There are people I collectively call “changemakers”.

They include doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, nurses, and police officers.

Many soldiers aim to do as much good as possible with their service and thus can also be changemakers.

Attorneys that stand up for the poor or aim to make change in family law, priests and religious figures that want to make a change in their community… all count.

Even a bartender or an ice cream salesman that tries to make their patrons happy and can listen with an attentive ear can be changemakers.

Many of us find ourselves in that role in a volunteer or amateur capacity. We’re the den mothers or papa bears, or just people who looked at the darkness and pain in the world and resolved, “Thus far and no further”.

These people are, of course, prone to burnout, vicarious trauma, and a host of challenges.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to deal with those stresses, both for myself and for others.

I’ve found at least one thing that works.

We often go into a situation thinking we’re going to solve some major problem. We’re going to make people care about Africa. We’re going to protect people from harm. We’re going to make sure that every person who has suffered depression or trauma is happy and healthy.

Thinking that big is useful. But it can’t be our expectation of the reward.

Nor can it even be “winning”. A lawyer who goes into an adversarial system fighting for the underdog can’t have winning be the reward that gets them up in the morning. Nor can a therapist think that every single patient will be happy, nor even the majority. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Sometimes we win the majority of the time.

It has to be something else.

It has to be defined by the human interactions that we have.

A firefighter who saves a child may not have been able to stop a home from burning down, but that child knows someone cared.

A lawyer who went to bat for a client with all their might may not win, but that client knows that someone else cared.

A journalist or activist may not be able to get people to change their minds about an issue, but they spoke for someone else who may have been hurt and that matters.

When I struggle, I remember that I have changed some peoples’ lives, made them smile more, or at least made them go to bed with less fear and pain.

And that is a reward that is, by any analysis, more than enough.

For changemakers to be more skillful, and to avoid vicarious trauma, I am writing a book a blog post at a time called Skillful Means, Helping Hands: How You (Yes, You) Can Bring Joy to Others. I hope you will check it out at https://skillfulmeansbookblog.wordpress.com/ and provide your comments and experiences!


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