Youth-Run Leadership Conference I is a case study that highlights the challenges of youth failing to take care of themselves and each other. Often there is an expectation that activists should be ‘rock stars’ who take on as much as they can; there is a fine line between commitment and overworking, and overworking is often encouraged, jeopardizing studies, work, or health.
Imagine a youth-run leadership conference is being pulled together in your town. Lots of young people are eager to sign on for what promises to be an exciting, inspiring and rewarding experience. The excitement and energy in the air lead the organizers to start thinking and talking bigger and better. The targets for attendance grow, along with the budget and scale of the venues, the cost and caliber of musical acts and the dreams of the organizing team.
Unfortunately, stress levels and workloads start to increase too. As the event draws closer and the pressure rises, with everyone facing other demands from school and work, some people start to withdraw from the organizing. They are too busy and need to prioritize other commitments over the conference. Meanwhile, a small group of people including you, are left holding the bag for this event that is still sometimes exciting but most of the time feels like an overwhelming, unwieldy beast.
You’re not sure how you ended up here. You try to draw boundaries but every time you do so, other organizers talk about how overwhelmed they feel too, and you feel like you would be letting them down by setting limits or taking a step back. You are also told that your stress is a “first-world problem” and lots of people have worse things to deal with, so you resolve to try harder, be stronger and get through it. The more exhausted and stressed out you get, the more compliments you get; people tell you that you are so awesome, you’re doing such great work, and this event couldn’t happen without you. You begin to believe that. You are losing sleep at night from all the stress and still getting up early because there is so much to do and if you don’t do it, no one else will.
The weekend of the conference comes and it flies by in the blink of an eye. You have some fleeting exciting moments of meeting celebrities and dancing with your friends, but you spend most of the weekend running around in such a blur that you are just glad when it is over. You get sick for three days after the conference and then you have to get back to work on all the things you set aside in order to focus on the conference. Your mental health hangs by a thread and you’ve lost sight of why you wanted to do this in the first place. When people talk about the conference becoming an annual event, you and the other organizers are quick to turn the idea down.