Capacity Building and Sustainability

Content warning: mentions of police brutality, current events, racism.

I recently met with my professor about feeling helpless in times of turmoil due to not being able to contribute to movements the way I want to, and not knowing how to merge my interests in social justice with my future career in psychology. My writing of this post is a summary of that conversation, along with my own thoughts and reflections during the past few weeks.

There’s a lot of messed up things in the world.

There’s no doubt about it. Whether it is in the US or in my hometown or even internationally, there’s a lot of messed up things going on. Police brutality, innocent unarmed individuals being murdered, aggressing individuals to “Go back to their country”, child labor, starvation, food insecurity, and more. There’s a lot of rage-inducing, anxiety-provoking, and depressing material in the news.

But I’m only one person and I can’t do everything.

I already knew this but it is still difficult to think about. I want to create change in the world that I want to see. I was raised to believe that I can be the change. But now, I’m slowly realizing that I can’t create ALL of the changes I want to see, because there are far too many things in the world that are messed up, and far too many things that need to be changed and improved. I need to pick and choose which changes I want to focus on.

I can do the best I can, but I need to take care of myself as well.

For the past two years, I have become more interested in the process of burnout, particularly for those involved in social justice and activism. Some of us get so involved due to our passion and our urgency for change, that we contribute to movements at the cost of our own wellbeing. I am especially prone to this as someone who tends to put others before herself. But, like my professor said, we need to take care of ourselves in order to promote longer sustainability of our movements. Who will fight the good fight if there are no more fighters to fight?


Each of us brings in our own experiences when we enter a space. Whether that space is our workplace, our home, school, or community organizations, we each bring our own experiences to contribute to the group. Along with those experiences, however, there may also be traumas. It is my responsibility to be aware of my traumas and to heal in order to prevent the transmission of trauma.

Of course, this is easier said than done and is very correlated with the amount of privilege we have as individuals. Some may have more time, more resources, and more ability to access tools they need to heal (e.g. therapy, medication, education, etc.). Some of us may have more difficulty accessing these tools. We do what we can to ensure our own healing.

Finding a balance.

Whenever there is a mention of “finding a balance,” people would assume you are referring to a work life balance. But in this case, I am referring to the balance between caring for yourself and caring for others. How can I ensure that I am contributing to change and working towards sustainability of these movements, while also ensuring that I am well-rested physically, mentally, and emotionally? I can have the desire to contribute and to ‘fight the good fight’, but I need to be able to do that physically/mentally/emotionally first. When I am healed, recharged, and reinvigorated, I can contribute at my maximum capacity.

But I’m tired.

The constant repetition of events is like seeing remakes of a horrible movie with the same ending, time after time. We may feel hopeless, helpless, and jaded that whatever we do is not enough and it’s not contributing to change. We may grow tired and may lose the energy we had when we first started. We may feel guilty for losing energy and not contributing the ways we want to.

How can I help?

It is important to keep our expectations realistic and to reflect on how we can contribute. Sometimes the answers may come directly when leaders and movements directly articulate, “We need your help! Sign this petition! Call your lawmakers! Donate funds!” but other times it may be a little more unclear. If I’m not in a financial situation that can support with a monetary contribution, how can I help? Whatever reason you have for why you cannot do xyz, it is important to reflect on how you can help and doing just that. The way that one person contributes to a movement, may not be the way that I do it. And the way that I do it, may not be the way that you do it. Recognize that all contributions may not feel the same but may be needed in their own way.

During my conversation with my professor, I came to the realization that though I may not have the same time, physical, and mental means to contribute in ways I would have been able to previously, I do have new tools that can help me be an ally. As I grow to be a better clinician and therapist, I now have tools that can help support communities to have a greater capacity to engage in sustainable movements. Through disseminating tools to my community through workshops, speaker presentations, and writing articles, I can help make an impact in my own way through inspiring future generations to get involved. My involvement may not be as direct as it was previously, but I am sure that my contribution is still needed and I will continue to provide and contribute however I can, especially in times when my communities need it most.

General forms of contributing to sustainable movements include, but are not limited to:

  • Donating money and resources (medical supplies, food, clothing)
  • Volunteering (cleanups, cooking food, making care packages/safety kits)
  • Educating others (disseminating information through writing/media, having conversations, facilitating workshops)
  • Mentoring individuals
  • Organizing protests, gatherings, discussions, etc. in support of the movement you care about
  • Taking care of yourself and others (Support groups, practicing active listening)
  • Supporting your community (lending a neighbor a hand, cleanups, providing transportation)
  • And more!

Through writing this post, I hope to inspire those of you reading to reflect on your own capacity for contributing, and in what ways you can contribute to change. In what ways can we contribute while preventing burnout and creating a sustainable movement? The answer may not come immediately to you but this is a continuous, reflective growing process and I hope this post helped contribute to some of that reflection.


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