Humans 101

How to End the Activist Burnout Cycle

There are many ways to be an activist, and none of them are all-or-nothing

Devon Price
Human Parts
Published in
11 min readJun 29, 2020
Two activists walking down a hallway covered with signs.
Photo: Gayatri Malhotra/Unsplash

I’m the kind of person who will occasionally call themselves an activist, then immediately cringe at myself for having the gall to claim that word.

I’m not a good enough activist to be an “activist.” I don’t have the consistency, the self-sacrificing instinct, the almost religious fervor some have for their causes. I don’t have the faith things are actually gonna work out. I have limited energy and I use it all up within the first couple of months and then I get sad and flop on the couch.

That’s not what real activists are like, I tell myself. Activists are committed and bold. They are so passionate they’re tiresome to be around, and they don’t care that they are. They won’t let you sit through a movie without observing the various biases the film helped entrench — the transmisogyny in Ace Ventura, the ableism in Detective Pikachu. They will make you walk seven more blocks to a restaurant that is ethical rather than quickly getting a quesarito at Taco Bell. They aren’t apologetic about that kind of shit the way I would be. Real activists don’t back down and try to talk about something more pleasant. Real activists know nothing will ever be pleasant again. They have somehow accepted that.

I’ve never been that kind of activist. I’m as fickle as I am passionate. I throw myself into causes, run myself ragged overcommitting to them for a few months or a year, and then I dip. I have been this way ever since I was a preteen. In recent years, I have finally started to realize it’s this pursuit of perfect, unyieldingly committed “activism” that has made me such an unreliable advocate.

For many years I blamed external factors for my boom-and-bust cycle of activism followed by burnout. The world of politics is designed to demotivate us, I told myself. Systems of influence and power are too massive, too slow-moving, and too inscrutable for any individual to make a satisfying impact. Activist spaces are poorly managed, I said. They don’t have enough resources, and they make up for that by pressuring everyone into doing more work than they should. The people who lead such spaces often have complicated and…

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Devon Price
Human Parts

He/Him or It/Its. Social Psychologist & Author of LAZINESS DOES NOT EXIST and UNMASKING AUTISM. Links to buy: https://linktr.ee/drdevonprice