Sustainable Livelihood

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facilitated by Grant Kinney

notes from Ivan Boothe

Balancing Work/Life & Self-Care

Tendency for institutions to value interchangeable labor makes keeping work/life balance difficult.


  • Planning out life in amount of time left
  • Putting consulting work on hold to prioritize family life — bucking the model of parenting highlights tensions in being a finite human (Learning to go to bed with an unmet to-do list every night.)
  • Compassion - self-compassion for not getting everything done, compassion for those putting demands on you.
  • With multiple clients, you fixate on the one unhappy with you, not the five who love you.
  • Write the email and don't send it.
  • Being positive or calm will influence difficult clients - cultivate your own happiness and calmness
  • Trying to figure out how to address the feeling of "I can never do enough on this"
    • Social change work is unending
    • If your work helps save lives, not doing work feels like letting people die.

Problems and Solutions


  • Redefining what is "work" - self-care and support networks aren't always valued as "real work" - childcare, food prep, logistics, facilitation, etc.
  • "Imperativeness" of social change work rubs off on work itself - everything feels urgent or like a crisis.
  • Too many bigger nonprofits exploit staff, have unreasonable expectations, continue to push unpaid internships.
  • Corporate influence on nonprofit orgs privileges individualism - "I have to save the world," when in fact it's sustained collective action.
  • Negative "startup culture" influencing nonprofits expecting people to give their whole lives to the org (keeps out people with families and other responsibilities). If Henry Ford believed that people working only 40 hours/week was more efficient than working 60, we should realize that, too.
  • Collective orgs or horizontal activist groups have a lot of benefits, but it can add to the existential stress - every person in the group carries responsibility of the group's existence.
  • Social change movements are bigger than organizations - they should be trying to put themselves out of business and not act like they are the only org in a movement.
  • Devaluing caregiving in favor of waged labor.
  • Too many orgs (both nonprofits and consultant groups) are stuck in a model of scarcity - we "don't have enough money to do what we want" - instead of deciding what to prioritize and prioritize not exploiting staff instead of just doing the most "work" possible. (Also, redefining what counts as an org's "work".)


  • Moving out of constant crisis mode.
  • "Nonprofessional" activists seem more likely (if not always successful) to attempt to create prefigurative work - setting up a culture that looks like the world we want to see. Activists more often consider setting up sustainable work, whereas nonprofits know they can burn out their staff and then just hire more.
  • Radical Designs started being explicit about being able to take a day off, so people could keep track of when they hadn't been taking a break.
  • Homesteading allows Jonah to live a life with joy that takes less in income.
  • Working on the edge of the economy - individual consultants, workers' collectives - can feel very lonely and isolating.
    • Suggestions for co-working spaces
    • Freelancers doing morning "check-ins" as if they're all working on the same project
    • Building community around your work, even if you're a solo freelancer
    • Meetup groups to connect with others doing similar work - tech for good gatherings, progressive advocacy happy hours, etc.

Thank You

Big thanks from everyone to Grant for organizing this session!