The tough question asked in the last chapter was:
Imagine you are an activist who has sacrificed years or decades for a cause, and has achieved a non-spectacular result. Was your sacrifice worth it?
As discussed, the answer lies in the answer to this more fundamental question: Who are you?
Ask a group of activists whether a decades-long sacrifice for non-spectacular results was worth it, and you will get a spectrum of answers. Some will emphatically say, “Yes, it was.” Others will just as emphatically say, “No, it wasn’t.” And many others will answer somewhere in the middle.
Moreover, everyone will have a different reason for her or his answer. Some will say “Yes” because they see activism as an inherently difficult challenge in which you shouldn’t expect to achieve a dramatic result—although it’s nice when it happens. Others will say “Yes” because they see the activist life as its own reward. And still others will say yes for some other reason entirely.
The people who answer “No” will offer similarly diverse reasons.
Actually, the question “Was it worth it?”, lacking nuance and specificity, isn’t very useful. Here are some more useful ones:
• What specifically was the nature of your sacrifice?
• What specifically was the nature of your achievement?
• Could you have somehow reduced the level of sacrifice without compromising your achievement?
• Could you have somehow increased the amount you achieved without increasing your level of sacrifice beyond what you were willing to accept?
You won’t be able to answer these questions for some hypothetical example, or for someone else’s career (like Steinem’s). But you can look back on your own activist career and answer them—and doing so is the very first step to Managing Your Mission.
So, set aside some time, find yourself a quiet place to think and write, and do the following Activist Project Histories exercise.
Activist Project Histories
Choose two or three of the most important activist projects you’ve worked on over the past few years, and, for each, answer the questions below in as much detail as possible. It’s a good idea to select not just projects you consider “successes,” but at least one you consider a “failure,” as we often learn more from our so-called “failures” than our “successes.” (The words “success” and “failure”, and their derivatives, are in quotes throughout The Lifelong Activist for reasons that will become clear in Part III.)
• What was the project’s goal?
• What was your role in the project?
• How did you get involved in the project?
• What did you like about the project?
• What did you dislike about the project?
• Was the project successful?
• What result was achieved?
• How could that result have been improved?
• Could the result have been achieved more easily? (Or more quickly and/or cheaply?) If so, how?
• What talents or skills of yours were used in this project? How were they used?
• What talents and skills of yours were not used? Why not?
• What personal result (i.e., experience, information, contacts, career advancement) did you get from the project?
• How could that personal result have been improved?
• How could your own work on the project have been improved?
• Which parts of the project did you most enjoy working on? Why?
• Which parts did you least enjoy working on, or not enjoy at all? Why?
• What sacrifices did you make in other areas of your life to do this project?
• How did you feel about those sacrifices at the time?
• How do you feel about them now? Looking back, were they worth it? Should you have sacrificed less or more than you did?
• Did participating in the project harm you in any way? If so, how?
• Would you do a project like this one again? Why or why not?
• If so, what changes would you make, either in the project itself, or in your life outside the project?
Some tips for completing the Activist Project Histories are provided in the next chapter.