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July/August 2001
Confessions of an ex-Burnout

By Jack Norris


When I started my animal rights activist career in 1989, I tried to do anything and everything. Sometimes I would write 40 letters a week in addition to trying to protest every event related to animal cruelty (fur sales, places where fur-wearers would be, circuses, rodeos, product testing, etc.). After a couple years, I found myself exhausted by the steady stream of issues that needed attention.

Today, the Internet has turned that steady stream into a tidal wave. To even glance at all the emails that need urgent attention can take a big chunk out of the day—not to mention actually doing something about them.

So how is it that one can stay active for animals and avoid burnout or outright insanity?

I try to pick activities that take very little preparation. For example, organizing a talk about vegetarianism can be quite time-consuming if you are going to get a decent crowd of newcomers—if you are lucky, you might get 60 people to attend. On the other hand, grabbing 300 informational pamphlets and walking around a college campus passing them out can take as little as an hour, and you will reach many people who would never have considered going to a presentation.

If you have people to help, it will take less time. But don’t counteract the time-savings by spending hours calling people to get them to help (unless you want to, of course).

And if you are going to avoid burnout while leafleting, don’t decide to do it at a different college every day. I suggest making a goal of leafleting a college every two weeks—or whatever you know won’t stress you out.

For protests, campaigns, letter-writing, phone-calling, etc., I have the following suggestions:

• You may be able to pinpoint certain issues or individual cases that you want to work on more than others. Listen to your desires as they will likely lead to your most effective form of activism which will reduce your stress and anxiety. If you don’t like doing certain things, it will only burn you out to continue doing them.

• Don’t expect a quick victory. When you start, think it through in terms of what you will do when things do not go your way, so that you won’t be so surprised and let down. Don’t get attached to the outcome. In some situations, you are simply playing a numbers game. If you reach enough people, eventually some will change. So do what you can and let it go.

• Possibly most important of all is to slow down and take your time. Try even to enjoy the process rather than just to get it done. Good luck with all your efforts for animals!

Jack Norris is a Director of Vegan Outreach. He has a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. He can be contacted through


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