How to Avoid Burnout: New Year’s Advice for Pro-Democracy Activists

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

December 31, 2015

New Year’s is a time for taking stock, and one thing that concerns me, the older I get, is that we in the peace, justice, and democracy movement need to make sure that we don’t burn out and that our colleagues don’t burn out and that the generation behind us doesn’t burn out.

We’ve got to grow our ranks of activists; we can’t run them -- or ourselves -- into the ground.

So here’s a little primer of advice that I’ve come up with after 35 years in the fight.

Some of it is obvious and applicable to everyone, like the “Basic Advice for Healthy Living.” Other bits are geared more to the activist.

I hope you find some of it useful for yourself or your activist friends.

Basic Advice for Healthy Living

1. Get regular exercise

2. Eat right

3. Beware of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes

4. Get plenty of sleep

5. Spend time with good friends

6. Be an honest and trustworthy person

7. Have a sense of humor

8. Have hobbies

9. Enjoy nature

10. Meditate/do yoga

Do’s and Don’ts Especially for Activists


1. Have fun while you work.

2. Surround yourself with interesting, smart, fun, kind, and moral people.

3. Compliment your colleagues and allies on the good work they’re doing.

4. Take vacations.

5. Set short-term, achievable goals.

6. Celebrate their achievement.

7. Celebrate small victories.

8. Seek out positive signs and developments.

9. Remember, you’re part of a tremendous historical movement for peace and justice, with inspiring forebearers who faced more daunting challenges than you.

10. Prepare for the long haul.


1. Don’t overwork. (Don’t work on weekends unless it’s an absolute emergency.)

2. Don’t become embittered that you’re working harder or longer hours than others.

3. Don’t make petty criticisms of co-workers or allies or talk behind their backs.

4. Don’t play power games.

5. Don’t let your ego get out of control.

6. Don’t be a perfectionist.

7. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone.

8. Don’t generalize about, or demonize, everyone who disagrees with you.

9. Don’t keep score.

10. Don’t expect immediate success.

WDC Executive Director Matthew Rothschild
Matthew Rothschild
WDC Executive Director

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