely did not resonate with me. Think about an environmental activist who gets overwhelmed and has to quit the cause. Is the person more likely to quit, for example, because he feels no hope that he and those like him will ever be able to stop the butchering of the planet and we are all going to die as a result OR because he is ashamed and confused that he can't find solar housing in his neighborhood or toilet tissue from recycled materials? Hmmm.
Her thesis on burnout can mislead people who are experiencing it and interfere with their finding solutions. Every professional puts their spin on a problem, but pertinent research suggests that activists experience burnout when they become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems with which they deal. The pain and sorrow seem endless and you just get to the point of emotional and physical fatigue. It's the trying to empty the ocean with a paper cup idea. Embedded in her notes section is a brief mention of compassion fatigue, which she implies is a precursor to burnout. I accept that; some experts consider it synonymous.
Later in the book, she talks about people being hypersensitive, which I found interesting and applicable. A great resource on hypersensitivity is:The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
Her time and resource management information is really good. A great book if you are losing yourself because of your cause--not taking care of your time, money, and so forth. She provides some interesting assessments and gives important information to get you to look at what you and those around you are focusing on. This is essential information to keep all kinds of resources from being scattered and squandered. Yours and your organization's.
I found that her use of the feminine pronoun interfered with smooth reading of the material. I am not proud of that, and I fully respect and support her decision to do it. If more people did it, it wouldn't do that. Take heed. I found her one page "chapters" humorous. Why call one page of material that is related to the previous or next page another chapter?
We need more books to help activists. We all care about something, and we mustn't lose ourselves as we try to make improvements. We are all activists of one sort or another, and there is much work to do. This is a necessary tool for your arsenal. This book has much to offer in an area where little help is found.
Rettig's goal is to teach activists to live according to their values, to create a career worth fighting for. She wants activists to hang in there, doing good work for the long haul. This means avoiding burnout. She asks probing questions and provides very practical strategies (i. e., sections explaining "Don't start a business simply as a way of earning a living," and "Don't start a nonprofit organization unless it's a necessary strategy for advancing your cause.")
I plan to reread this book as a New Year's resolution. I work with mothers, artists, and activists, and all of those groups will experience resonance with Rettig's writing. How can you give without giving yourself away? How can you be a truly creative person without judging yourself too harshly? And how can creative, giving types deal with real-world needs to manage their time effectively?
This is one of those books that reminds me how much value is jam-packed in a product that costs less than $20. The Lifelong Activist contains thoughtful, skilled advice, and an excellent annotated bibliography that pointed me to other helpful books. Highly recommended for entrepreneurs, activists, artists, parents--any person looking to craft a holistic life that expresses their true mission and values.