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3 Beliefs That Lead to Burnout in the Nonprofit Sector

A match on fire lighting other matches.

If you’re battling burnout, there are plenty of resources offering plenty of tips to try. You can go on vacation, leave work early, or talk to your boss about your workload. That being said, are these tips and resources ignoring a major culprit of burnout: nonprofit culture?

On Nonprofit with Balls, Vu Le argues that by focusing on tips like taking vacation days, we aren’t paying enough attention to the beliefs that foster burnout in the first place. According to Le these beliefs are:

The Martyr Complex: We in nonprofit must suffer, for how can we be comfortable when the people we help are suffering so much? (See “Nonprofits: We must break out of the scrappiness cycle”)

The Myth of Indispensability: Our organization, nay, the world, shall collapse if we personally are not there, constantly keeping watch. (Damn you, Smokey the Bear, with your high-pressure mantra of “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”)

The Drive for Perfection: We must constantly sharpen our skills and do things better, because the work is complex and mistakes have serious consequences.

The rest of his article focuses on overcoming the drive for perfection by acknowledging that there are things we aren’t going to be good at. Instead of beating ourselves up about making mistakes or not following up on emails, we should embrace that we aren’t perfect so we can breathe a little easier and lessen the likelihood of burnout.

I’ve seen all three of these beliefs play out in my career and they are very difficult to catch. At first, it seems as if you’re simply giving your cause and your organization your best work. After all, we’re trying to change the world—we have to be perfect, right? At the same time, what can we possibly offer our communities when we’re tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed? Getting past these beliefs is not easy, but I think it starts with acknowledging that in the long run they make it harder for us to do our work.

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by Allison Jones

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