Every Day as a Social Changemaker: the Need for Space

Last week, Akhila, a fellow Gen-Y social changemaker and blogger friend, wrote an article on why the work-life balance is a myth for young people who care about social justice:

“The emphasis on balancing your life with work, which often means time away from work, limits social change and the career development of 20 something professionals. Instead, we need to stop focusing on working less and figure out how to work smarter and more deliberately.”

Maybe it’s because I’m embarking on a profession where instead of 9-5 being the norm, we have had to fight to limit resident’s work hours to 80 hours per week with a maximum shift-length of 16 hours. In signing up for the medical route to social service, I’ve already committed myself to extraordinary hours and can hardly expect to find myself rising in leadership or social impact in my profession through the hours-worked-per-week meric.

Perhaps influenced by this context (or maybe not), I propose a different model for doing more for social change: one based on space and inspiration.

  • Space is a hard-won resource in a busy schedule, but I consider that self-centered, me-based time to be fundamental to the inspiration essential to doing good work. It requires focusing and prioritizing the activities that matter in your life and performing them not for the sake of achieving perfection but for efficiency and effectiveness. I choose to take the space to write this blog post and to cook a wholesome meal with my boyfriend, instead of spending more time studying for my cardiovascular physiology exam. I know studying with the time remaining will give me enough knowledge to pass, even if I will not get the highest score or know everything there is to know about the cardiovascular system. It’s a trade-off that I make because I know that otherwise I lose my inspiration and my sense of why I am in medical school in the first place.

  • **Inspiration **is the reason I get myself up in the morning and the ineffable quality that allows what should be “working” practically all the time (with a difficult course-load, a host of extracurricular obligations and spending nearly all my “free” time here, on twitter, and reading materials related to health and nonprofit work) not work at all. That is the beauty of cause-filled rather than profit-driven living: if you are working for a cause, the work may be never ending but it also is not truly work if it is also your passion and mission in life. It is true that even the most nonprofit-y and self-determined careers and lifestyles are also filled with a fair amount of drudgery, but there is no sense in making that drudgery your life, or to equate your cause with ceaseless work.

In the end, I partially agree with Akhila, in that work-life balance does not really play into the equation. What is far more important for me is maintaining my passion for what I am doing. That requires not just balance and increased productivity, but taking the space to write blog posts like this one and remembering why I am doing what I am doing, so I can go back to pursuing my passions with every waking moment that I can.

Photo Credit: John Althouse Cohen