Job, Career or Vocation?



I’ve had jobs – and probably you have too – that were only about doing something for someone else in order to get paid. I have some great stories from some of those jobs (especially summer jobs during undergrad years). But when I have had jobs in my life, time off was critical – from milking every coffee break to downtime on the weekends to vacation time.

I’ve had career stops when I was truly a careerist. In those times in my life a lot of what I was involved in was not as much about the content of the tasks (though I did like a lot of what I did), but more about how far I could get up the ladder and how fast. It was about advancement. It was about status. I may not have called it that at the time, but upon reflection that is a lot of what was driving me at that time. In careerist mode, I worked loads of hours above and beyond what I was required to do because I wanted people to see my drive and pursuit. I was in work early and out later than most. I became frustrated when I couldn’t see a clear pathway to the next rung on the ladder up or when my ideas stopped getting traction or when I sensed competition from other careerists.

Since late 2009 I have been in vocation mode. The difference? I felt a calling…a summons of sort to do the sort of work I am doing now. From my career years to the present I have been heavily immersed in matters of homelessness, housing, social policy and leadership development. I don’t particularly love the title “consultant”, but my consulting years I think are the ones where I have had the broadest reach in making a lasting difference across the most lives. My love and passion in the vocation mode is the work itself. It has nothing to do with status or money. At all.

While I was in careerist mode, getting a raise with each advancement in my career was the reward. There was a value that could be attached to the status. Reaching six figures was a moment I won’t soon forget. Now I don’t find myself motivated to do this work because of money. In a perfect world, I would get to do all the things I do for free and have neither mortgage nor other family financial obligations to worry about, nor would any of the staff of OrgCode have to worry about their finances. So yes, having positive cash flow is necessary, but not a driver. We aren’t a typical for-profit business in that way. To me the measure of success in my vocation is not how much profit it yields me. There isn’t much about this job I don’t like, but a big one is negotiating prices for the work that we do.

I knew I was ready for the vocation stage of life when I started listening to my inner passion. I don’t really know how to describe this “listening to my inner passion”. I don’t mean to say there was a person talking to me or that I was hearing things that weren’t there. It was more of an emotional connection…the more I was engaged with people and projects that I thought could have a lasting impact on social issues in their community and it was aligned to my perspectives on justice, the more I wanted to be doing that thing.

Once I started listening the work became all about the passion. It was a passion to learn more. It was a passion to share more. It was a passion to have a larger impact on the world. It was a passion to make a difference.

As a trusted mentor to seven people currently in their journey towards awesomeness, I love the sessions I have with people about their feeling of vocation, career or job. I am in no way judging one as being better than the other because I think it is dependent on the needs and wants of each person. I feel a connection and kinship, though, with those that have found a vocation in life that brings them meaning beyond financial remuneration or status. For several people this has meant less pay but greater emotional rewards. For others finding the vocation has also meant finding a way to put other parts of life in balance. For others still it has meant similar trade-offs in life like mine (in order to follow my passion I end up spending less time in person that I love because so much travel is involved.) Those in the careerist mode have come to appreciate how their lives are made more productive if they embrace the role that people with a vocation play in their achievement and how people in job mode provide a foundation for their career to occur. And the one that I have in job mode has realized careerists and vocations people are not dismissive or judgmental of job mode folks.

The truth is, we need all three: jobs, careers and vocations. And a further truth is that many of us will experience two if not three of these throughout our life times. I consider it a moment of grace that in my late 30s I had the opportunity to listen to and follow my vocation. I don’t see myself turning back. This is truly whom I am and what I was called to do in this world. I am grateful and perhaps lucky, and meanwhile committed with fervour to embrace my vocation, open to wherever it takes me and however much money it loses me.

So what are you going to be when you grow up? I gave answers I thought people wanted to hear and little to what I really wanted. After grad school my answer to that question had more to do with careerist pursuits. Now, (well, as an aside I can tell you my father thinks it is possible I can get a real job after I get a haircut and take out my earrings so long as I hide all my tattoos) I can answer the question of what I want to be when I grow up with a lot more clarity: I want to be me; and, I want to be the best me possible making the biggest difference to complex social issues as I can. That is what I feel called to do. Whether or not I achieve that is what I should be measured against after my days on this earth are through.

Wow – That is a Big Number

This is a short, supplemental blog to acknowledge the amazing achievement that the 100K Homes Campaign and the Campaign Communities reached today, announcing that the goal has been surpassed (101,628 of which over 30,000 were Veterans).

Whether your community participated in the campaign or not, you need to learn from what they were able to accomplish.

Others may outline this better than I, but here is what I have taken away from the experience:


  1. Have steadfast fixity of purpose and don’t waiver from it.
  2. Set a target that stretches you beyond your comfort zone.
  3. Appreciate that imperfect action trumps perfect planning…much is to be learned from the art of doing.
  4. Put together a kick-ass leadership team.
  5. Create excitement amongst service providers and celebrate their awesomeness and leverage their expertise.
  6. Don’t lose sight of the people that you serve…the homeless persons that receive housing.
  7. Prioritize who gets housed rather than creaming or first come, first served.
  8. Pull in geniuses like the Rapid Results Institute to accelerate change even more.
  9. Challenge dominant thinking in a community if that dominant thinking is entrenched in ineffective ways of doing things.
  10. Stay on message in talking about your achievements.


This campaign may go down as the greatest game changer that has ever happened in the sector. High five to every homeless person housed through the campaign; high five to every campaign community; high five to every elected official and government employee that supported the campaign; high five to every volunteer that participated in a registry week; high five to Community Solutions and the 100K Homes Campaign team.

Job, Career or Vocation?

I’ve had jobs – and probably you have too – that were only about doing something for someone else in order to get paid. I have some great stories from some of those jobs (especially summer jobs during undergrad years). But when I have had jobs in my life, time off was critical – from milking every coffee break to downtime on the weekends to vacation time. I’ve had career stops when I was truly a careerist. In those times in my life a lot of what I was involved in was not as much about the content of the tasks (though I did like a lot of what I did), but more about how far I could get up the ladder and how fast. It was about advancement. It was about status. I may not have called it that at the time, but upon reflection that is a lot […] Read more »

Street Outreach and Coordinated Access

Recently in a community I had a well-established street outreach provider ask me how they can help explain their importance now that coordinated access was taking shape in the city. It seems that with the infrastructure of coordinated access taking root, the street outreach provider was facing questions from its primary funder of whether it should continue to exist. The short answer is that yes, I think that street outreach should exist in a city that has coordinated access. Now a longer answer… Street outreach has merit as a service when it is connecting people to long-term solutions to her/his homelessness. Street outreach, in my opinion, has little merit if it just about providing food or socks or clothing or sleeping bags or prayer. Yes, those things can meet immediate needs, but it doesn’t solve the problem of having someone sleep outdoors, in whatever location they may be in. So, […] Read more »

Waiting Lists to Nowhere for the “Un-houseable”: How Not to Do Coordinated Access

Assessing for the sake of assessing sucks. That isn’t coordinated access. That is a bureaucratic response (and not just government) to the issue that solves nothing. Recently I was in a community that has been putting coordinated access into place over the last few months. In an effort to get community buy-in, their weekly meeting of housing providers allows for over-ride of assessment if the person is deemed to be too complex. Want to guess what is happening? They have a list of dozens of names of people with higher acuity that no housing provider is stepping up to house. Creating waiting lists of people with complex issues instead of solving their homelessness is not about ending homelessness. It is a waiting list to nowhere. Who are these people on the waiting list? Yes, they all have higher acuity. To a person they have co-occurring, complex issues across quite a […] Read more »

The Big Picture: A Statewide Approach to Common Assessment

I am writing this about halfway through the first leg of the statewide SPDAT tour of Michigan. Michigan, in all her VAST glory, has joined a number of states and provinces that have decided that they want the same common assessment tool used across the entire State. Not just a community-by-community decision – a full, statewide implementation. Every Continuum of Care…all programs that get funding through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Department of Human Services or Department of Community Health…all regions…all types of communities (urban, rural, remote) – all using the exact same tool. This was the State’s idea. OrgCode didn’t push it or sell them on the idea. And while they were not the first to go this route (hello forward thinking Newfoundland & Labrador), we applaud the State and the handful of other states and provinces that have gone this direction. We also hope that other States […] Read more »

The Tallest Blade of Grass is the First to be Cut by the Lawnmower

(Thanks to B for inspiring this blog. Also, as an aside, if you love the Tallest Blade expression, I recommend getting the demotivational poster from…which is a spin on the Russian proverb of the tallest blade being the first to succumb to the scythe. Also, if you’d rather watch me rant about this blog instead of reading it or in addition to reading, you can see it here.) So true. This blog is dedicated to the early adopters…to the brave who step out from the status quo…to the ones that try instead of staying on the sidelines and critiquing…to the organizations that stepped out from the pack only to be cut down by other organizations…to the great ideas for social change squelched by misinformed elected representatives. If you have anything worth doing, chances are you have naysayers. I have seen it so often over the past decade of my […] Read more »

Any Approach to Ending Homelessness Needs Shelters to be Awesome

Ending homelessness is not anti-shelter. In fact, in many instances ending homelessness starts with shelter. Let me put this in a system context. First of all, your community (or your organization if you are a small shelter in a smaller or more rural setting) needs to start by keeping as many people out of shelter as possible when it is safe and appropriate to do so. Great shelter services start with seeing diversion as a service – not a denial of service. Next you need to understand who the people are that are seeking shelter. They’ll fit into one of three groups: people using shelter for the first time in his/her life; people with a history of episodic use; people that rely on shelters on almost a daily basis (perhaps when they are not in hospital or jail). Regardless of the group, the emphasis on getting out of shelter and […] Read more »

Police, Judges and Homeless People

Two stories in the news caught my eye over the past little while: this one where a Montreal police officer was filmed threatening to tie a homeless man to a pole in the freezing cold; and this one where a judge in Prince Edward Island put a homeless man in jail for the night because there was not enough space in the hospital where she felt he would be better served. Sure, they both came from Canada, but they are likely very relevant to what is happening in your community.   On the one hand, we see shortcomings in law enforcement in engaging effectively and humanely with homeless persons. Unfortunately, it paints many in police forces in a similar light, which is unfair and untrue. In my travels I have been fortunate to see the likes of the Grand Junction, Colorado police be very proactive in working with homeless people; […] Read more »

6 Things I Learned in Australia

From December 16-21, 2013 I spent time with Micah Projects in Brisbane, Australia. It was a fabulous opportunity to share the SPDAT with another community, as well as informally take in homelessness services first hand in another part of the world. Here are six things I took away from that trip: 1. Mobile Government Benefit Workers Is Possible I have encountered several communities in North America that have worked hard to get streamlined access to government benefit offices to get income supports. I have seen income support staff attend weekly case conferences and offer helpful commentary. And now I have seen what I thought was only a dream actually happen. Centrelink is an agency of the Department of Human Services. They actually have staff with laptops that go out to locations where homeless people are (in this instance a food program where there was also outreach) and have the ability […] Read more »