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Personal Ecology: “To maintain balance, pacing and efficiency to sustain our energy over a lifetime of activism and service.”

-Rockwood Leadership Institute

In our work, we talk a lot about self-care, but there’s become something passé about the term, conjuring up images of bubble baths and lengthy conversations about “coping skills”. What shifts if we start talking instead about personal ecology?

Ecology is “the set of relationships existing between any complex system and its surroundings or environment.”1

In this definition, we are the “complex system.” It means, to me, that how we take care of ourselves has as much to do with environment and relationships as it does personal self-care. In other words, we don’t live in a vacuum. All the bubble baths in the world won’t change anything if we work and live in toxic environments and have unhealthy relationships. Coping skills become nothing more than a quick fix, to get through the moment. It’s easy for others to blame “illness” when we are having a difficult time, but it can also be gaslighting; a way to blame us without ever acknowledging or taking responsibility for what’s wrong with our agencies and systems.

One of the key words from the Rockwood definition of personal ecology is “sustain.” The work we do may be fulfilling but there can be no doubt that it is also challenging. Many of us work in – and try to change – the very systems that harmed us. If you want to be in this work for the long-haul, what will you need for sustainability? What does your personal ecosystem look like when it is flourishing?

There’s nothing wrong with a quick fix for the moment, especially when we aren’t in a place to make the bigger changes we may want, but it seems critical to at least be able to recognize the changes that we do need to make and find ways to start creating an ecosystem that supports growth and allows us to truly thrive.