My exclusive interview with filmmaker and activist Jason Russell.
Here’s a sneak peek at a section from my upcoming book, Lead with AND.
Jason Russell is a person who truly embodies the value of focusing on others. He is a human rights activist and filmmaker who co-founded Invisible Children and directed the KONY 2012 documentary – the fastest-growing viral video of all time that resulted in unprecedented international action to end Africa’s longest-running conflict.
Within a week of its March 5, 2012 release date, the film had over 120 million views, was translated into every major language, and was responsible for 60% to 70% of all the world’s tweets on Twitter. Jason was being interviewed by the who’s who of Hollywood and landed on the covers of The New York Times and Time magazine.
Fast forward 10 days. On March 15, another video involving Jason went viral, but not in the way he wanted. This iPhone video, purchased and shared by TMZ, showed Jason staggering through the streets of San Diego without clothing and screaming obscenities. The personal toll of over-focusing on others to the neglect of taking care of himself had led to a total mental and emotional breakdown and, ultimately, to hospitalization.
Believing that breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs, Jason bravely chose to move forward and give himself what he needed to be healthy mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He went on to consult with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, TOMS, charity: water, and International Justice Mission, and continues to support the incredible work of Invisible Children.
When it comes to managing the tension between self and others in a healthy way, Jason understands how important this is better than any person I know. He has used both his successes and his failures to provide us with powerful insights on how we can manage this tension wisely.
What are things that you do to gain the positive results of caring for others?
Avoid comparisons. Don’t waste your time or energy comparing what you’re doing to what other people are doing. We get so distracted by looking at what other people are doing and think we must do what they’re doing to measure up. This will always disappoint you. If you’re expecting to be the next MLK or Gandhi or Mother Teresa, you’re setting yourself up for discouragement. It doesn’t matter how much anyone else is changing the world, what matters is how you come alive by doing something you love. Ask yourself the questions, “What am I uniquely good at or have expertise in, and how can I use that to help the world?
What are things that you do to gain the positive results of caring for self?
Get active. Find the forms of physical activity that you love and just focus on those things. For me, it’s running, yoga, cycling, and surfing, so I’m deliberate about making these things part of my routine; exercise never feels like a boring task but instead something I look forward to. I also know that without weaving these things into my schedule and having some form of accountability, they can easily be the first things that get cut when the day gets busy. That’s why, for example, I have an 11 o’clock online yoga class that I do each day with a few buddies. Because it’s in my calendar and others expect me to be there, I make it happen.
What is an early warning sign that you’re over-focusing on others to the neglect of self?
Lack of sleep. I’ve always been the type of person who doesn’t require a lot of sleep. All through high school and college, I could get by on two or three hours a night. But I realized that I was truly just getting by. Before my breakdown in 2012, I had gone close to 10 straight days with no REM sleep. There was always another interview to give, another message to post, and another team member to check in with. Sadly, this lack of sleep should have been a huge red flag. Now I pay super close attention to my sleeping patterns as the quality of my sleep is a huge indicator of the quality of my mental and emotional health.
Sleep is the foundation underneath nutrition and exercise. You stop working without it. If you or someone you know is having sustained difficulty sleeping, it’s a huge red flag. Everyone I have met who has had a mental break was not sleeping well right before. And if you break, it shatters sharp glass for everyone else around you to pick up.
What is an early warning sign that you’re over-focusing on self to the neglect of others?
Playing it safe. Our culture has us in a constant state of documenting our lives and showing off on social media for the admiration of our peers. This has us addicted to seeking out quick wins. Beyond this, we often fool ourselves into believing that our peers’ social media highlight reel of constant success and victory is their real life, and one that we need to measure up to. Because of this need for a quick win, we have become afraid to try new things that might lead to failure. We play it safe to ensure that we can always show a smiling, successful face to the outside world. But the truth is, most people who have experienced true success in making a difference in the world have failed so many times. And some of the best, most important lessons in our lives will only come through failure.
My breakdown during KONY 2012 was incredibly hard and I don’t wish that trauma, PTSD, fear, or shame on anyone. It was and has been truly terrible. But I now have empathy for and can relate to people who are hurting in a totally different way. I can genuinely say, “That happened to me, too.” And that’s the moment the healing comes in. Turns out, we need one another to heal one another, and the ones who’ve survived the fire have scars to share. If you’re playing it safe and not failing now and then, it’s probably a red flag you’re not trying hard enough or taking enough risks to make a difference.
Stay tuned to read the rest of this insightful interview in my upcoming book, Lead with AND which will be released February, 15th, 2022 – mark your calendar! Download the first three chapters right now for free. Simply visit www.leadwithand.com.