Writing my own story was never part of the plan. Then again, I wasn’t planning on winding up vocationally derailed and burned out in a remote Cambodian slum, either.
But maybe it’s in those unexpected places that our greatest narratives are born. It’s when life shakes us and breaks us and takes us to the only place we can find healing in our struggle: by telling our story.
I wrote my book, When Justice Just Is, in the painful aftermath of my devastating burnout on the humanitarian field as a twenty-three-year-old anti-trafficking program manager. Naturally, I was shocked by the depths of poverty, the pervasiveness of human trafficking, and the normalcy of corruption in Cambodia. But I was equally disconcerted by the ways my justice organization sometimes operated unjustly—especially with the questionable ways it treated our staff.
My organization glorified martyrdom and demonized having personal boundaries. It rewarded reckless bravado, promoted sixteen-hour work days, and considered self-care to be selfish. It strove to alleviate poverty while its own CEO travelled by private jet and earned up to $1 million in a single year.
All of this was confusing for me as a young, uncompromising idealist with romanticized notions of justice. I needed space to work through my disillusionment and recover from my burnout. And so, I returned to my home in Canada and decided to do something I hadn’t done in years: I wrote.
Writing about my journey to put the “human” back into “humanitarianism” was as vulnerable as it was comforting; as humbling as it was empowering. Gradually, I started sharing bits and pieces of my writing project with close friends and was surprised by how many people reciprocated by opening up about their own struggles to establish boundaries, confront limits, and implement self-care measures.
That’s when I realized that my writing project was more than a form of cheap therapy for myself. It was an opportunity to connect with others who were feeling isolated in their purpose-driven pursuits, too.
My project culminated not in the form of a memoir, but as a book of confessions about my own experience of brokenness within a humanitarian context.
Striving to open up an honest dialogue about the trials and triumphs of seeking justice meant surrendering to the difficult but important process of reflecting on some of my more painful memories. Yet I needed to be vulnerable in my writing in order to start this neglected conversation about confessing brokenness, cultivating joy, and creating space for authenticity, particularly for those in the justice movement or in caregiving positions.
When Justice Just Is explores the messages I needed to hear as a young, burned out program manager overseeing twenty Cambodian staff working in over one hundred villages to prevent human trafficking—when I was wondering if my needs mattered, too. It’s the book I needed to read when I was convinced it was never okay to have boundaries or to be less than perfect. It’s the solidarity I longed for when I thought I was the only one wrestling with the question: what happens when helping hurts the helper?
My hope is that this book will reach the people whose well has run dry in their efforts to pour all their love, energy, and time on others—and that this book will serve as a reminder that being kind to the world also means being kind to ourselves.