A Sabbatical From Saving the World

You’re never going to hustle your way to social justice and reform.

My mission to save the world was fueled by the misguided idea of using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, not realizing the master owns too much property for any one person to demolish in one lifetime.

Paul the Apostle once said, “I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.” Maybe it’s because I’m closer to my 40s than my 20s, or because I’m consuming more complex theories from authors like Friedrich Engels, Daniel Markovits, Angela Davis, and bell hooks. But this build and spread the wealth strategy I was spoon-fed isn’t hitting the way it used to.

Make the world a better place. That’s what I aspire to do. Only a sociopath would think this wasn’t a good idea.

But the more years pass, the worse the world seems to get, no matter how much money people make or how many LLCs they create.

For the first time in my life, I’m figuring out what’s really going on, and that scares me. My new, radical view about how I want to live upsets the fragile sense of purpose I’ve held on to working as a socialpreneur.

For the first time in my life, I’m done trying to save the world.

Carrying the enormous weight of being the exception to the rules of capitalism and totalitarianism can lead to survivor’s remorse. We feel obligated to spend every waking hour teaching others how to gain “financial freedom” without realizing that we’re just becoming the poster children of a meritocracy trap.

Part of it is because we spend a lot of time criticizing and gaming The System but not examining ourselves. That lack of collective critical self-awareness makes us do more harm than good in our efforts at achieving economic equality.

So, like some millennials, I went to therapy to “do the work” on myself. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that guilt is the enemy of social progress.

Psychology Today has an article that explains guilt, saying “You may think of guilt as a good way to get someone to do something for you out of a sense of obligation,” but instead it’s an irrational belief that you’re responsible for other people’s suffering that ultimately covers up “agony, grief, and loneliness…”

Translation: we ain’t warriors. We’re just lonely, pissed-off people fighting against oppression to fill the emptiness inside us.

When I figured this out I felt, well, guilty. Reassessing my situation made me recognize a common thread in conversations with my girlfriends about still being single, childless, stressed out, and depressed all the time no matter how much good we were doing.

Take away our marches and our petitions, all the activist activities we spend 12 hours a day focused on, and what else do we have to live for?

I’m not angry at the world, per se. I’m angry with myself. Upset that all I really, truly, want right now is a man to lay by the beach with me sipping a cold (preferably alcoholic) drink while watching the sunset. And I’d choose that any day over running another capacity-building workshop for informal workers in Kenya…

It’s not that I NEVER want to help anyone ever again. But right now, the only motivation I have is worrying about more people dying, starving, or hating me because I didn’t do enough. That’s not healthy or sustainable.

The System I swore on my life to destroy is causing me to feel this way. Internalized capitalism is the lack of rest and compassion fatigue inextricably linked.

You will never justify making a baby or going on a 12-month gap year traveling the world as long as you keep thinking about all the people who can’t do the same because oppression.

Ergo, capitalism wins again. You’re forced to choose either complying with the system, getting money, and chopping life, or going crazy trying to cut the head of a beast that keeps growing taller, stronger…

I need a sabbatical. And hopefully, when I come back to this work it’ll be from a place of community, not catastrophe.

Without a break and introspection, any work against (internalized) capitalism will operate from a scarcity mindset.

Yes, we do have a moral obligation to come back from our sabbatical prepared to use our privileges to create more opportunities for those who don’t have them.

But to radically shift the way things are, we need to tap others in when we’re tapped out. As we recharge we put someone else in charge and shouldn’t care whether or not we get the credit for the work achieved in the end. It’s supposed to be a group project.

We also need to keep it simple. Impact is achieved even with the smallest gestures, like a 30-minute mentoring call every week or paying for someone’s dinner if they didn’t earn enough that day to pay for it themselves. Stretching ourselves thin selfishly prevents anything from getting accomplished.

Do what you can and humbly take a step back so someone else can fill the gap.

Sometimes I worry that if I walk away, even for a little bit, I’ll lose all credibility and relevance I’ve built up with my foundation. I wonder if taking a year off would disqualify me from getting the new grants and new partnerships I’ll need to sustain it?

Perhaps. But I refuse to let that stop me from taking care of myself.

The physical and emotional toll of guilt will kill us before we have a chance to make a difference. Lowkey, I think that’s The System’s plan.

So, in spite of what anyone else thinks or says about me, and for the sake of sticking around a little longer to make the world a better place, imma go lay down.

I highly recommend you do the same.

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Seun Shokunbi explores stories of women as power brokers in the political and entrepreneurial arenas of Africa & the African diaspora. These are personal essays that show the journey to combining hustler mentality with social activism.

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Seun Shokunbi

Seun Shokunbi

Seun Shokunbi is a past contributor to Face2Face Africa, and a speaker for TEDx. Learn more at www.itsseunshokunbi.com/bio.

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