You Wanna Be Starting Something

Over a year into this Troublemaking adventure, I have reached a conclusion. Many conclusions, actually, but this particular one is weighing on me today. Because for weeks I’ve been considering running a one-day Troublemakers workshop here in Cape Town, a prospect that on many levels excites me with its potential to bring new members into this community and surface compelling stories of personal and social change. And yet…. And yet, I’m scared.

Which brings me back to that particular conclusion: That the greatest challenge of being a Troublemaker isn’t starting something; it’s sustaining it. Did I just use the sustainability word? Oh, yes, OK, let’s try again: the greatest challenge of being a Troublemaker is keeping something going. There, that feels more real.

Climb This keeping-things-going challenge isn’t news to anyone who’s worked in development for more than five minutes. Still, I think it sits at the heart of the “activists” challenge today.

When I talk about sustaining, I don’t mean the whole replicating-planning-funding-staffing dimension. Oh no I’m talking about something much more basic – more human – than that. I’m talking about getting up every morning and deciding to do it. Again. Because every day it’s just me and my Troublemaking passion and vision, which can sometimes feel like a fabulous ménage a inspiration and other days a hopeless indulgence. Who knew that indulgence and inspiration were such close companions?

The early days of Troublemakers were exhilarating: I savored the possibility of what Daniel and I could create. Heard myself crafting new language. Watched myself working through ideas with friends and colleagues. That sense that I might be on to something was intoxicating. Like the early days of a new love.

Now here I am today. Another day of phone calls, emails, meetings. At the end of which I hope someone might give a damn as much as I do. And promise to be there with me tomorrow morning when I start Troublemaking all over. Again.

Do I admit that I have grown tired of my own voice, selling my passion to anyone – everyone?! – who will listen?

That I despair over creating my own jargon. And simplified logic. The very things I railed against in development.

That hope and resignation wax and wane inside of me like air I breath. Every new idea feels like a chapter that might one day be written. Every meeting introduces me to partner that maybe, just maybe, could be for life. I feed off of nodding heads and curious faces. But then the follow up emails carry a hint of desperation: Please join me on this journey. Please care about this as much as I do.

It is your passion. Your vision.

In the end, I’m left to wonder whether I have the guts or the stamina to really try to start a movement. Whether I’m strong enough in myself to extend enough invitations to establish a community.

So, wait, let me rephrase my grand Troublemaking conclusion:

Yes, the biggest challenge of being a Troublemaker is keeping something going.

Because the biggest challenge of being a Troublemaker is feeling so profoundly vulnerable.

Indeed, the biggest challenge of being a Troublemaker is that it is singularly lonely.

Full. Stop.

So back to my Troublemakers workshop. I’m not scared of the workshop, itself. Once I’m in the room I know I’ll feel so grateful I did it. I’m scared of putting word out again, of trying to drum up interest if not support. I’m scared of invitations extended but never replied to.

In the end, I suppose I’m scared that there will be nobody in the room with me. And I’ll be forced to admit that nobody cares about Troublemakers nearly as much as I do.

There’s the Troublemaker’ rub: it is your passion. Your vision. Others will follow and maybe even share it. But you will always hold it closest, tightest.

Daniel and I have always said that Troublemaking required bravery. And it’s true. But not the bravery to shout the loudest or start the biggest fight. Yeah, sure, that might be a part of it. But probably mostly just the bravery to feel scared – alone – and still press “send” on the email.

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