Whether you’re organizing with your community, running a non-profit organization or working independently, what you need to thrive will look and feel a little different than it does for anybody else. Who you are, what you value, the resources you have and the different hats you wear will all play a part. As we grapple with complex social inequalities and our lives shift gear into an increasingly hybrid reality, finding a sense of equilibrium can feel like an intricate and never-ending dance.
We’ve found that there are no hard and fast rules for thriving in the current global moment. One thing that is clear? Building (and sustaining) the life you want — at home, at work and everywhere in between — depends not just on personal efforts but also on collective action.
Are you stuck in survival mode?
In a pandemic-struck world, we’re thinking about how to thrive in turbulent times now more than ever. Some of the latest research on our minds comes from the authors of the new book Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-imagine Results Despite Uncertain And Volatile Times (you can read a summary here). The authors of Change remind us that we humans have two-track brains: one for surviving and one for thriving. We drop down to the Survive track when we notice threats, prompting responses driven by fear, anxiety and stress. We jump up to the Thrive track when we experience excitement, joy and enthusiasm.
You want to make sure that you (and your family, your team, your community) are spending more time running through life on the Thrive track and not the Survive one. That means finding way to manage yourself and collaborate with others in ways that calm survival responses and trigger the spaciousness to thrive. If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, some questions you might want to ask yourself and your group to reflect on are noted below.
1. Are you and your team dealing with a lot of uncertainty? Our brains may pick up instability on our threat radar. We tend to fill gaps in certainty with our own fears or expectations, amplifying stress responses. Try naming what feels uncertain and mapping out timelines/strategies for resolving those things.
2. Is your work driven by responding to crises or conflict? If yes, you might find your “fight” reflex working in overdrive. To help that drive cool down, you can find ways to take action motivated by opportunities, too. Talk to your group about how to create projects or learning exchanges (for example) that are aspirational or positively driven. If you’re struggling to deal with conflict, check out our recent blog on how to handle it in your own way.
3. Are you facing too many urgent timelines, budget constraints, evaluations or emails? Okay, so the answer here is probably “yes.” But is there anything you can opt out of? Any information you can do without? Are there internal or self-imposed deadlines you can shift? A collaborative approach to reprioritizing might be helpful. After all, this is a group workflow problem and not your problem.
4. Are you celebrating enough? Many work and activist cultures focus on the massive problems we face or delivering updates. Take time to celebrate wins collectively. Reframing “updates” as “achievements” can keep your group connected to its purpose, which is so important for belonging and well-being.
5. Do you have enough agency? If you don’t, you may not feel invested in the outcomes of your work, creating a sense of disconnection. Healthy leadership builds power with their teams and avoids having power over them. Resourceful hierarchies are good at structuring decision-making complexity and groups that delegate or share decision-making amongst members tend to be more inspired by their goals.
6. Are you under-stimulated? If you don’t have enough space to try new things, engage with novel ideas, talk to people, brainstorm with your team or leverage your own talents, you may be feeling stagnant. Like nature around us, we need spaciousness and dynamic conditions to thrive.
7. Do you have a strong sense of belonging? Feeling rooted and included at work and in your community is important. Without it, you may find yourself running solo on the Survive track. Think about whether your work and network are giving you the supports and connections your need.
... and as always, make sure you all are getting enough rest, whether that’s rest from work or emotional, physical, spiritual, or social rest. There are a number of ways you can jump into the Thrive track, but find the ones that are right for you and the people you live and collaborate with.
If you find yourself feeling like you’re walking up a long hill instead of dancing on top of it, get curious. Take some time to explore it independently (thinking, meditation, writing, art, or any other reflective path that works for you). Harness your empathy by challenging yourself to see interpersonal challenges with a fresh perspective. Spend time getting you or your team to get connected to a shared purpose. Find space to bring well-being issues into the light in a safe and supported space. Be really intentional about shifting into remote work and how to establish a vibrant work culture without an office to ground it in.
The magic of thriving is an alchemy of fulfilling needs, strong relationships and progress toward closely-held aspirations. You’ll need purpose, belonging, connection and achievement. When it comes to social justice work, thriving is as much of a group effort as it is a personal one.