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From Urgent to Empowering: How To Transform Habitual Urgency Into Sustainable Strategy

By August 15, 2023One Comment
Dark-skin hand in foreground cupping an orange setting sun in background. Photo by Aamir Suhail

Photo by Aamir Suhail.

I first began to notice how often nonprofit leaders operate with a sense of unskillful urgency when I was working in LGBTQ+ advocacy. 

During a campaign, that feeling that everything needed to be done right away or there would be serious consequences served us well, it motivated and inspired people to keep moving. However, once we finished a campaign, I’d look up to see us all still running around, zooming down halls, like it was an emergency room. 

But we weren’t in an emergency room. We were an organization that had just completed a big project, and that moment – when there’s no urgency – is our time to rest, reflect, and reconnect to our sources of energy and power to prepare for the next battle.

Habitual Urgency Vs. Sustainable Strategy

In social justice work, urgency is currency. It’s very much the lifeblood of what we do. It helps motivate us and keeps our base engaged and active. 

The problem is, we often let that urgency become our culture. This is “habitual urgency,” when things are urgent simply for urgency’s sake.

When urgency is needed, it is a powerful tool for activating us in campaigns and actions. But when it is not needed, it can actively harm our wellbeing, the wellbeing of our staff, and the culture of our organizations and movements. 

This can lead to burnout, high turnover, lack of effectiveness in our work, and even trauma. 

In order for our organizations and ourselves to be able to do this work over the long haul, we need to focus on our own and our teams’ wellbeing, as much as we focus on the campaigns, the marches, the programs, and the grants that represent the external wins.

As we all know, this can be difficult to do. New challenges and tasks come up every day, and we often have to scramble to deal with them. Then there are the issues all social justice leaders face, like finances, strategic planning, staffing, and culture building. All of it feels extremely high stakes, as if a lack of tending now could result in crisis, or even the organization’s failure to exist. 

But with all that on our plates, plus all the big issues that need our attention, how can we make time to pause and reflect, to rest and dream?

The answer is simple: long-term visioning. Creating a vision is a sustainable, people-focused way to harness the benefits of urgency and the benefits of reflection and discovery. Not only does creating a vision allow us to plan out our work, but it also allows us to reflect while giving us space to dream into what we want the future work to look like. 

When done regularly, visioning provides us with a clear roadmap for what we will say yes to, what we’ll say no to, and why.  This practice creates a culture where urgency works for us, not against us, and people feel empowered and connected.

Resources for Creating a Vision

Here are some tools and suggestions for prioritizing vision and possibility and getting resonance with one’s experience around unhelpful urgency mindsets:

First and foremost, make time to dream, imagine, and reflect together –

Once you and your team have dreamt and reflected together, start to build your long-term vision with these tools –

When your long-term plan is in place, refer back to it regularly. Maintain it as a living document, and use it to explore whether or not your organization or team is in the realm of habitual urgency or sustainable possibility. 

When there’s a social justice imperative, we want to have a mindset of “let’s not put off until tomorrow progress we can make today”. However, if in doing so we are putting ourselves and our teams under constant unrelenting stress for something that we know will not, cannot, be solved today, what is the point? 

There’s no way to be healthy in a team if there is no point at which people can rest, reflect and dream. 

However, by finding the right balance between necessary urgency and long-arc visioning, planning and possibility, everyone can feel that they’ve contributed to the vision for the future and the work ahead. For me personally, it creates a sense of community and connectedness, a connection not only to ancestors but also to future generations to come. This is a different kind of energy than the urgency that often drives our organizations forward, but it is a powerful and more sustainable one. My wish is that finding this balance creates that same feeling of connectedness and nourishing energy for you.

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Rockwood Community Call

India Harville

disability justice consultant, public speaker, somatics practitioner, and performance artist

April 25 | 12 PT / 3 ET

India Harville, African American female with long black locs, seated in her manual wheelchair wearing a long sleeveless green dress. Her service dog, Nico, a blond Labrador Retriever, has his front paws on her lap. He is wearing a blue and yellow service dog vest. They are outside with greenery behind them.