For many years, I was heavily focused on my career and my commitment to BIPOC power building. I climbed the nonprofit ladder quickly and was a part of the creation of strong programs, initiatives, and organizations that, to this day, still bring me joy and a lot of pride. I was so busy being the best organizer, strategist, resource mobilizer, and confidant that I could be that I hadn’t put much into who I was outside my title and role. It meant depriving my health and self-care because there were more important things to do. It meant sending e-mails at 3 am from bed, always on, even when I was on vacation with my partner. Proudly boasting about my consistent availability and willingness to show up for whatever was being called of me to serve the movement.  There was never a moment where that commitment wasn’t the most important thing for me to honor.

It took me to mentally collapse to realize I couldn’t be the leader I used to be. I had been spiraling for so long I couldn’t see the signs. Constantly being tired felt like a failure to manage my time vs. a critical indicator that something was wrong. I would experience moments of deep rage and disappointment and would attribute it to the shortcomings of others. Instead, it reflected my life’s lack of boundaries and unreasonable expectations. Forgetfulness seemed just to be one of the impacts of living through Covid-19 instead of a sign of being burnt out. In my desire to keep up the unhealthy practices that made me feel like a good leader, I was missing out on the reality that I wasn’t being good to myself. Let alone anyone else. The things that helped me get to this place in my career were the same things that were driving me to burnout and a mental breakdown. I regularly felt resentful and angry with things that used to bring me joy and ease. As I chat with friends in the field, it seems many of us are having the same reflections.

Movement leadership, at times, demands a cost that our hearts and families can’t pay. A dear friend reminds me constantly that we come to movement to do our heart work, but that shouldn’t mean we have to give up the homes and lives we create outside of this space. The families we are fighting to give a better world deserve us to be as present and available for them as we are to our staff and boards. We deserve to build a home for ourselves and have the space, time, and energy to pour as much into it as we give to the communities we support.

When I came to write this piece, I wanted to title it about burnout, but that doesn’t feel honest about the moment I am in. This piece feels like a story about transition and transformation. I am transforming, and it is causing everything around me to shift. The visionary science fiction writer, Octavia Butler shares, All that you touch, you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. And I am embarking on a profound moment of change and transition. One that questions who I am and who I would like to be. I am nervous about figuring out what this transformation will look like for my leadership but overjoyed about what will come. One thing is sure, the leader I was before my spiral isn’t here anymore. As my therapist would say, Superwoman doesn’t live here anymore. Chi does, and she only accepts visitors if you call first.

Woman with a headwrap and glasses with a joyful smile. The image has a monochrome filter with a green background.Written by: Chi-ante Jones (she/her)
Kolibri Foundation Co-Director