Q&A with Co Vanderlaan, Executive Director of Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
My work is trying to bring people—in construction, retail, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing...—together so that they understand each other better.
Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, "The Questions" in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
Co Vanderlaan: My work is trying to bring people together so that they understand each other better. It is important that we know each other's problems because this allows us to work together to solve the ones that we can and accept the ones that we cannot change. For the last forty years we have brought people together that work in construction, retail stores, healthcare (especially for elderly people) and in areas like transportation and places where they manufacture products.
God created us to work in community. Even though each one of us is different from the other we have a common purpose and that is to serve God and our neighbour. We also do that through our work. People often forget that work is a very important part of our lives.
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
CV: In 1967 I began to think more and more about what it means to be a Christian in our modern world. What does it mean to be a "salting salt" and what does it mean to be part of a community? A community of workers, a church community, a community of people living in a certain area and so on. For me the most difficult one was what does it mean to be a community of workers? So I wanted to explore that and that's what drew me to CLAC.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
CV: First of all that we need to trust in people's desire and ability to serve others. People are creative by the very fact that they are created in God's image. I have seen that in my friends, in the people I have worked with. I have seen that especially in my parents. They had a good life but uprooted the whole family and brought them to a new country to give their children as many opportunities as possible to be creative and to be of service. They had to work hard to make that dream a reality but their children were rewarded through those efforts and blessed by and through it.
Comment: What is the best advice you've ever been given?
CV: To trust that God leads us indirectly through others. Many people touch our lives in very different ways but each one leaves something of value that we learn from. I have learned to reach out to others so that I in turn may contribute to their development.
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
CV: From the knowledge that God leads my life. That I (we) are created to serve and be creative in how we serve specific needs in other people's lives. By serving others we create an environment in which people around us grow and in turn become a blessing to others.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
CV: I love bringing people together to discuss the issues that affect us. This automatically leads to together exploring ways to overcome obstacles and disappointments. I like to encourage others, show an interest in what they do and in their families. Another important element of that is to always follow through on promises made and to admit mistakes as they occur. That's not always easy but it is an important part of self development and of recognizing the ability of others to forgive and to reach out.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
CV: Training is my favourite tool because it enables others to discover their gifts and to become better at what they do. Many people underachieve because they have not been given the resources to excel. Employers bear a great responsibility to ensure that they help employees reach their potential. By doing so they contribute back to workers of their resources as a reinvestment in their greatest resource, their employees.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
CV: The very first comprehensive CLAC benefit program in the 1970s, and CLAC's first training center in the 1990s. Both of these programs contributed a great deal to the enhancement of a work community and showed the way for employers to reinvest in their employees.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
CV: I set priorities via "to do" lists, allowing time to include immediacies as they occur. Deadlines help me focus my time and priorities. When large project deadlines loom I prefer to isolate myself for half a day to complete the project in rough form and after that seek input from others before completing the final document/product.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
CV: For me life is a whole. I apply what I learn at work to my volunteer and family life as well as to my personal life. The opposite is also true in that I learn from the opportunities in my family and community commitments and apply the remedies required there to my work situation as well. Above all, knowing and trusting that God sustains his people through all challenges and difficulties allows me to do away with stress and fear of failure. I pray a lot for guidance, clarity of mind, patience, and wisdom. It enables me to stop worrying in advance and look forward to a new day, tomorrow. The knowledge that God is Lord over all of my life gives me comfort and strength in the most difficult times of my life. As a result I enjoy going to work every day no matter what the challenges may be.