My journey towards making a better life for myself began just over five years ago. I was once again down in the dumps and on welfare. A friend of my daughter’s asked me if I would be so kind as to drive her to a job fair at our local multi-plex. On a whim, I printed off a resume and decided to apply with her. My daughter delayed us somewhat while she printed off her resume, and off the three of us went.
Guess which one of the three of us did not get a job?
At any rate, I was working again, albeit part-time and at the minimum wage. But I loved the job, did well, and soon was working almost full time. I got promoted to assistant manager at another theatre.
Though the job didn’t last forever, the depression that had overtaken me for the past fifteen years started to lift. I was happy again, and able to act on my own behalf, and to begin to plan for a future that didn’t include working in the field where I’d earned my degree. That door had been closed.
As I journeyed, I found that three major resources in my life became more and more important–so important, in fact, that I can’t envision myself being where I am if I hadn’t had those resources.
The good news is that they’re all available to most of us who live in the developed world. And two of them are free, and one of them can be free if you know where to look.
So, the resources:
1) Perhaps the most important resource is your own public library. If you live in a major city that has a public library, and you don’t have a card, you’re throwing away major money, and major opportunities to better yourself.
It’s not just the free books, though those are critical. Right now, I have about a dozen books out on topics ranging from how to write a novel to how to run a business to how to care for an aging parent who’s going senile. I also have a couple of romance novels out by my favourite author, so that I can relax and get to sleep at night.
If your library doesn’t have a book you want to borrow, there’s inter-library loans that can most probably get you the book you want from another library that has it.
In addition, our library offers movies and activities for kids (all free), DVDs, audio books, e-books, magazines and e-magazines, some job readiness activities (I once took a free personality test that told me I ought to be a writer, a member of the clergy, or an army sergeant. Um, yep. It was accurate), and research assistance. Our library even has internet access available.
And it’s all free!
If you’re hesitating because, well, you’re like me and returning your books sometimes slips your mind, be aware that in the last few years, libraries have embraced reality, and you can renew your books online. Though my fines haven’t disappeared, they’ve been considerably reduced.
If you’re trying to improve your life and get yourself into a place where you’re financially stable, you should be spending time at your library. Read books on how to manage your finances, how to invest, how to start a business, how to write a resume and interview for a better job and ask for a raise, how to change your habits, how to learn new skills, how to cook for yourself on a budget, how to repair things around the house…
You get the idea. If live in an area with a public libary and you don’t visit it at least monthly, start now.
The internet comes second and not first for two reasons:
First, you can browse through the library, shelf by shelf, and be exposed to new worlds without knowing about them first. To browse the internet, you have to have at least a general idea of what you’re looking for.
Second, a web page such as this contains at best one or two thousand words on a topic. You’d have to do a lot of looking to find a whole book’s worth of information.
That’s called “doing research,” and it’s a valid occupation, but if the book exists because someone else has done the research, why not just read the book? Then go to the internet for further developments. (And if the book doesn’t exist yet, and you end up doing the research, keep track. Then write the damn book…)
I spend at least part of my day on Stumble Upon. When I’m not looking at cute kittens and babies, I get all sorts of interesting information on the topics I’ve checked off. Some of that is breaking news, which is critically importnat. Some of it is rubbish.
Which brings me to the other reason printed books are still an important resource. With self-publishing on the rise, fact checking and editing has decreased. The internet give you access to breaking news, but it won’t be the full story, and it might not even be the truth. A printed book by a reputable publisher has been looked over by many sets of eyes, and facts in it have (usually) been verified.
When I’m researching something, I may start with a website and go to a book, or I may start with a book and go to a website, but I’ll spend the time to verify that what I’m reading and considering is valid, and not just a figment of someone’s imagination.
Internet access does cost money, but there are two possible ways to get it without the monthly payments attached:
a) You can go to your public library, if they have access available, or
b) You can go to a coffee shop with your Wi-Fi enabled laptop and buy a coffee.
Though neither of these are ideal (they’re not private, for one thing), they’re better than not being connected at all. If there are free or cheap ways that readers connect to the interent, I’d really like to hear about them in the comments!
3) The above two resources are kind of “ho-hum” standard, for all that they’re critical to success in today’s world. The third will get some people on edge, I know. But I would not in any way be where I am today if it weren’t for this resource.
Having an active and caring religious community is an important part of my recovery from the depths.
Though I’m a Christian, I suspect that many religious communities of other faiths offer many of the same benefits, so I won’t substitute the word “church” for “religious community.” I do not, however, know of any Atheist organizations who offer the same benefits for free. (If you know of one, tell me politely in the comments so that I and other readers can learn from your experiences…)
My religious community, in addition to weekly services, offers trained clergy who are available to listen and offer their wisdom. Though they do not replace a needed therapist, they have been coaches, friends, and wise counsellors who have shared their caring and wisdom with me on many occasions. There are art groups, sports groups, book clubs, knitting and sewing circles, cooking groups, a food pantry, a weekly coffee klatch (in addition to the one after the service), men’s groups, women’s groups, children’s groups, youth groups, vacation Bible Camps, choirs, and drama clubs.
All of it is free or pay as you can.
It doesn’t stop there.
I have, at various times in my life, received material benefits beyond food and the occasional assistance from the benevolent fund. The neighbour of a congregation member upgraded his washer and dryer a few years back. The old ones are in my basement, and they work just fine. A member moved from his own home into a nursing residence. Was their anyone who needed a matching couch and chair? Another neighbour of a church friend had a sofa bed. I needed a complete new wardrobe once to apply for the managment job. At my lowest, I didn’t even have money for Christmas presents for my kids, so I thought about knitting them something. An appeal to the congregation both times brought me 1) wool, needles and other knitting supplies to last me years, and 2) a complete new wardrobe in my size.
Then, of course, there are the volunteer opportunities. Need computer skills? Volunteer to help if someone will train you. Thinking of becoming an office administrator? Would you like to try your hand at organizing events? Maybe you might like to one day be a teacher?
There is absolutely nowhere else I can think of that you can get all these benefits from one single organization for free, but it might take some research to find the best religious community for you.
First, if you’re not religious, or questioning, look for a community that isn’t going to pressure you to join or convert or profess your faith. There are many of them out there. Not every religioius community is closed-minded about having skeptics in their midst. The most enlightened of them actually celebrate the challeng you will bring to their entrenched beliefs!
Second, if I were looking for a religious community, I’d do a drive by a couple of times a week on different days and times and look at the parking lot. If it’s mostly empty, chances are the community is not as active as it could be, and activities will be more limited. If, however, the church is in a downtown area, you might actually have to go inside to check it out. Is the door usually locked?
Third, attend a service. Are the people mostly like you, or are they uniformly different from you, or are they somewhat varied? If you’re searching for support, you DO NOT want a community that’s made up mostly of folks like you–they probably won’t be able to give you a perspective on your situation that’s much different from your own. In addition, I’ve read that if you take the income of your five closest friends, you’ll probably be right in the middle of that group. While I doubt that changing your friends will increase your income immediately, it will give you a perspective on how others live that will dislodge your feeling that your life is perfectly normal and that’s the way everyone lives.
A varied community is best, but a community that has a lot of grey hair actually isn’t a bad place for you to be. Those grey hairs mean accumulated wisdom from which you can benefit, but it also means that there’s an opportunity for you to contribute to their well being as well.
Do the people welcome you, and talk to you, or do they keep to themselves? Are you comfortable with their approach to newcomers? I personally like to sit back in a new place and gradually get to know people, as opposed to having them mob me the first time I walk in. Others might prefer a more extroverted approach. Either way, you’ll want them to be friendly and open, but respectful of your needs.
Look at the bulletin or printed material, especially the schedule of upcoming events. Are they all focussed on introducing or enriching faith, or are there a variety of activities? Do they include community events and outreach, or only events for members? Do they interest you at all?
If you find a place that seems like it might be a good fit, make a commitment to yourself to attend services for one month during a relatively high attendance period for that organization. I say this because many religious organizations have low times. Sometimes during the summer, for example, there may be fewer and/or smaller services, or the services may even be shared with another community close by. If, after a month or two, you’re still comfortable, you’re becoming known to the community, and you’re participating in an activity or two, then I’d say you’ve found your community.
Does that sound too cold-hearted, like I’m using my church friends?
I assure you that I give back as much as I take, and that the opportunity to give back is one of the main reasons why I’m a life-long church member. I can’t give money, but I can and do give time and skills. It’s a win-win situation, and I know that my life would be a great deal less satisfying if I wasn’t an active member of my church.
These three resources won’t do the work of getting your life on track, but when you’re ready to do the work yourself, they’ll be there like a beacon shining in the dark to lead you onward.