We’ve learned a lot about the connection between work and vocation by watching incredibly vital people in action.  So we asked some of them to answer this question: whose work inspires your work?  We hope their responses inspire you to contribute your own.  Watch this page for new questions and insights gleaned from everyday experience.

Whose work inspires your work?

Andy MacCaulay, Anne Sutherland & Beth Thompson, Citizen Capitalism (Toronto, ON) — “With his book Hot, Flat, & Crowded, Thomas Friedman brilliantly summarized the challenges we face as a world. He opened our eyes to the interconnectedness of the social, economic, and environmental changes we must make if we are to prosper as a species.

We began to read everything we could find that would help us better understand the issues and the potential solutions. Economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz framed the issue for us with their clear view of the role of governments. Business thinkers like Michael Porter and Roger Martin helped identify the contributions that would come from an evolved view of capitalism. And forward thinking entrepreneurs like Chip Conley of JDV hotels, Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation products, and Ray Anderson of Interface carpets showed how business could prosper thinking a new way.

This chorus of inspiration pointed us to the one conclusion that nobody had yet drawn. The change we need actually starts with us. Government exists because we elect it. Business exists because we work for it, invest in it, and buy from it. So if we would more carefully consider the choices we make as citizens we could change the world one act a time. If those choices are guided by our values, and a vision of the world we want to live in, we could be the change we need. With a nod to Gandhi, the Citizen Capitalism movement was born.”

Margarita Mendez, Nellie’s (Toronto, ON) — “People who have a passion for the work they do.  If people love what they have chosen to do as a means of earning a living, that shows.  Recently we were spending a week of vacation at Haliburton and we were going to have some friends coming for dinner and decided to go to the local LCBO for wine.  While I was there, one of the employees approached me and after we talked about the menu, he started to show me his choices within the wines I like — Spanish wines — he gave me easy recipes to try with other wines I said I liked.  It was such a enjoyable experience!  At the end I told him how much I enjoy finding people who, like him, have a passion for what they do.  Because of that passion they always walk the extra mile.  I feel inspired by people who love what they do.  Doesn’t matter what is your area of work: cooking, social services, political work … if you love it, it will show in your performance.”

Audre LourdeTabish Surani (Toronto, ON) – “I remember browsing through the Toronto Women’s Bookstore when I looked up and saw this poster of Audre Lorde with her hands raised and the quote: When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. I stopped and read it over and over again recalling moments that had passed in silence. It was these words, her collection of poems and essays and the everyday acts of courage of my sisters that inspire me to raise my voice and to imagine what is means to be an educator activist.”

Michael Jones, Pianoscapes (Orillia, ON) — “The work that inspires my work in the music of Frederic Chopin.  This invitation immediately brings to mind my enchantment when I first heard a performance of  Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat Minor as a young piano student. Chopin’s preference for conveying the natural flow and organic form of music through the ‘art of touch’ rather than focusing exclusively on piano technique created an intimacy with the natural world that as a musical painter I longed to create in my own music.

So Chopin’s music has always been the source of a deeply personal musical adventure and inspiration. His way of articulating through the ease of movement and suppleness of the hand serves as a personal touchstone to which everything else in my life as a pianist, leadership speaker and creative facilitator can be measured and understood.

‘Facilement!’  He would say, easily… easily.  When the sound originated from this sense of ease then it could unfold freshly and naturally. Then each is free to play according to their own need.

Fifty years after I first heard the music of Chopin I enjoyed seeing the film Impromptu with Judy Davis with Hugh Grant. It was set as a lovely period piece in the 1830’s outside Paris, France. In one scene, following a rainstorm outside, Chopin’s companion George Sand lies under the piano and asks Chopin to perform music that has the feeling of the rain, wind and thunder in it.

Over the past twenty years many hundreds have also listened to my musical impressions of wind, rain and thunder from under the piano. They just close their eyes and become immersed in the beauty of sound, much as George Sand did 150 years before.”

Donella Meadows

Ruth Richardson, Small Change Fund (Toronto, ON) — “Donella Meadows - environmentalist, journalist, farmer, systems thinker. I return to her words time and again since first being introduced to her a decade or so ago. I look to her for – not so much inspiration – but a reminder of how to approach social change work and to fight traditional models of thinking and acting.

One of my favourite passages from her writings is this: Stay humble. Stay a learner. Working with systems, on the computer, in nature, among people, in organizations, constantly reminds me of how incomplete my mental models are, how complex the world is, and how much I don’t know. In a world of complex systems it is not appropriate to charge forward with rigid, undeviating directives. ‘Stay the course’ is only a good idea if you’re sure you’re on course. Pretending you’re in control even when you aren’t is a recipe not only for mistakes, but for not learning from mistakes. What’s appropriate when you’re learning is small steps, constant monitoring, and a willingness to change course as you find out more about where it’s leading.

I would have liked to have met Donella Meadows. She was honored both as a Pew Scholar in Conservation and Environment and as a MacArthur Fellow before dying at 59 after a brief but hard-fought struggle with cerebral meningitis. I’d like to ask her who inspired her work. I know hope was a constant companion. But I’d love to know who else walked beside her as she transformed a generation’s outlook on, and approach to, our collective future.”

Sally ArmstrongShari Graydon, Informed Opinions (Ottawa, ON) — “Award-winning author, journalist, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist, Sally Armstrong has galvanized Canadians not just to bear witness to suffering and injustice, but to become involved in its eradication.  Her personal courage, unapologetic advocacy, and unflinching accounts of the atrocities experienced by women in far off countries, have mobilized Canadian readers to become involved in helping vulnerable people all over the world.

Sally’s self-imposed assignments took her to conflict-ridden zones such as Somalia, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Through her magazine articles and books, she has demanded that we take notice of gang-raped women in Bosnia, street children in Colombia, girls with AIDS in Zambia, and “untouchable” women in India. In the process, she has celebrated the strength and courage of the women themselves.  Her extraordinary advocacy has earned her two Amnesty International Awards, membership in the Order of Canada, and recognition from MediaWatch, the YWCA, Jewish Women International, UNIFEM Canada, and the International Alliance for Women. The National Magazine Awards Foundation honoured her journalism with its Gold Award for Public Issues.

What’s even more remarkable about Sally is that her formidable force and relentless pursuit of justice are accompanied by disarming directness, immense personal charm and a great sense of humour.  She’s been a significant role model and influence on the work I’m currently doing with Informed Opinions, supporting other women in finding their voice, sharing their expertise, and directing attention to the issues and injustices that are important to them.”

Tim Elliott, Elliott Resource Services (Toronto, ON) — “As a people person and also a professional musician, I’m inspired by musicians who practice their craft and hone their skills so that when they come to play, they come to play. They show up – prepared – and it’s not just for this particular gig – it’s for what they’re bringing to the table. I find it inspiring that they’ve done their work. I am not as prepared as I’d like to be and am easily distracted by a lot of things. So folks who focus, practice, and play are my heroes.” 

David Love, The Living City Foundation (Toronto, ON) — “Catherine Donnelly was a spirited woman who created the Catholic order of The Sisters of Service. She had one guiding principle: We serve the poorest of the poor. Her legacy lives on today through the work of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation.”

Pat Thompson (Toronto, ON) — “Danny Graham, a lawyer and Chief Negotiator for the Province of Nova Scotia in Aboriginal Rights negotiations, inspires me.  Danny spoke at a 2010 preparatory conference for Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017 about having the courage to speak in public about what matters most.”

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