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Pagan Leadership Burnout

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  • ffetcher
    replied
    I've been out of the loop for a bit, so I've only just come across this thread, but I think I can contribute even if the query is old.

    I've run several groups - a few pagan outfts, more in other fields. I'm also sometimes a project manager by profession, and I can vouch for that being simpler, since you have a commercial hold over the others involved.

    Even so, in all cases, I've come to the conclusion that if you don't have a good team supporting you, burn-out is pretty much inevitable. Early signs are when you're always the first to an event, when someone starts to accuse you of favouritism, and when despite the fact that someone else should have arranged something, you end up having to do it at the last minute because they didn't.

    All these things happen occasionally because things sometimes do go wrong for reasons outside everyone's control, but when they start happening regularly (or indeed when you think they're happening regularly) it's time to start considering options. Ignoring it and 'just getting on with it' doesn't make matters better in the long run.

    If you're in a position to talk with the rest of the group, get it over with as soon as you can. Outline what's happening, be as positive as you can 'I wish it always happened like <whatever> when <everyone was on time/so-and-so did such a good job of organising something> but sadly, the last couple of times...' is better than '<so-and-so> let us down badly and I spent all of last weekend fixing it' but, sadly, occasionally, the latter is the only option.

    If you're not in a position to do this, or you feel that you can't, ask yourself what's wrong. There has to be a huge element of trust in any pagan or occult group, so why can't you express your feelings?

    The fact that, if there's no line of succession, no constitution and no support you can rely on, the group will almost certainly fold if you walk, shouldn't deter you from thinking about it. 'If things don't improve soon I' just not going to be able to continue' may help resolve the situation. If the result is 'so what?', then just walk. If the result is 'okay, how can we help?' then that's a start.

    This isn't from a position of some sort of superiority. Over thirty years I've ignored my own advice often enough; it's easy to get sucked in and not even realise it. I once 'stuck with it' simply because the group had been going for a long time and I was reluctant to be the one to pull the plug. Fortunately, in retrospect, I ended up with a verbal warning at work before I irreparably damaged my marriage. In the end the work situation gave me the prod I needed, and an 'honourable' exit route. Not pleasant, but it could have been much worse.

    blessings
    ffetcher

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  • childofcrow
    replied
    I co-run one of the local pagan groups here - we meet monthly, and for every other sabbat. I think the biggest issue we have had is the fluctuation in attendance. We've had anywhere from 4 to 25 people at a meeting. We did get a bit burnt out last year and took the summer off, which was helpful.

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  • Wood Nymph
    replied
    Your feelings of burnout are normal. And, I don't think it is a bad thing. If you have been doing this a long while, it may be time to pass the torch to someone else?

    Leadership burnout is common anywhere, not just amongst pagans. I founded a Boy Scout troop many years ago and devoted considerable time to it, as the community needed a troop that was non-Christian. We had a Jewish Scout master, a pagan committee chair, and a range of people from other backgrounds. But there was a need for such a place for our children. Eventually, I passed the torch on to other parents.

    I've participated as an officer in other organizations, which, thankfully, limited officer service in their constitutions so that others would have to take up the work. It seems to me that burn out is inevitable if one serves too long. Many are willing to serve for a time. But the amount of time and energy that such service requires is significant. Therefore, when setting up an organization, it is best to set it up so that torch-passing will be easy. Few people can do it for an extremely long stretch. If leadership is passed through the membership over the years, then no one is so over-burdened. Democracy can be a good thing.

    Indeed, probably if one person thrives on running an organization for years, the organization is often not be one I'd want to be a part of. From my experience, those who seek too much power might be less prone to burnout. They thrive on power to an extent that they do not burn out nor seek to pass the reins to another.

    Very recently, I joined a regional pagan group, thinking that some interaction with other pagans would be a GOOD THING. However, I quickly learned that the entire organization is about to fall apart due to a leader's recent leaving. They have no organizational constitution and no structure for passing the torch. It looks like if anyone picks up this mess, they will have to essentially start from scratch. They would have benefited from having a constitution and by-laws that laid out a structure for picking new officers each year or so.

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  • Terra Mater
    replied
    Originally posted by Kreyas View Post
    Of course, there's ways to combat the "one person does all" and "Pagan Standard Time" crap. Most people trying to lead a Pagan group just don't want to budget their time (restrict what they are doing), budget their funding (meaning they cannot pursue this grand vision of events and local Pagan publications) or say "yanno what, you guys need to grow up - I'm going home" and I think more issues in Pagan communities is caused by that than anything done by the (faux) membership. Some jaded leaders like to talk about the irresponsibility of lay Pagans, but Pagan leaders also need to take responsibility for their own action/inaction.
    I agree. From the very beginning of my last group I told people that rule number one was the group must support itself, don't expect me to support it. I devoted my energies to my areas of interest and expected the rest of the group to do the same. When they failed to, their reasoning was that I was trying to be a Pagan dictator and not their own lack of activity.

    Another sore point was that when I hosted children's activities, if the parent wanted to stay at the activity with their child, they could participate and only have to pay for or bring their own materials. If they wanted to leave their child with me, it was a flat rate $20. Its not that I wanted to make a killing off the activities, I just wasn't going to have everyone use me as a free babysitter.

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  • Kreyas
    replied
    I led a university group for a few years back when I was in college. I felt it was my responsibility to act and speak in a fashion that reflected well on the community.

    When the group degraded into "weekly sex chat" during a transition to a new leader (since I was graduating), I was kicked out of the group for the rediculous reasoning of "it'll help you focus on getting a job once you graduate." Probably the best thing that could have happened, since I was now able to speak my mind without being so reflective of the religion I practice.

    Needless to say though, I was annoyed. Turns out several other former members of the group that had leadership positions felt the same way about how things went. So we eventually made our own little group and vented - and that's the story of how we started podcasting.

    My biggest problem with Pagans in a group setting, especially ones dominated by Wiccans, is that they have this "give me" attitude (sort of like how some pursue spells and spell books to no end) and they don't feel a responsibility to meaningfully participate in nor contribute to a group they want to participate in.

    I remember a time where the group was fired up that Pagans were getting a reputation for not helping out the overall community. We had almost a dozen folks sign up for a forest cleanup thing (hey, Pagan-ish thing, plus an excuse to go to the forest - thought it was a win-win). We arranged for transportation and everything. Well, that Saturday morning we had only 3 people (including myself) show up. That just made me realize more people are in it for the sake of self-satisfaction and appearances than for the religion or any sort of "doing good stuff."

    Of course, there's ways to combat the "one person does all" and "Pagan Standard Time" crap. Most people trying to lead a Pagan group just don't want to budget their time (restrict what they are doing), budget their funding (meaning they cannot pursue this grand vision of events and local Pagan publications) or say "yanno what, you guys need to grow up - I'm going home" and I think more issues in Pagan communities is caused by that than anything done by the (faux) membership. Some jaded leaders like to talk about the irresponsibility of lay Pagans, but Pagan leaders also need to take responsibility for their own action/inaction.

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  • Noinden
    replied
    Originally posted by Earthwalker View Post
    Have you ever been in charge of or attempted to organize your local Pagan community? If so, have you ever been so frustrated by the challenges that you've burned out? I'm curious to hear some tales of leadership burnout from all of you, such as what specifically caused it and how you were able to resolve the situation (even if that meant giving up!). I'd also welcome some discussion of ways we can help our leaders (or ourselves) from suffering burnout in the future.
    Oh have I ever. I used to run a University Pagan Network, and the only ones who did work were myself and the Asatruar who started it. The rest wanted meetings, rituals, social gatherings and good PR but were not willing to help. This is where I learned the meaning of "Leadign Pagans is like Hearding Cats".

    I left that organisation to move to the USA (from New Zealand) for work, and it lasted under a year with the people elected....

    Running that group set my spiritual path back a couple of years as I was doing the work for others not myself. But I learned a lot too.

    Over here in the USA it is even more pronounced. You get people who try to lead or teach who should not, you get witch wars, you get silly shit, and you get people who can't delegate.

    That last part is the most important. Build a team to help, not minions but people who could do the job if you were not there.

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  • Jenett
    replied
    Originally posted by Earthwalker View Post
    I'd also welcome some discussion of ways we can help our leaders (or ourselves) from suffering burnout in the future.
    The biggest two things for me are knowing my limits, and knowing what I really want to spend my time doing.

    I find burnout's a lot more likely in the following situations:
    - I'm doing a whole lot of the same kind of task
    - I'm doing lots of tasks I don't enjoy, or in ways I don't enjoy.
    - I'm doing it with people who waste my time in various ways or get in the way of doing the thing we're *supposed* to be getting together to do.

    Same kind of task:
    I'm a librarian by profession - and I love my job, and I am very good at doing work that involves organisation and paying attention to details. But I've found that if all of the tasks I'm doing (at work and in the Pagan community) are that kind of work, I burnout fast. I'm a lot happier if the Pagan community tasks involve some kind of creative work, for example, or intellectual discussions with people. Work requires me to be fairly outgoing (more than my natural inclination), so in the Pagan community, I'm mostly more comfortable if I'm working with people I can get to know well over time.

    (As an example, my main leadership role outside of coven work is our local Pagan Pride - mostly, I work with the board, who I know well, and maybe once a quarter, we have some sort of public event where I put my 'let's pretend I'm extroverted' hat on and go and be social. That's fine for me, but a task where I was doing that kind of interaction with strangers every week or two wouldn't be a good fit.)

    Tasks I don't enjoy
    I am not a phone person. Taking on a task that requires phone time is something I'll drag my feet about, feel extra stressed by, and otherwise be much more likely to burn out on. (Some of this is situational: there are limited times I can make calls without messing up the times I can do other important things to me.)

    It's a whole lot better for any project if I find someone willing to take on the bits I really don't enjoy (some people love the phone, after all.) Everyone gets to do stuff they enjoy, and burnout is a lot less likely.

    Avoid wastes of time
    I've got very low tolerance for people who waste my time - people who make it perpetually impossible to start on time, or who constantly show up unprepared for what we're doing, or who drag drama into the situation over and over.

    Part of this one is simply finding other people who share my values (show up on time ready to do the work, or let people know ASAP otherwise.) Part of it is finding people who are more interested in working together than sharing drama together. And part of it is spending most of my time in settings with clear shared values about these things, without much patience for people who push them in destructive ways.

    In coven settings, this is pretty straightforward: I'm not going to accept someone (or keep someone) as a student if they push those boundaries repeatedly. (Of course, I allow for unusual situations, crises, and the growing pains sorts of things: we're talking long-term patterns, here.) In more public settings, I look for groups with clear ways to resolve conflicts, and a clear mission so that it's really obvious whether we're moving forward on it or not.

    And then finally, I re-evaluate periodically (lightly about every month, and more seriously at least yearly) to make sure the stuff I'm doing is still the stuff I really want to be doing, in the way I want to be doing it. Journalling, meditation, and ritual work all work here.

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  • Ivy Artemisia
    replied
    Originally posted by Earthwalker View Post
    Ah I haven't been in a leadership position that long but have already seen a surprising amount of nonsense. Nothing tremendously bad, I wouldn't say; I'm not doing something like attempting to run a coven... only a discussion group where people can share and exchange ideas. There's no expectation of people having like minds or even necessarily of being Pagan. What's been more of a challenge is keeping membership up in a smaller community so that the group can continue on as established.
    I started a local women's social group (its a yahoogroup, but we meet IRL once a month or so) with a couple other people. Now we have about 100 people or so. I've found that while some people come and go (and people will, with issues that comes up, and changes in their life) if you have a good core group of people, you'll be successful. Sometimes it will get really quiet, but then it will cycle around and get busy again. Don't let it get to you- I've found that I will get frustrated when I try to foster discussion that no one seems to care about, but you can't really make people discuss things if they don't want to. I've found it difficult to let it go sometimes, but I've found that if I don't let it go, and remember that it will cycle back around, I feel really frustrated.

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  • Earthwalker
    replied
    Ah, I understand your cynicism, Terra Mater. I haven't been in a leadership position that long but have already seen a surprising amount of nonsense. Nothing tremendously bad, I wouldn't say; I'm not doing something like attempting to run a coven... only a discussion group where people can share and exchange ideas. There's no expectation of people having like minds or even necessarily of being Pagan. What's been more of a challenge is keeping membership up in a smaller community so that the group can continue on as established.

    Personally, I think many Pagans need to buck up and get with it. Unitarian Universalists organize and accomplish all sorts of wonderful things and have great resources. Their communities are even more diverse than ours. I see no reason - other than cynicism and foot-dragging - why contemporary Paganism can't do the same (I don't mean to pick on you specifically with that statement, Terra Mater). In some areas it has done so already (Circle Sanctuary is a notable example). I've had the blessing of being involved with a few decent groups myself (again, discussion-oriented, not covens/groves/etc) and know when I was first starting to walk this path, it would have been very helpful to have an actual brick-and-mortar building on a forest preserve to go to as a resource.

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  • Terra Mater
    replied
    Burnout is too kind a term for what I went through after years as a leader or co-leader. I went through a meltdown so complete that I will never take the helm or even devote energy to publicly serving the Pagan community. My best friend went through a similar experience and her meltdown was so complete that she no longer even gives readings or advises.

    Like minds, like identical snowflakes, are fantasy. Paganism means so much to so many people that agreement is superficial at best, and superficial agreements quickly disintigrate. Even if you find two people that agree on what being Pagan means to them, they will often disagree on mundane matters like how much supervision their children require in public, their definition of the rules of relationships, etc. Any or all of these can lead to discord within your group and quickly.

    Being a Pagan leader unfortunately puts you in the middle of all sorts of group dramas and all groups will have drama at one point or another. You start a group with a great group and then one of the couples splits up and your group suddenly turns their breakup into an issue on relationships. People at first discuss, then argue, then rage, and many good members leave.

    Or you have five people at the start of your groups formation that handle setting up activities. When the group is only 7-9members, this is fine and the others handle cleanup. Then someone else brings a couple of new people with them, and someone else brings a few friends to check it out. Next thing you know, you have 50 people showing up for a ritual and the same five people handling all the details.

    Many jokes have been made about Pagan Standard Time. As a leader, those jokes get a lot less funny when you are trying to plan an event with your group and you have half the group showing up as much as an hour late and needing as much as another hour to get ready.

    Children of members are another source of issues. Younger children need minding, older children start dating one another. In one of the groups I co-led, about half the children had one or more special need that had to be accomodated and we had only one adult qualified to deal with several areas of special needs accomodation and I already had enough on my plate.

    Dating and mating issues also are a source of dissension in your group. Less of a problem in committed long term relationships, more of a problem when a relationship ends. As there is no one sized fits all mold for Pagans, so too is there no one sized fits all mold for the relationships they engage in. Breakups, nasty enough between two people, become full blown wars in a large group where both sides are equally known and loved. One of our largest and longest running local groups ripped itself to shreds over marital issues between its leader and his mate.

    Finally, paperwork. I had a far easier time finding people to lead rituals than I ever did in finding people that were competent with handling getting the public use permits. We stopped working with several groups because of their willingness to cut corners on getting permits that led to far more confrontations. Don't even get me started on what passes for accounting in many of the groups that wanted to work with mine.

    Simple things like getting a use permit for doing a ritual in a public park (easy as pie to get if you know what you are doing) would be ignored and then we would have to deal with park rangers who had no foreknowledge that there would be a lot of candle and firelight at Ramada 42 on such and such a night. A little planning avoids a lot of problems, but often the people who would volunteer to lead a ritual would forgo getting the permits on the assumption that they would not be granted in the first place.

    Add into that the number of questionable characters that are drawn to Pagan events, security issues in hosting even an average sized gather, political clashes, personal clashes, and the mechanics of running any group and you quickly see why so many leaders burn out and quickly. This is all on top of the differing views of what makes a Pagan a Pagan and what makes a leader a leader.

    What can we do? Lots. What are we likely to do? Nothing. That's right, I said nothing. We'll talk about a lot of theories about what would work that have been tried and failed before. Every new leader has high hopes that their group will be different just as every young person in love for the first time thinks their love is all so different from the millions to have loved before them. The reality is that organization and Pagans often mix about as well as oil and water and yet each new leader wants to believe that they have the magic formula needed to perform that special bit of alchemy. I wish them all the best.

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  • Neville
    replied
    I would imagine that Paganism means many things to many people..For example I am most readily resonated with Paleo Paganism coming forward a little into Celtic Paganism.

    Plus, A Persons belief is a very personal thing and an almost Private matter . (This is especially true in the instanceof the Solitary practitioner/Path walker)

    So really, My Hat is off to you If you are successful at forming any kind of cohesive group, Because I feel sure that it can be no easy task.

    Best Wishes Neville

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  • Ivy Artemisia
    replied
    I'm not a community leader, but I lead a group, and I've teetered on the edge of burnout many times. The trick I've found is to find other people who have the same goals, and bond together. Do it as a group, so it's not all on you. It's notoriously difficult to organize Pagans, and I've found that it's easier with your own support system/network.

    I'm planning on trying to launch a site next year to help organize our local community, and I'm planning on trying to get other leaders on board to help, or at least get the word out to others.

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  • Earthwalker
    started a topic Pagan Leadership Burnout

    Pagan Leadership Burnout

    Have you ever been in charge of or attempted to organize your local Pagan community? If so, have you ever been so frustrated by the challenges that you've burned out? I'm curious to hear some tales of leadership burnout from all of you, such as what specifically caused it and how you were able to resolve the situation (even if that meant giving up!). I'd also welcome some discussion of ways we can help our leaders (or ourselves) from suffering burnout in the future.
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