Retrospective

This week marks another birthday for me. It isn't one of those milestone birthdays, and yet I have found myself more retrospective than usual for some reason. This blog is an attempt to share some of the lessons I have learned up to this point in my life.

1. People are not the problem. The problem is the problem.

Everywhere I go it is likely that a sentiment of some sort will be shared about people that do not want to change or are resisting services or are sabotaging what is being made available to them. In other locales it is that the business community or a neighbourhood group is flabbergasted that homelessness is seen as disrupting their way of life or livelihood. People are not the problem. The problem is the problem. Problems are solvable. People will just keep being people. If you focus on solving problems rather than trying to treat people as the problem, you find more success.

2. You don't need permission to be awesome.

Inspiring awe in others is a by-product of living your passion while being effective. Over and over again I meet people who know exactly what needs to be done, and often know how to do it. So why don't they? Because they live in fear of the view of others. Because they exert more effort trying to be liked than on being effective. Awesomeness is a force multiplier. Be brave enough to be awesome when it is the right thing to do and support for your impact will follow.

3. Sweat holds more value than tears.

If you work on a complex social issue it will be the hardest work you may ever do. Every day you choose to run into the fire while others are running out. And you do so for little pay or glory in almost all instances. Yet there are those whose motivation is to open a can of worms to go fishing for sympathy rather than silently working their butts off to compassionately live empathy. News flash - it is a privilege to serve others, not the other way around. Work hard in an effective manner and you will have more impact than trying to get people to feel sorry for you or the people you serve.

4. A big heart and a big brain are not the same thing.

Homelessness continues to be the only industry I know of where we think concern about the issue equates to knowledge of how to solve the issue. Caring does not equal qualified. Of those people and organizations I have met that have the biggest, long-term impact, they have figured out that marrying your heart with your head is the only way to go. We need smart compassion.

5. Therapeutic incarceration must be ended.

People do not need to be healed or fixed to be successful in housing. If you keep adding programs into a homeless service to try and heal or fix people, you are working against the objective of ending homelessness. Sure some people will need a lot of supports to be successful in housing. But put those supports where they belong - into your housing program - rather than prolonging the experience of homelessness.

6. The mistakes of our youth is what makes up the beauty of our age.

The more mistakes we make, and the faster we make them, the more we learn and the faster we perfect our craft. A musician considered to be a virtuoso did not become so over night. They practice. A lot. They make mistakes. A lot. Then they can continue to challenge themselves to get better and better and better. If you learn from your mistakes, you are doing it right. If you are risk adverse, you will become stagnant.

7. Being an innovator is unpopular.

If you are a disruptor - even a positive disruptor - by coming up with new ways of thinking and doing the work or being creating new tools and strategies, you will be hated - at least by some. The sooner you embrace that your job is not to be liked, but to serve, the easier it gets. Hatred is a problem of the hater, not a problem of the innovator.

8. Complex issues are solved by doing, not by planning.

Homelessness has never been ended in a committee. It has never been ended through a 10 year plan. It gets ended by doing. This is not to say that planning and meetings are not important. They most certainly can be. But committees and planning without dedication to doing is meaningless.

9. Figure out what you CAN do rather than lamenting what you CANNOT do.

Naming and discussing the barriers that exist becomes old fast if all you do is name and discuss and never get into the business of either: 1) what you can do regardless of the limitations and circumstances within which you work; 2) actually providing solutions to the barriers. 

10. Live an authentic and vulnerable life.

The worst, flawed real me will always be better than the best, fake me. As a recovering asshole, I can find myself relapsing back to lashing out rather than seeking understanding; I can find myself protecting my pain rather than opening myself up to sharing. Maintaining an open ear has always been harder than attacking with a sharp tongue. But the more I learn to let my guard down and invite others in, the more I find myself engaged in real relationship, real dialogue, and real change.

11. Don't waste time trying to convince others you are right when they cling to cognitive dissonance.

I have yet to see a public education campaign have a long-lasting impact on homelessness. I have seen small victories in challenges to NIMBYism but never seen it disappear. I have not seen a public deputation to elected officials result in a permanent shift in ideology. But what I have seen, time and again, is that action speaks louder than words. Show people what works rather than trying to convince people what works.

12. Time does not heal all wounds, and not everything happens for a reason.

I get while people cling to these notions, but they are trite and hollow and fake. The more I have learned to live, practice and teach others what it means to be trauma-informed, the more I struggle with how we live in a perpetual state of wanting everything to be okay rather than accepting that everything is not okay. This doesn't mean we cannot focus on healing and recovery and finding balance and supporting people to be well. We can and we should do those things. But some pains never go away and some of the shit that happens in life defies all logic. Once I realized that in my own life, I started to forgive myself for having feelings based upon past events that were completely outside my control.

13. If you don't define you, others will define you.

If I do not form the narrative of why I do what I do, what I do, and how I do it, then I am at the mercy of how others interpret and view my motivation and practice. Be who you are with your own inspiration. Otherwise you will spend a lot of time and be unsuccessful defending yourself to others.

14. Ask for and grant forgiveness.

It took me many decades to both realize and practice that requests for and providing forgiveness is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. The only cost of not doing so is my pride, and that is a small price to pay for the satisfaction of forgiveness. This is not to say all things are forgivable. Nor is it naive to say that all offences and wrongs are equal. My life, however, has been so much more peaceful once I realized the important function that forgiveness plays in moving forward rather than being stuck in the past. And this includes forgiving myself for many thoughts and actions in my past.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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