Being Authentic in Ending Homelessness

This week I am channeling my inner Brene Brown and focusing on what it takes to be authentic. This has been top of mind for me lately. I went fishing Saturday, which is one of the activities I do that lends itself to being self-reflective. My grandfather once had a sign up in his house that said, "Fishing: a jerk on one end of the line waiting for a jerk on the other." Fishing is time to focus on whether or not I am being a jerk.

To be authentic, one must:

    • Cultivate courage to be imperfect, set boundaries, and be vulnerable;
    • Exercise compassion that comes from realizing and accepting we all are made from strengths and struggles;
    • Nurture connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe we are good enough;
    • Invite grace, joy and gratitude into life.

The courage to be imperfect is really hard. I live this a lot, but it is scary. The VI-SPDAT is a good example of having the courage to be imperfect because the tool is not perfect, people often use it wrong, and I spend every day (well, part of each day) thinking about what to improve upon it and the other SPDAT products next. The SPDAT products are the best and worst part of my contributions towards ending homelessness. It has changed how communities go about addressing homelessness, but it also has its haters. Having the courage to be imperfect often means inviting haters into your life whether you want them there or not. I would love to Taylor Swift them all and "shake it off" but that is easier said than done. Why? Because the hatred of the tools often becomes personal and is about the creator not the tool itself. That makes me feel lonely and self-conscious and inadequate.

Exercising compassion is also really hard. I am a work in progress in this regard. As a younger man I would pounce on the weakness of others to make a point or exert influence. On my weak days, I still see the ugly side of myself. I can talk a good game of being strength-based - and I try hard to be - but I am also weakness-influenced. Thankfully this has never been the case for me with people who are homeless. But it happens sometimes where I struggle to exercise compassion with service providers that, say, argue against the merits of Housing First. I wish I knew how to enter into relationship with them in such a way that would make them more open to another point of view, but alas, staying focused exclusively on the merits of the debate gets muddled by my inner-voice trying to silence their opposition.

Nurturing connection is something I struggle with because a) I am on the road all the time; b) I struggle to trust people; c) I live with low self-esteem; and, d) I am, at heart, an introvert masquerading as an extrovert much of the time (which is exhausting). Maybe it is a history of getting burned. Maybe it is because I have met many awful people with alternative motives. But nonetheless, nurturing connection is something that is worthwhile because I have also seen the benefits of doing so. I have learned that being vulnerable enough to let people into my life that want to be my friend, talk about things other than work, support me in my low points and share with me in my highs, is gratifying. Some of the finest people I have ever met on this planet work in the field of ending homelessness.

Inviting grace, joy and gratitude into life is something I am continually learning to lean into. There are many moments of grace that can be glossed over or missed. There is joy that is waiting to be fully celebrated. And when I go fishing, in addition to reflecting on being a jerk, it also allows me the chance to reflect on things for which I am grateful. Not lost on me is that I get to work on ending homelessness as my life's work - even with haters. I get to see amazing things organizations and entire communities are doing to work towards ending homelessness. I get to share successes with others. I get to lead an incredible team of talented people. I get to keep learning and keep being challenged to be better and better and better. My eldest son even made his 7th Grade Oral Speech about me this year, which makes me well with pride.

I know of no one that is perfect in the pursuit of ending homelessness. But I know there are people I aim to be more like in my pursuit. I know there are people I can continue to learn from and grow from in this pursuit. And I know that when I am open to grace, those moments come to me. It makes me pause, most of the time, take a satisfied breath, and realize there is a real gift to living the most authentic life I can.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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