From fired up to burnt out: 7 tips to help you sustain a life committed to social justice


Kim Crosby, 2012 SOUL Sanctuary participant (photo credit: stone circles)

When she was an organizer in the 1990s, Claudia Horwitz began to notice that many of the people she worked with were overworked, exhausted, and stressed out. Responding to the urgent need she saw in the activist community, Claudia founded stone circles, an organization that works to strengthen and sustain people committed to transformation and justice.

Since 2007, stone circles has been based in Mebane, North Carolina at The Stone House, a retreat and training center on 70 acres of land. One of stone circles’ primary goals is to address high rates of burnout among activists and organizers.

Burnout is more than just a busy week at work—it’s the long-term result of carrying continual stress, exhaustion, anxiety, or isolation.

Here are some tips from stone circles for addressing burnout:

1. Develop a personal practice.

A practice is simply a habit that gives us energy and reminds us of what matters most. Having a practice helps us pay concentrated attention to the inner voice—a presence that has the power to continually re-inform the activities of our daily lives. Mindful breathing, yoga, meditation, prayer, and journal writing are all examples of personal practice. Choose a practice that replenishes you and commit to doing it daily for a month. This can help make it a habit.

2. Come back to your body.

When we are disconnected from of our bodies, we separate ourselves from essential wisdom about what we need to thrive. Reconnecting with the body might mean establishing an exercise routine, practicing an embodied awareness tradition like yoga or t’ai chi, seeking the support of a holistic healer or medical doctor, or simply scanning the body with awareness before laying down to sleep at night.

3. Connect with the natural world.

Find some way to connect with the rhythms of the ecosystem you live in. This might mean paying attention to the changing of seasons, planting a small garden, or finding an open green space in which to spend time regularly. There’s infinite wisdom in the dance of life, growth, and death.

4. Identify the specific causes of your burnout.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory identifies six areas leading to burnout:

  • Workload (too much work, not enough resources)
  • Control (micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power)
  • Reward (not enough pay, appreciation, or satisfaction)
  • Community (isolation, conflict, disrespect)
  • Fairness (discrimination, favoritism)
  • Values (ethical conflicts, meaningless tasks)

After identifying the source, name it out loud. Brainstorm with someone you trust about how to specifically change this aspect of your work life.

5. Tell your story.

Exploring your own history and learning from others’ can be a powerful way to understand both the factors of your stress and your capacity to thrive. Questions to consider include: Why did I enter this work? How do my family, community, and educational background impact my work? When do I feel most alive and happy? When do I feel most overwhelmed?

6. Cultivate hopefulness.

It’s easy to be consumed by short-term and immediate tasks; be sure to take time to imagine the world you’re working toward, alone as well as with the people you collaborate with. The more clarity you have about your intentions and dreams, the more you will radiate the power of possibility.

7. Take a well-structured pause.

Make space in your schedule for extended silence and discernment. Look for a retreat center or rent a cabin for one. Look into retreats specifically for activists, like SOUL Sanctuary, offered by stone circles at The Stone House, or the Windcall Institute. Take a few days to remember what you love about your work and what makes you passionate about your cause. Get away from your workplace (and even from the community(ies) for which you work) on a regular basis to identify the source of your stress, and to give yourself space for renewal.

Taking the time to do these things can feel selfish, but addressing your own needs will make you a healthier, more effective agent for change—and give you the strength to continue your work for many years to come.


mulllj12Lindsey Mullen is an intern at stone circles at The Stone House. She studied social justice at the University of Alabama, and is currently a Master of Divinity student at Wake Forest University. She is interested in sacred rest, restorative justice, and intentional living.

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From shambles to storytelling: Redefining repair in Greensboro, NC

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

"Nothing is ever level. Nothing is ever plumb. Nothing is ever square. Everything is dirty." —Paul Howe, on the realistic challenges of his work.  Photo credit:

“Nothing is ever level. Nothing is ever plumb. Nothing is ever square. Everything is dirty.” —Paul Howe, on the realistic challenges of his work.
Photo credit:

For months, Paul Howe would walk by the same orange cone guarding the same precarious hole in a brick sidewalk near his Greensboro, North Carolina home.

“The sidewalk belonged to a university, and the damage to it was done by city linesmen who installed a new telephone pole in it. Bricks were missing, bare sand exposed, the hole about half the width of the sidewalk,” says Paul, a quintessential jack-of-all-trades. “Nobody was taking responsibility for it.”

So, he decided to take the matter into his own hands.

Using his welding skills, Paul crafted a steel plate to fill the perilous gap and secured it into the hole without any objection (see the finished product). Only after bolting it down, he realized that he had created something more than just a harm-reducing fix.

“I realized that by using a material other than brick to patch a brick sidewalk, I had revealed a story about the sidewalk, and also added a new one,” says Paul.” I did not erase all of the evidence of the damage. I left a clue to it, revealed it, while letting it still function, as it should.”

This idea—storytelling through repair—drove Paul to join Elsewhere, Greensboro’s thrift-store-turned-cultural-center, to renovate its run-down workshop. But, instead of overhauling the entire building with modern fixtures and like mediums, Paul used a mosaic of building materials to smartly patch up the place (check out some of the end results).

“It doesn’t try to hide itself as a repair, it screams at you as being a repair,” he says of the space. “It’s one of the first things people notice when they come up to the shop now, and it speaks simultaneously to the history of the place, and to its current use.”

Now that the workshop’s in working condition, Paul spends his time keeping Elsewhere in tip-top shape and promoting his concept of repair throughout the community by chipping away on realistic tasks with the tools at hand.

“There is a focus on so called ‘big problems,’ and people make livings coming up with ‘big solutions.’ The thing is, so called ‘big problems’ are so poorly understood that they remain, in spite of our best efforts,” says Paul. “I find it more productive to work on so called ‘small problems’ since one can understand enough of a ‘small problem’ that one might actually be able to do something about it.”

Interested in starting your own small repair projects around your community? Shoot Paul an email at or get in touch with him via Elsewhere. 

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Stitching art, community, and conversation

A 9-year-old Durhamite picks her favorite words from Stitch's list at an event. (Photo credit: Alex Maness

A 9-year-old Durhamite picks her favorite words from Stitch’s list at an event. (Photo credit: Alex Maness

The idea

Last November — at the tail end of a year devoted to hosting 40 conversation-focused events across the country — designers Dipika Kolhli and Akira Morita were left with a seemingly simple question: Can community-driven discussions translate visually?

With a goal to gather insights about the city’s future from the couple’s own community of Durham, NC, Dipika and Akira answered this question with a unique community-saturated project, Stitch.

“One night, while I was brainstorming, I found myself staring at a bunch of sticky notes, all with just a word or two on them—my notes,” says Akira. “And then it came to me. What if we collected just one word from people across Durham about where they wanted the city to go, and then had local artists bring them to life?”

Soon the pair were stopping folks on the street, at farmers market’s, and at local events to jot down local’s single-word hope for the future. From “durable” to “doggy,” “walkable” to “weird,” they quickly gathered a healthy heap of 276 inspiring words from across the city.

“Once people heard what we were doing, they came to us to share their word,” says Akira. “It was great to see the community’s enthusiasm.”

Then, they pinned down local artists to use their craft (whether it be song, photography, poetry or jewelry) to embody select words to share with the community and sell to supporters.

But the next steps, they found, wouldn’t be as easy.

3 things they wish they did differently 

1.  Had a more specific agenda.
“A lot of artists dropped out of the project once they found out there was no specific end goal,” says Akira. “We just wanted to start a tangible discussion and let others take it elsewhere. I learned that even artists are scared of the unfamiliar.”

After losing a third of the originally committed artists, Akira realized that he needed to be more cautious and clear in his approach.

“I have to take baby steps,” he says. “Not everyone can be on the same page as me right off the bat. It’s important to be clear from the start.”

2. Networked more with supporters, artists, and the community in general.

Time, of course, plays a big role in gathering cemented support. Akira admits that he and Dipika needed a stronger initial network of interested people to get their project off the ground. After the fact, however, it brought a spotlight on the small design team and helped usher them into new innovative and creative circles in the community.

3. Was more realistic about funding, the ever-predictable (and frustrating) roadblock for new projects.

Akira and Dipika used Kickstarter to fuel their project and sell the artists’ final pieces, but didn’t reach the hefty $12,000 goal by April 29. However, the $6,799 they did raise was enough to help many artists turn their word-inspired idea into reality.

Again, Akira says that having a stronger network of support from the beginning would help solidify funding down the road. But the pair still remain positive about the funds that did give Stitch the push it needed.

“No, we didn’t quite reach the target,” Akira writes on a recent update on Stitch’s Kickstarter. “And while I can’t say I’m not disappointed, I am more in awe of the support we did get from you.”

Moving forward

Despite the challenges, both financial and social, faced by the duo behind Stitch, Akira and Dipika are anything but discouraged for the future of the project and their further conversation-sparked pursuits.

Now, leaving the tools in the hands of the Durham artists, the pair and their three-year-old son are leaving for a 24-month stint across Asia, in hopes of bringing similar word-based projects to other villages and cities

“Our aim remains the same: create spaces for conversations to happen. Everywhere, with everyone,” says Akira.

But, he remains humble in their efforts, calling the idea more of an “open sourced idea” that can be replicated by other communities with ease.

“The role dialogue plays in our communities is key to where we are going and how we can advance civilization,” says Akira. “We just want to help it get there.”

Want to bring Stitch’s idea to your community and get advice from Akira and Dipika? Send them a message at

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Beards BeCAUSE: A growing movement against domestic violence

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

I’m of the belief that every man, if their follicles allow it, benefits from a beard. So I was thrilled to discover Beards BeCAUSE, a volunteer-run nonprofit in Charlotte, NC that encourages men to put their razors away during the last few months of the year to raise money to end domestic violence.


From left: Scott, Wendy, and Jared.

Founded by Jared Yerg, Scott Doerr and Wendy Shanahan in 2007, the charity keeps with the city’s tradition of throwing epic philanthropy parties, but appeals to scruffier donors who can’t afford $90 plates.

“We wanted to do something that was more blue collar,” Jared says. “We wanted to host affordable gatherings for people who wanted to come out, have a good time, and get a little educated about domestic violence here in Charlotte and abroad.”

The idea came to Jared and Scott while they were sitting in a wine bar one Sunday afternoon. A guy with a beard walked in, and the two friends started one-upping another about who could grow a better one. Soon the idea morphed into a city-wide competition. With the Charlotte police receiving close to 32,000 calls about domestic violence per year, adding the charitable layer seemed a no-brainer.

“As a masculine effort we wanted it to be for a feminine cause,” he says.

Now in its sixth year, the rising popularity of beards hasn’t deterred the organization in the least. The number of participants – called growers – remains steady each year, women can now participate, and more importantly, Beards BeCAUSE has become an integral go-to resource in the domestic violence community.

“The beard is less shocking now so it’s one of those things where we can concentrate and focus on the advocacy more,” Jared says.


Within 45 minutes of writing their idea down on a napkin, Jared and Scott had the name, what they wanted to do, and how they wanted to do it. They arranged a meeting with the Community Relations Director of Safe Alliance, a local shelter. One week later they serendipitously met Wendy, their design, IT and PR woman, at a beer stand at Oktoberfest and set up a website shortly after.

Jared is a self-professed connector type who by day is a contract specialist for an energy company, and by night is involved in the arts and music scene. He knows a lot of people. Despite the help, he and the team still faced some challenges making Beards BeCAUSE a viable and long-lasting charity.

Obstacle: Comfort when talking about domestic violence
Solution: At the beginning of each fundraising season they bring in speakers from shelters, the police department, and more for an educational night. They also give growers business cards that explain what they’re doing and why, and buttons that say “Ask me.”

“One of the biggest things that scared me our first year was that someone was going to come up to one of our growers and ask them why they were doing this. And they’d say, ‘Well I don’t have to shave for two months and they have awesome parties,” Jared says.

Obstacle: Maintaining momentum
Solution: Awesome parties, of course. The Clean Shaven event in October gives growers the resources they need to talk comfortably and intelligently about the issue. The 5 O’clock Shadow event in November makes sure things are going smoothly, and helps create camaraderie between growers. Throughout the month, which coincides with No Shave November and Movember, the growers themselves also host their own small fundraisers at happy hours or hockey nights.

The finale is in December at a local music venue. There are bands, beauticians from local salons doing creative trimming, a silent auction featuring donated items from local businesses, and an awards ceremony.

Obstacle: Staying relevant
Solution: Making sure there is always something going on that keeps their charity in the forefront of people’s minds. During the other ten months of the year, they organize things like the No Laughing Matter comedy night and a fashion show featuring burgeoning designers and models wearing prosthetic beards. It’s a win-win: they raise additional money, and every time someone sees facial hair they think of Beards BeCAUSE.



Jared and Scott start clean.

The organization has raised $214,000 to date. The money goes to Safe Alliance’s supplemental needs, taxi fare for a child staying at the shelter to get to school, for example, or replacement textbooks.

In recent years, they’ve tested the Beards BeCAUSE model in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Woodstock. Despite meeting with mixed success, they’d love to see the concept work nationally. And if only ends up being just Jared, well that’s fine, too.

“I can honestly say if in 10 years it’s just me, growing a beard for two months and raising $200 for the shelter, then that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” he says.

Jared is aware that the fundraiser works so well in Charlotte because of the team’s widespread and far-reaching connections in the community. While this is always an advantage, here are some other tips from Jared about how to make your idea a reality:

  • Tap into local community businesses and venues to help trim costs.
  • Anticipate your technical needs from the start, and know who you can talk to for help.
  • Just ask. You never really know what you’re going to get.
  • Always thanks people, no matter how small the support.
  • Don’t shortchange any idea you have.

“If you have an idea, just run with it,” he finally says. “We started with an idea on bar napkin and here were are six years later. You never know what you’re going to be able to do until you try.”

Inspired to adapt the Beards BeCAUSE model to end domestic violence where you live? Reach out to Jared for advice:

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