How Do Social Entrepreneurs Maintain Positive Energy?

A few weeks back, while a friend was preparing to give a presentation about her work (motivating others), she asked me a couple of questions about how I maintained my positive energy while constantly battling through barriers.  It was an interesting way to frame it, positive energy, as it is something that I (and other social entrepreneurs) have spoken about as we built out our ideas.

And my answer to her was the following:

I would honestly say that those who succeed in this field have the highest pain tolerance levels of any profession. It ain’t easy being “nice”. seriously. and to maintain positive energy, you have three options: first is to build it yourself, second is to receive/ take from others, and the third is to lie to yourself

1) Build it yourself by having a mission, team, and cause you believe in, are taking steps that achieve impact, and you are seeing the work have an impact. The team feeds off that, as do partners/ beneficiaries, and that closes many of the loops that result in a feedback of positive energy.  It self sustains.

This is what should be the long term source, and (sadly) it is possible to only appreciate this when you are at a higher position looking back.

2) Others give you positive energy :
This comes in several forms, all in a way selfish. Seeing a child recover… winning an award… locking in funding for new program.. getting invited to speak about what you “do” for the first time… in essence, positive energy is created once someone recognizes the effort, the team, or the impact. At that helps to create some internal sustainability because it reinforces the positive energy you have built yourself

This way feels the best short term, but reality sets in quickly

3) Manufacture positive energy by lying to yourself (i.e. suck it up) through the tough times.  You convince yourself, even when you are not 100% sure, that what you are doing is making a difference… even if you are the unsexist duck in the pond. And if you can do that, then you can convince your people, and they can convince others.. and eventually shit gets accomplished.

This is the toughest route, and it is the route where people are often lost, mission creep sets in, and organizations fold.

For me,and I am different than the organization, the hardest balance has always been between the first and the second.  I am building, and managing, a mission that is for the first where the organization creates an energy without the need for external support, but there are times where receiving an external stimulus just makes the day go by easier.

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