Building a makerspace can be a lot like the television show Breaking Bad. You start with a noble intention, you work hard creating something new, you invest your own identity into the project, and before you know it you realize that you’ve ended up in a really bad place.
While it’s true few people who want to create a makerspace end up building a drug empire, but Breaking Bad is a good example of why investing too much of your time, energy, and identity into a project can be a bad thing. In my experience, self care and mental health are not topics that often come up in the maker movement. Makers are always moving forward – working on new projects, inventing new things, making new connections. But when you’re always looking forward, it can be very easy to ignore important things that are right in front of you – namely self care and mental health.
It’s really hard to create a makerspace. Whether you’re building a school, library, or community makerspace, one thing is always true – you’ll never have enough time, money, or staff.
When time, money, and staff are short, it’s natural to make compromises. Not enough funding for your makerspace? Why not invest a little of your own money. Not enough people for the big upcoming event? Sure, why not work consecutive 12+ hour days getting ready. No time to coordinate volunteers to help with the extra work? Well then it’s probably faster to just do things yourself.
I’m sure nearly everyone who has tried to create a makerspace has found themselves in one or more of those positions. Makers by their very nature are creative people with can-do attitudes, however, this nature can lead makers to overextend themselves when working on a project they believe in.
Burn out is a serious problem for makerspaces. Many community makerspaces are largely volunteer run and driven by the passion of their members. Nothing kills passion faster than burn out. It can happen slowly over a number of years, or it can happen quickly, but burn out is a constant threat for any volunteer run organization. It’s easy to excuse stressful situations when you’re having fun, but sooner or later stress will eat away the fun and will make people question if what they’re doing is even worth it.
So if you’re building a makerspace or are already running a makerspace, what can you do to avoid burn out?
Learn how/where/why to say “no.” Saying “no” can be really hard, especially if you’re a new organization, but saying “yes” can quickly lead to stressful situations or overwork. As your makerspace grows, it will attract more and more people and organizations who are interested in collaborating. The challenge is learning how, where, and why to say “no” to opportunities.
As a rule of thumb, if you aren’t excited by an opportunity, it’s probably a good idea to say “no.” Excitement can be generated by a number of different things. You could find an opportunity exciting because you’ve always wanted to collaborate with a specific person/organization, it could be exciting because it sounds fun, or it could be exciting because the opportunity could bring much needed funding/equipment to your makerspace.
Or the opportunity might be the opposite of exciting, it might fill you with dread. For example, a community member might inquire if your makerspace could host a birthday party for 20 children. On one hand, you might find this opportunity exciting because you love working with kids, or because it would be a fast way to raise some money for your makerspace. On the other hand, you might not like working with kids, or would find it stressful to have a large group of new people in your makerspace without the proper orientation.
When faced with opportunities like this, don’t feel obligated to say “yes.” It’s hard saying “no” and it can be easy to worry about upsetting people who are interested in your makerspace, but if you always put the needs of your community or makerspace ahead of your own, it won’t be long until you start to burn out.
In a situation like the birthday party request, a great way to politely say “no” would be something like this: “Thank you so much for your interest in our makerspace! We don’t offer birthday parties, but if your child is interested in the maker movement, we offer a public open house Thursday nights. We’d love to see you there!”
Try to say “no” in a genuine, caring way that acknowledges their interest and still offers the person a way to participate in your makerspace. Likewise, if you find yourself receiving a lot of unwanted community donations (there’s a limit to the number of broken computers a makerspace needs), look up some free electronics recycling centres in your community or any non-for-profits who recycle or repurpose computers and direct the inquires to those organizations.
One of the most important things you can make in your makerspace is time for self care. If you want your makerspace to be successful, you have to invest in your most important resource – you. Make time for yourself. Make connections with people who inspire and reinvigorate you. Make healthy decisions. And you’ll help to make a successful makerspace.
Have you helped to create or run a makerspace? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube) for the latest maker movement news, tips, and tutorials – let us help you create fun-conventional learning opportunities!
-Ryan Hunt, MakerBus Co-Founder