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19 January 2024

Written by: Esha Kode

Am I Enough? Exploring the Feeling of Inadequacy in Activism

The feeling of inadequacy is a constant one I carry when I do work in the advocacy realm. I don’t even have a degree, am I allowed to have a voice in this? I haven’t done enough, how can I be an activist? Who am I and am I even worthy of being a part of this movement/organization/place?

These thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming and make us feel helpless. There were two major events that helped me distance myself from such thoughts and feel a bit more empowered and confident in the work that I am doing.

(1) I was introduced to Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s Climate Action Venn Diagram by my fellow 100 Million US Campaign Coordinator, Morgan Keyt. The purpose of the Venn Diagram is to find a unique and personal way to lead your activism. Dr. Johnson built it for activists looking to get involved in the climate movement, but it works for whatever issue(s) you are passionate about. It asks us three questions: What are you good at? What brings you joy? What work needs doing or what are you passionate about?

Here is an expansion by Dr. Johnson on how to think about those questions:

What are you good at? Think about your skills, resources, and networks. What are your areas of expertise? Who and what do you have access to? What can you bring to the table?
What is the work that needs doing? Think about system-level change. Are there particular [climate and] justice solutions that interest you? Maybe starting a composting program, protecting forests, or getting climate candidates elected? Heaps of options.
What brings you joy and satisfaction? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Don’t pick things that make you miserable and will burn you out! This is the long haul – find things that enliven and energize you.

Morgan explained that we can all advocate for causes we are passionate about in our own special way by finding an overlap between the answers to those questions. This realization changed A LOT for me

Before being introduced to this Venn Diagram, I believed that I needed to have a human rights degree, work for the UN or UNICEF, be a lawyer, etc. to be a “good” activist. I now realize that there’s no such thing as being a “good” activist. Each one of us who has the desire to use our voice for a cause has the ability, right, and power to do so because advocacy can take many shapes and forms - there’s no one-size-fits-all approach!

(2) The second event that helped me feel “good enough,” was my visit to Bal Ashram. Bal Ashram is a long-term rehabilitation center for survivors of child labor, trafficking, and slavery that was founded by Kailash Satyarthi and Sumedha Satyarthi. Here’s an excerpt from my Bal Ashram blog post that encapsulates just how deeply the boys of Bal Ashram have impacted my sense of self:

Throughout my time at Bal Ashram, I was continuously riddled with self-doubt and guilt. Well-accomplished and distinguished leaders & talents from across the world visit Bal Ashram and then here I am, a super normal 20-year-old college gal who came from the U.S. I didn't even have a degree to back me up! Who was I and why was I here?

I wanted to just help in any way I can and I found that the 'help' that the boys wanted was a sense of belonging and love, so I tried my absolute best to give each and every one of them just that. I let myself open up and created a space where the boys saw me as an equal. During all their meditations and meetings, I would sit beside them instead of on a chair alongside the teachers. During their play time, I would play with them. During their movie times, I would sit for the entirety of the 2 hours and watch the whole film with them (and allowed for some to even use me as a human pillow). I gave them the space to feel comfortable enough to open up about their worries whenever they wanted to. Thus, I later realized that they didn't need to know (or even cared about) whether or not I had a degree or if I conquered the world in some way or the other. They just wanted a companion and someone who could help them see themselves for who they are and remind them that they are all extremely talented & worthy boys.

The full post can be found here. My time at Bal Ashram helped me fill in my own Venn Diagram. 

The Venn Diagram approach and my Bal Ashram experience made me realize that we are ALL enough and can partake in meaningful activism in our own individual, unique ways. When we combine the effects of these individual actions, our voices are amplified and we reach a step closer in creating change.

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