Season 2     EPISODE 2
April 29, 2022

Let’s talk about burnout | Mary Ellen Matsui

What happens when a leader fails to protect their own well-being? Mary Ellen Matsui shares her story of burnout during her time as the CEO of Atma, an accelerator for education nonprofits and social enterprises, and the lessons she learnt from it.

2 min read

Mary Ellen Matsui is currently a consultant for Goodwill and sustainable fashion initiatives, based in Ontario, Canada. From 2011–21 she was the CEO at Atma, where she spearheaded the organisation’s growth and the creation of the Atma Network, a resource-sharing and collaboration platform. Mary Ellen is a nonprofit management specialist and regularly facilitates workshops for nonprofits on leadership, fundraising, culture, and HR. She is a graduate of the Telfer School of Management and a member of the inaugural Dasra Social Impact Leadership Programme. Mary Ellen is also on the advisory board of several education organisations.


“Coming from Canada, however, I didn’t have a strong support network initially. I had a lot of the wrong people around me, whose advice was less weighty than their egos. This created major distractions from the mission of our organisation. Trying to serve this mission, while also trying to keep operations functional, resulted in a confused set of performance standards for our people and the organisation.

I was holding myself and the people around me to the wrong standards. My time was spent trying to follow through on less than sound advice, reacting to donor requirements, feeling envious of other organisations’ team sizes, budgets, and scale plans, rather than reflecting on what my organisation needed and what we were doing with the resources we had (which were a lot).

All of this made me question myself. My self-confidence took a major slide and I ended up depressed and suffered from panic attacks. In this state of self-doubt, I wasn’t able to take the steps the organisation needed. I didn’t have the confidence to renegotiate deadlines with donors, and taking clear decisions on a branding revision became nearly impossible. I was totally drained.”

Read more

  1. Read Mary Ellen’s story on Failure Files.
  2. Read more failure stories on Failure Files.
  3. Check out some ideas and tools from Fail Forward to help your organisation take risks, learn, adapt, and fail intelligently.
  4. Understand why the social sector must recognise and talk about failure.
  5. Learn why talking about failure is crucial for growth.

Want to share your failure story? Learn more about what we’re looking for here, and share your pitch/story on [email protected]

We want IDR to be as much yours as it is ours. Tell us what you want to read.