Photo of Alia Salem sitting in Kirk's Captains Chair holding a puppy.

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Self-Care Cannot Be a Buzzword – as an Activist, It Has to Be a Way of Life.

Self-Care Cannot Be a Buzzword – as an Activist, It Has to Be a Way of Life.
Alia Salem


So I am turning 40 this year yet I still feel like I am in my late 20s, but I am also really tired. I have accomplished a lot of meaningful work in my professional life, and yet the more I work, and the more progress I see through my work, the more I recognize an uncomfortable personal truth that so many activists wrestle with.


I get to do powerful, essential, groundbreaking work. However, I struggle to not let the work consume my life – and me. I find I have forgotten how to really relax or even get pleasure from a vacation. Everything I do is somehow connected to work and ALL my work, volunteer and paid, is trauma-filled. So as I approach this milestone birthday, two things are abundantly clear to me now: my way of “living” is not sustainable, and as such, my work cannot be truly beneficial as a contribution to society.


A friend shared this quote by Thomas Merton that sums it up:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”


If my work is positively impacting others and society, but it’s destroying my life in the process, is it worth it? Is it really all that great? How do I rationalize that while I am fighting injustice and exposing abusers, I am also being unjust and abusive to myself? Am I succumbing to the violence I am working so hard to stop?


I don’t know the answer, but I do know that something has to change. The way I approach my work has to change. The way I prioritize myself has to change. Not only for myself but for the people I serve. Self-care cannot be a buzzword – it has to be a way of life because mine and other’s lives literally depend on it.


About the Author

Alia Salem is the Founder and President of FACE (Facing Abuse in Community Environments). Her professional background is in organizational development, community organizing, and communications with a particular focus on the intersections of institutionalized racism and the push towards an equitable pluralistic society. Learn more here.