How to build CPA in Cleveland; how to build a meaningful career that does not define me

My first goal is by January 31, 2020 to convene representatives of 10-15 faith institutions and nonprofits in Cleveland around the idea of building a CPA-style purchasing cooperative.

My second goal is in the next year to create a plausible, written strategy for how to build a career in a way that complements, rather than crowds the other parts of my life — how to build a meaningful career and make sure that career does not define me.


Goal 1: Convene 


I’m excited for this goal because my church struggles to pay its bills, which are often too high. The windows leak hot air. Small gaps in the roof drip water onto the ceiling at times. The HVAC system needs a full update. For these and other reasons, despite a thriving congregation, we’re paying more than we can afford to keep the church going. A purchasing coop would shift some of the burden of finding contractors off the shoulders of the church caretakers, giving them more time to caulk the doorway to cut down on heating and cooling expenses. It would save us money on our bills through group purchasing. It may even earn the church some money as the coop thrives.

I want to see this happen because I want to see economic power shift in Cleveland away from corporate power towards local, democratic institutions, towards Black and Brown people and institutions, towards low-income people and institutions. That shift in economic power means a shift in political power.

I want to see this happen because it would help me develop new skills as an organizer and coop developer. It would expand my network and allow me to meet new people from across the region. It would broaden the audience for the work I’m doing as one of the few coop developers in Cleveland. Having this meeting would give me more confidence as an organizer – it would feel like a win.



This group will need a lot of trust to have an effective meeting. As the central convener, I will need to do much of that work, in part by having relational meetings with many people from key institutions, and also by selecting strategic relationships to build. I’m not able to do all of it, however; one obstacle is finding key partners who will help drive this forward with me locally.

The bar for building trust in Cleveland is high. Many of the people who manage operations at Cleveland churches are stretched thin. It will take substantial trust for them to dedicate time to a group that doesn’t yet have a track record of success. There is also a deep, well-earned mistrust between segments of the Black and Latinx community, who have survived repeated  economic exploitation by white supremacist policies. In one of the most segregated, high-poverty cities in the country, trust must be earned. As a white person convening a multi-class, multi-racial group of people, I will have to bring the humility and relational preparatory work to earn the trust of people in the room.


Skills and knowledge

This is first and foremost an organizing challenge. Building relationships through public narrative that articulate shared values is the most important skill for this project. Effective meeting facilitation, structured opportunities to share control of the process, pacing work in a digestible way, communicating a clear strategy — I must draw on each of these skills.

Business skill is the other essential part of this. Here I’ll rely heavily on the work CPA has done already in analyzing bills, identifying opportunities for purchasing events, constructing the legal backbone for this org, etc. I’ll also draw on my background as a corporate consultant.


Identify the people and groups to work with

I’ve decided not to share this on the blog. Slide into my DMs if you want to learn more about this decision 🙂


Plan of action

  • Create a list of key people and institutions
  • Meet with them, asking for intros to other people at organizations and institutions
  • Learn about what’s keeping them up at night about facilities maintenance, following the prompts Felipe and team have honed
  • Gather data – request and compile bills
  • Develop several hypotheses about opportunities for group purchasing events
  • Sketch out a potential structure for a legal entity owned by member institutions
  • Invite people from institutions to join a kickoff meeting


Goal 2: A meaningful career that does not define me

What’s in it for me

I want to make sure I’m intentional about building a career that is compatible with the rest of my life — the values I care about, the relationships I hold, how I spend my time, how I understand myself to be. This holistic view of who I am and what I care about I believe is essential for a fulfilled, meaningful life.

Specifically, I want to have an identity outside of my career that’s strong enough so I’m comfortable letting go of my career when the time is right. I don’t want to find all my sense of meaning in my professional work.

I think doing so will help me build stronger relationships, lead a more balanced life, and allow me to spend a lifetime showing up for collective social justice work.



An idea of masculinity that’s confined to what one does professionally. An urgent need to make money to stay alive in capitalism. My tendency to anchor my expectations on other people, rather than through my own sense of purpose. External pressure to do just that.

A lack of hobbies, maybe? My ego tied to external validation. A lack of language to talk about this stuff. A sparse community of men I know well who are overtly fighting toxic masculinity.


Skills and knowledge

Writing this helps me put words behind the feeling I’ve had about how I want to integrate my personal and professional lives. Expanding my vocabulary around this is a skill I’ll need to develop. I need to learn more about the ways I’ve absorbed the lessons of patriarchy that makes it hard for men to see themselves as more than money makers.


People and groups to work with

I have a close group of male friends from college. A conversation with one of them helped crystalize this specific challenge. I’d like to keep speaking with my friend about strategies for dealing with this now; I’d also like to broader the group of friends having that conversation. I’m part of the Braden Fellowship through the Catalyst Project; that’s another good network of people thinking about how to defeat patriarchal systems. I’d like to speak with my Dad about this. He’s figuring out what’s on the other side of retirement from a career that’s central to who he is. I have a lot to learn from him in that process. I’d like to have more conversations about this with my girlfriend.


Plan of action

Have conversations with my close male friends and my father. Talk to my girlfriend about this. Find 2-3 books that will help me understand the system of patriarchy I grew up in that have made this process so challenging for me and other people like me. Reflect on all these inputs, and write down a plan to deal with this (e.g., pursue other hobbies, set limits on work hours). I’d like to have that plan in place a year from now.


Reflection script (10/13)

Wow – so much to dig into here on reflection from these thoughtful comments from Ale, Michelle, and Juan Francisco and reading other prompts.

Juan Francisco, I appreciate the nuance you’ve reached for your in your comment. I don’t want what I get paid to do to define me. That’s a fallacy central to toxic masculinity. I want my paid work to be part of who I am, integrated with other parts of how I spend time, so that when it stops, I know who I am outside of it.

That’s true even if my paid work is in something that feels important to me and to the world. Part of what motivates me to ask this question is my Dad, who’s not sure what will happen when he retires. When he brought it up over dinner last week, he seemed worried. He’s not an emotive guy. I felt a little scared seeing him worry about who he is after he retires. He’s spent 45 years as a pastor, doing work he cares deeply about, that he believes makes the world (and heaven!) a better place. Many would agree. That doesn’t make retiring any easier.

I’d like to write my plan for this goal in an way that integrates paid work with other work for justice and other goals focused on a holistic sense of myself (e.g., deepening relationships, building personal practices our exercise and hobbies).

3 thoughts on “How to build CPA in Cleveland; how to build a meaningful career that does not define me”

  1. Hi Jonathan! I was so struck by how complementary your two goals are!

    For example, you mention that you “want to see economic power shift in Cleveland away from corporate power towards local, democratic institutions, towards Black and Brown people and institutions, towards low-income people and institutions. That shift in economic power means a shift in political power.” For your second goal, you share that you “want to have an identity outside of [your] career that’s strong enough so [you’re] comfortable letting go of [your] career when the time is right. [You] don’t want to find all [your] sense of meaning in [your] professional work.”

    In both instances, I sense a shift in power – in the first example, the shift is at scale. From corporate power towards localized, Black and Brown communities. In the second example, the shift appears very personal and internal – you want to let go of your career when you are ready, so that it does not have power over you, and your professional work does not over-power your sense of meaning. There is a different power balance at play.

    Given the very complementary nature of your two goals, I wonder if there is opportunity for you to leverage lessons from your first goal to inform your second in real-time? Specifically, in observing and enabling power shifts, what will you observe about the hold of masculinity over the systems you are striving to affect? Conversely – and more impactfully to your second goal – what will you learn by listening to the communities of people whose trust you seek to earn and engage in building a CPA-style cooperative?

    I notice your second goal will come together as a written strategy over the next year. How will you capture lessons along the way? Are you willing to act on your evolving strategy as you write it?


  2. Jonathan, Interesting fodder you offer!
    I especially appreciate this line for your CPA work: “Building relationships through public narrative that articulate shared values is the most important skill for this project.”
    I appreciate your very clear articulation of this reality. My appreciation for this reality is growing just after one week in the incubator!
    You mention that you can’t do all the relationship building on your own. Have you thought about pulling together an organizing team that will help you get to the larger convening in January? It may stretch out your timeline a bit, but going into the larger convening as a co-lead with three to four others could help people trust the proposition more easily. Obviously, those co-leads need to be carefully curated. Who might some of the non-obvious suspects be?
    I like the clarity of your CPA goal and also recognize that it’s still a very ambitious goal. I’m excited for Cleveland that you have returned home!
    As for your personal goal, it is refreshing to hear your reflection on toxic masculinity … not because I’m glad you suffer from societal toxins, but that you are so conscious of them and know that there is a different way and a different reality that you want for yourself.
    I applaud your inquiry and your quest for balance. Do you have a meditation practice? Maybe I am misinterpreting, but I’m wondering if what you are wanting to get good at is being. We are human beings, right? And yet, being, isn’t something that the mainstream culture values very much. A meditation practice is a powerful tool.


  3. Hi Jonathan,

    I loved how tangible you make the benefits for the institutions that participate in the CPA-style purchasing. Truth be told, I have never been involved or privy of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in faith-based institutions, but you paint a vivid and believable picture given the state of finance in religion nowadays.

    I also can relate to the struggles of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy which has been brainwashing us for most of our lives.

    I would, however, point out that there is nothing wrong with work having a deeper meaning in your life.
    I understand with the notion that you are not your work. At the same time, we’ve chosen to do this work and not work for McK or BCG (our specific cases) BECAUSE we want to find a deeper meaning in what we spend a lot of our time on. It is part of our mission (and a big one). If you think about it, it is the quest for that very balance you seek that has led us to be more entrepreneurial, more risk-taking and looking to build structures that help tackle the very issues that we care at a deep level.

    It doesn’t mean we don’t have other meaningful aspects of our lives, like relationships, friendships, do-nothing time, recreation, etc .etc. but rather we choose to engage in our work the way we do because it fulfills us. I’ll speak for myself, but I’ve oftentimes found myself resisting one oppressive view of the world and going too far into the other extreme only to find that I didn’t need to go all the way to the other extreme just because I didn’t agree with the first extreme.

    What do you think? Is it possible to reject the perpetuation of toxic masculinity and patriarchy and still fulfill a big chunk of your mission through work?



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