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April 3, 2024

How can staff take care of themselves while changing the world?

Meico Marquette Whitlock

Farra Trompeter, co-director, talks with Meico Marquette Whitlock, founder and CEO of Mindful Techie, about mindfulness in the workplace and offers tips that nonprofit leaders can apply to cultivate care and resilience among their teams.


Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. In today’s podcast, we’re gonna ask the question, how can staff take care of themselves while changing the world? I am delighted to be joined again by Meico Marquette Whitlock. Meico was on the podcast before episode 102 when we explored how can you create a healthy workplace in remote settings? And if you haven’t listened to that episode, I encourage you to go back and listen again ’cause there’s always lots of gems when I have the pleasure of talking with Meico. Meico, who uses he/him pronouns, is the Mindful Change Maker and the Mindful Techie. He works with change-makers who wanna improve their wellbeing so they can sustainably increase their well-doing in changing the world. He’s the author of a new book and Amazon bestseller When Work Doesn’t Love You Back, A Practical Guide for Taking Care of Yourself while Changing the World. He’s worked for more than two decades across the nonprofit, public, and private sectors, leveraging information and communications technology to improve well-being in underserved communities as a software and web developer, communications director, trainer and facilitator, and mindfulness teacher. Meico holds an MS in Information Science from the University of Michigan and a BA in Political Science and Spanish from Morehouse College. Meico, welcome back.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Thank you for having me back. Always excited to be here and always excited to have an opportunity to talk with you.

Farra Trompeter: Well great to me too. So I always appreciate your passion for helping people form a healthy relationship with work, and I was so excited when I saw news about your book come across my Instagram and LinkedIn feeds and I wanna just get into it. Why do we need to talk about how nonprofit staff can make an impact without burnout? I mean, I can take my own guess. I’ve had my own experiences when I was on staff at nonprofits and I have many conversations day in, day out with clients and other friends of the podcast. But I’m curious what led you to write this book?

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Excellent. So excellent question and I think a great place to start is really to talk about why the sector exists. So one of the reasons we know it exists is to fill a gap in a need that is unmet by other sectors, right? So, and specifically when it comes to how we take care of our fellow human beings, how we take care of animals, and how we take care of the environment. And one of the consequences of that is that often the sector has less resources to work with. And one of the ways that many of us as change-makers try to fill that gap is through self-sacrifice. And so in the short term that yields some form of success, but over the long term, we know that that is a recipe for disaster. We also know that in comparison to other sectors, when we think about change-makers and our motivations generally, it’s not about the money, it’s not about the fame, it’s not about people trying to build an empire or just this mega nonprofit that’s gonna take over the world.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: The primary motivation is to leave the world better than you found it. And typically it’s a personal thing. It’s typically is tied to identity. And one of the things that we have to understand though is that if we wanna be able to do this work sustainably, we have to do what often flight attendants tell us is that, you know, in the case of an emergency and oxygen mask might drop down, but you wanna secure your own oxygen mask first before you can then help someone else. And so when we talk about this issue of impact, as I think about this, we’re doing the good work and we are literally saving the world and changing the world. But if we’re not around to do that, then who’s going to do that? And so this issue of how we take care of ourselves is important. Often when we talk about this topic of self-care and wellbeing, particularly for change-makers, we see it as separate from the work. And we use language like work-life balance or work-life integration. The reality is that the work of taking care of ourselves, the work of nourishing ourselves so we can do sustainable work, that is the work that is part of the work. It’s just as important if not more important than the meetings and the projects and the services that we’re providing to help change the world.

Farra Trompeter: Amazing. I love that. Well, you know, one of the things I also love is a good acronym and a good framework. And throughout your book, you referenced and created something called the C.H.A.N.G.E. framework, which is a roadmap to fostering well-being, while well-doing. I wonder if you could just break that down and tell our listeners what C.H.A.N.G.E stands for and what each commitment within the C.H.A.N.G.E framework advises us to do.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Excellent. So the C.H.A.N.G.E framework is a framework specifically focused on helping change-makers improve well-being while well-doing. And the framework essentially comprises of six commitments that form each of the letters of the word change. And the idea here is that if we are embodying at a minimum basic level, a certain level of embodiment for each of these commitments, then we are embodying what I would describe as mindful change-making. In other words, we are able to be in a place where we are sustaining well-being while well-doing, recognizing that things might ebb and flow. You know, we might be higher on one bucket or commitment than another, but overall we are doing the work of trying to find whatever that balance looks like for us in that particular season. So really quickly, what do these commitments look like?

Meico Marquette Whitlock: So let’s start with the C. So the C is all about connecting with your why or reconnecting with your why. And here we’re really focusing on clarifying or reconnecting to what inspires you to do the change-making work. This is the fuel for the work that we do. And it’s one of the ways that for many change-makers, we stay connected and we stay motivated even when things inevitably get challenging or we have those inevitable ups and downs. So the first letter here is C is about connecting to our why. One of the other reasons this is important is that especially for those of us who have done this work for so long, sometimes we can get into a place where we are essentially just going through the motions. We’ve gotten so caught up in the day-to-day of running our organizations or providing service or whatever the mission is that we’re focused on, that sometimes we’re disconnected from why we started to do the work to begin with. And so this is one of the other reasons this commitment is particularly important and foundational.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: The H stands for honoring your commitments. So once you’re clear about your why, once you’re clear about your mission, once you’ve reconnected with that and you’ve clarified that, then you’re able to honor and identify the priorities that are actually aligned with that. Many of us have mile-long to-do lists that are probably as long, if not longer than those CVS receipts that many of us get when we go to CVS or some of the other pharmacies out there. A lot of those things are very important things. A lot of those things are great things to focus on and to do. But one of the ways that we create overwhelm and one of the ways that we exacerbate our own suffering as we’re trying to do the good work is we are trying to focus on too many things at one time. And one of the ways that we can get clarity about what do we focus on now versus later versus not at all, is to really make sure that our priorities are aligned with how we are connected with our why in a particular season of our life and in our work. And so let’s talk about the next part of this, which really helps us to figure out how we move this forward.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: So the A is all about acknowledging and confronting those fears, those doubts, those limiting beliefs, those frustrations. And the reality is when we are focused on making a change, our human self wants to protect us from any harm, right? And so one of the ways that happens is if we’re committed to making a change, you’re recommitting to your why, you’re recommitting to honoring priorities connected to that why. Sometimes you have those doubts, those fears that creep in that have you question whether or not you’re doing the right thing. That’s a natural part of our human experience, it’s there to protect us, but sometimes it can be to our own detriment. And so this particular step is really about how do we with grace, with compassion, and with courage, how do we confront those things head-on so that they don’t become destructive, but they can actually be a constructive source of helping us to move forward.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: And then once we’re able to do that, we’re able to move to the N, which is all about negotiating boundaries. And this is really about creating the space you need in order to honor the priorities that are actually connected to your why. Sometimes we are very clear about our plan. Sometimes we’re very clear about what we need to focus on, but we lack perhaps the skills or the know-how or the boundaries in terms of how to say yes and how to say no to create the space we need in order to be able to focus on those priorities in a sustained way.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: And so that brings us to the next commitment here, which is about the G, which is about generating space to go within. And this particular aspect of the framework is really about how we generate space, not for honoring our priorities, but really focusing on how we nourish ourselves, right? How do we nourish ourselves so that we can do the work in a sustainable way? So how do we manage those distractions that pop up? How are we actually building in time to rest, reflect to restore? And how are we doing that with intentionality and consistency so that we’re able to do what I was suggesting earlier with the feedback from the flight attendants, which is to secure our own oxygen masks first so that we’re then able to help others? And we’re able to do it not just in a short-term way where we have short-term success, but we’re able to do it in a sustained way over the long term.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: And then the final commitment, the E is really about embodying all of these commitments or embodying well-being while well-doing. And when we’re doing this, we’re taking an integrated approach that allows us to do what I would describe as the inner work and the outer work of mindful change-making. So the outer work being what we’re typically accustomed to, which is the people, the project, the energy management, right, aspect of the work, the meetings and the projects, and all those things. But the inner work is really about, as I talked about earlier, being connected to and clear about your why, being able to do the hard work of setting those boundaries, and having the courage to be able to do that. Creating the space to be able to nourish yourself day in and day out so that you can be at your best and be able to give your best. When we’re doing those simultaneously, we’re doing what I describe as the mindful change-making work.

Farra Trompeter: Amazing. So just to recap, C: connect your why, H: honor your priorities, A: acknowledge your fears and limiting beliefs, N: negotiate boundaries, G: generate space to go within, and E: embody well-being while well-doing. I love it.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Yes.

Farra Trompeter: So Meico, I wanna zoom all the way out for a moment. What do you see as the biggest challenges right now with workplace well-being within the nonprofit sector here in the US I should say? I know that there are challenges in the nonprofit sector in other countries and there’s a lot of dynamics, particular to the US that I know you and I are both very familiar with and I think that’s sort of the lens that we’re bringing into this conversation. So I wanted to name that too, but certainly, if you have other challenges you wanna bring into it, you should speak to that as well.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Thanks. So thank you for that. I think that’s an important caveat in terms of the frame of reference here. There are lots of challenges, and I go in detail in this in the introduction of the book, but just to highlight a few of those, one of the things that I’m seeing that sometimes goes unacknowledged is that we have individually and collectively experienced trauma as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic specifically, and how that has shaped and continues to shape our personal and professional lives. Now, I know that lots of folks feel like we have moved on or maybe they have moved on, but the reality is that we are still dealing with the aftermath of that and we’re still learning how to navigate that. I’m still working with teams and organizations going back to that previous podcast episode that we’ve recorded that are still trying to figure out how to make hybrid work work for them.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: And so there’s a lot of what I’m saying, unhealed and unacknowledged trauma. And in my view, a lot of unlearned lessons from the pandemic, you know. For some organizations, we were doing the good work of figuring out how to make things move forward. And then we’ve begun to sort of undo that work and we’re moving back into patterns that weren’t working for us before the pandemic. Connected to this, I’m also seeing that there’s a lot of anxiety at the organizational level and also at the individual level about what the future holds. There’s lots of uncertainty about what’s around the corner and there’s lots of concern about whether certain organizations or the way in which we’re working is keeping us relevant, is keeping us meaningful in terms of how we’re making an impact. There’s lots of anxiety about things with AI, for example. And are we actually leveraging this technology in a way that we should be? Should we be embracing it? Should we not be embracing it?

Meico Marquette Whitlock: When we think about hybrid workplace models, there’s an ongoing conversation about where that fits, right? And what does that look like for your particular organization and for your particular team? And so for some people, I think maybe it’s a settled issue, but for lots of organizations that I work with, it’s an unsettled issue. And there are lots of questions that folks have that are connected to what many of us are experiencing, which is that the change we’re experiencing is not only persistent, but it’s rapid. It seems to be exponential and it seems that things aren’t slowing down anytime soon. And it feels like sometimes, I have a friend Nicola Brown, who’s the founder of the KOKORO wellness community and platform. She calls this concept “swirling” where we have all of these anxieties, we have all of these fears, we have all these uncertainties that are swirling around us that actually make it hard for us to be fully focused in the moment. And so it feels like we’re constantly treading water or we’re trying to keep our heads above water or to catch our breath. And that is something that is background stress that weighs on us as we’re trying to show up in both the personal and the professional context. So there are lots of challenges that organizations are dealing with, but I want to highlight these particular challenges ’cause I feel like these are some of the ones that perhaps aren’t discussed as often as some of the other things that we know about.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I really appreciate you naming all of those and I am, I’m imagining people are out in the world that are listening and nodding their head. And I wanna move to an acknowledgement that we are all probably clear of these problems. Many people are, are likely feeling it themselves and let’s talk about what we can do about it. Let’s start with those who are in a position of leadership. Those who may be a manager or on a senior position of leadership in an organization. What can they do to help their teams?

Meico Marquette Whitlock: I think the first place to start is by simply acknowledging that positional power and that positional influence. You have an opportunity and perhaps an obligation to leverage your position to help make a positive change in this particular area for your organization. The second place I think is important for leaders to start is before you jump in and you try to change things at a systemic level, I think the first place to start is to really get clear about what type of change are you looking to see and to focus on embodying that change as an individual before you begin to try to take things to your team or to your organization. From that place, you’re gonna be able to have a more authentic and grounded way of going about it. And it won’t be simply theoretical, it won’t be simply just another good idea, but it’ll be coming from a place of embodiment, which is really the work that, at least the way that I think about this is really what it’s all about.

Farra Trompeter: I was just thinking as you were talking, again, going back to that idea of you have to take care of yourself before you take care of others. So it seems to be a constant theme with your insights here.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Exactly. So what I found is that you can have success doing this a different way, but what I found is that success generally is short-lived. People burn out and we’ve experienced a cycle of people sort of cycling in and out, going on sabbatical, going on vacation, and come back and then resting and repeating this process. And then we never really change the underlying issues that are impacting how people are working that are driving them to this cycle. And so the final thing that I’ll recommend is to have a clear team-based organizational plan, and to really make it simple. I’m a big fan of starting with, you know, one page or less and really looking at timeframes of 90 days or less and really focusing on, you know, what’s my vision for success? Or what do I want our wellbeing to look like as an organization over the next 90 days? What are our current challenges? What resources do we actually have access to?

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Many organizations have untapped resources in terms of employee assistance programs. Many healthcare or health insurance providers have programs where they have funds, depending on the type of plan you have where you can actually pay consultants to come in. You can pay a mindfulness teacher to come in, you can pay someone to come in and do an assessment of where you are organizationally. There are discount programs for mental health counseling and providing discounting, even classes for around fitness and a whole host of things in terms of well-being, financial counseling, grief counseling, a whole host of things, right? And so these are things that I think are places to start. And on this last point, I wanna just underscore the importance of keeping it simple. Sometimes, particularly in the change-making space, we feel like if it doesn’t involve a hundred meetings or a gazillion emails or if it’s not a hundred-page plan with the complicated Gantt chart, that somehow it’s not complicated enough and we’re not doing it right and we underestimate the power and the effectiveness of keeping something simple. So as a starting point, start with one page. And if you have more than one-page, you’re probably doing too much right now. You can always iterate every 90 days and build upon that. But start with that one-page or less plan and commit to actually taking action on that. And little by little bit by bit, you’re gonna be able to make incremental change that actually has a ripple effect of massive impact for your team and for your organization.

Farra Trompeter: You know, I love how much it comes through Meico as you talk that you have a background in communications and you come to this work with mindfulness from that lens. ’cause You’re also thinking about not just what’s the importance of these ideas, but let’s make it simple for others to follow and understand and to do, which just wanna elevate and appreciate that. Now for those who don’t have official positional power, don’t have official leadership positions, how can those folks make a difference? How can staff who may not be on the executive team or managers shift their culture in organizations as well?

Meico Marquette Whitlock: So really great question and the book is really centered on this. I know that there is ongoing discussion about where we start and at what level do we focus on in terms of this particular type of change. The place that I come from with this is I want people to focus on what is within their control. There are lots of things if you’re an individual change-maker in an organization that are beyond your control in terms of policies and at the organizational level, things that might be happening externally in our politics, things that might be happening outside your organization, and maybe at the board level with funders. And so we could have a whole session about complaints and gripes about all the things that aren’t working and that aren’t within our control. I think the most constructive way to start is to really focus on what can you do that is actually within your control right now.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Notwithstanding those other things, we’re not pretending those things don’t exist. We’re not saying those aren’t things that we don’t need to figure out how we focus on at some point. But as a starting place, what is within your control right now? And then once you’re able to situate yourself in that space and focus on what’s in your control, then you can start the process of actually creating your own individual plan. That can be very simple as, again, thinking about the next 90 days or less, what’s your own personal vision for what you want your well-being to look like? What does that look like in terms of your professional context? What resources do you have available to you to support that? That could be as simple as maybe calling HR or reaching out to the person who’s responsible for that. Maybe even reaching out directly to your healthcare plan or to your emergency assistance program plan. If you’re part of a group of peers in your community, reaching out to see what resources your peers are tapping into as it concerns this particular area.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: And then also identifying what your support and accountability looks like. So for many of us, it’s great to have a plan, it’s great to have things that we’re gonna be focused on, but none of us is able to walk this journey alone. And we all have someone that’s supporting us and pouring into us. And so who are you gonna ask to support you and pour into you? Who are you gonna ask to hold you accountable as you put this plan into action so that it just doesn’t become another good idea, but it’s actually something that you follow through on. And then the final point that I’ll make here is we also have to have the courage to make some hard choices. There’s only so much you can do when you’re focused on the things that are within your control, but at some point if those external things aren’t changing, you aren’t beginning to see shifts in those things and you’re doing the best you can.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Sometimes we have to make some hard decisions about whether we take time away from a certain aspect of our work or an organization or maybe we shift into a different role. Maybe we need to take a sabbatical. Maybe we need to go from full-time to part-time. Maybe we need to go to a different organization altogether. Or maybe we need to not be in the sector because it’s just not working for us. Right? And I know that we don’t like to talk about that. I know that we don’t wanna encourage that, but that’s just the very lived reality for us. And we have to be able to have these conversations if we want people to show up as the best and to ultimately be able to do the best in service of the missions that we’re serving.

Farra Trompeter: Amazing. Well, one of the things that I really appreciated about your book so much, but one of those in particular was that at the end of every chapter you listed a set of activities people can take if they have five minutes, 15 minutes, or 30 minutes. And I really do hope everyone out there reads your book, but I’d love to wrap it up with these ideas of activities in mind and, and I’m just wondering if there’s any other tips you’d like to share so that people maybe can put an idea in place today.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Absolutely. I’ll start with just a few ideas to help folks orient and figure out how to move forward from this conversation. I always think an important place to start is to really acknowledge your starting place or to acknowledge your current reality. And this acknowledgment isn’t about judging yourself. It isn’t about getting into a place where you’re complaining about things that aren’t working for you. One of the ways I think about this is sort of like if you are using a GPS tool to figure out how you get from where you are to where you want to go, you have to tell the GPS your current location. But the GPS isn’t judging you for your current location. Your GPS is just collecting information to support you to get from where you are to where you want to go. So the most important thing that we can do as a starting place is to really acknowledge where we are.

Meico Marquette Whitlock: And from that place, a secondary step is to be able to give yourself grace and to acknowledge that however things are showing up, however messy things are, or however well things are going, that ultimately you’re doing the best you can with what you have right where you are. And to expect anything different is unkind to you and everyone else in your life. And so from this place of giving yourself grace, then you’re able to give other people grace as well. ’cause we’re all on this journey together. Acknowledging your current reality, giving yourself grace, and then that opens up space for you to then be able to think constructively about how you create your very simple plan. And if you’re looking for a very simple place to start and you feel like maybe the other things that we’ve talked about are maybe too much for you to handle right now, one simple thing you can do is to simply just make a 15-minute time block on your calendar for the coming seven days, at some point,

Meico Marquette Whitlock: Find out who’s in charge of HR at your organization, call them, and just find out what resources you have available through your EAP or through your healthcare plan. That doesn’t require a whole lot for most people. And from there, you’re gonna have at least a place to start in terms of moving forward. If that option feels like you have too many things to choose from. If you have healthcare and you are experiencing burnout, you’re experiencing overwhelm, sometimes that’s an indication of other things that are going on. I often make a recommendation that one of the first places to start is simply to make an appointment with your primary care physician and to check in if you haven’t done that in a while. And that can be the starting point for helping you to support yourself in doing some of these other things. The final thing I’ll share is that this is not in addition to your work. This is actually part of the work. You taking care of you is the work. Because if you are able to take care of yourself, then you’re able to sustainably fill up your cup and then you’re able to have your cup overflow into your work, into your personal life, into the other ways in which you’re showing up in the world and ultimately having a positive impact.

Farra Trompeter: Well, I appreciate ending on that point, and if you’re out there and you’d like to learn more about Meico’s work and get more tips and resources, be sure to visit, You can also connect with him on LinkedIn and follow along on Instagram @amindfultechie and we’ll be sure to link to this and some of the other resources Meico’s mentioned in the show notes at You can also listen and subscribe to his podcast, Dear Mindful Changemaker. Meico, before we sign off, anything else you’d like to share with our listeners,

Meico Marquette Whitlock: For folks that want to stay in regular contact, I recommend you just go to the website and sign up for the email list and that’s the best way to stay on top of things and be the first to know about new projects and initiatives that are happening.

Farra Trompeter: Great. Well, thanks so much everyone, and please make sure to find those 15 minutes, take care of yourselves.