Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Living a Meaningful Life in the Midst of Unemployment and Poverty

In keeping with sharing how to survive a recession with minimal depression, here is something I have learned from becoming poor. Living purposefully is crucial to surviving hard times, whatever causes them.

For me, surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury had a ton of challenges. Not being able to process even fundamental things was beyond terrible. I felt helpless and often hopeless. I couldn't even imagine getting to the place where I actually brought hope and joy into anyone's life. It was all I could do to tread the murky waters of my loss.

But I kept working at getting my life back. At facing my problems and finding ways to get through them. None of it was easy. None of it was instant - not even close. My achievements took place one step at a time. Literally.

I have published my book, "Down the Road." And I have two others in the works. I have created lots of artwork and I had a few shows before the recession hit. I raised three amazing children that I not only love but admire as human beings. And I trained my own service dog, which was also really challenging.

I have learned how to pay my bills and not, NOT pay late fees or bank fees for NSF's. I have done this on an extremely low amount of money to live on.

All good stuff. But not enough to give me a sense that I was making a difference in the world. I couldn't donate money for anything. I have donated a few paintings but when it takes me a year to paint one, I don't generate that many so there's that.

Through the service dog training program I started doing fundraising speaking engagements with Coco. Then Coco and I started spreading the love at a retirement/rehabilitation home and then we started speaking for United Way and doing speaking engagements at places that had been a help to me, like The Chicago Lighthouse and even the Girl Scouts. I wasn't getting paid, except for the Girl Scouts. They were great because they paid me enough so I could buy gas to travel the different locations. Go Girl Scouts!!!

I've recently been a keynote speaker at a TBI Rehabilitation Seminar. And I met some very interesting people that I look forward to partnering with in the future. I have spoken at colleges and have made an impact on students and people's lives that treat people with strokes and brain injuries. I even earned a little money this past year and paid taxes for the first time since I became disabled. I am hoping that I will have the opportunity to do more of these things so I can earn a living. One thing leads to another. I feel a great sense of purpose and love to leave people with a sense of hope and encouragement. That feels great.

When my children were starting out, in the midst of this terrible recession, they had huge college loans to pay off and no good paying jobs in sight. In fact, no full times jobs, let alone jobs that they could see as a career. But they worked hard. Some times working two and three jobs and they were doing the best that they could. Though they were incredibly discouraged. The loan structure of the college loans had changed. They are very predatory. When I was going to college we only paid what we could afford to pay. Like a sliding scale. This allowed recent grads to work for lower wages while they built up their skills and were earning more so they could then make higher payments for college. It took as long as it took and that was the way it worked. I would have never encouraged my children to go to anything but a state college had I known school loans had changed and that they could demand so much money, more than rent each month.

So how did I advise my children? I advised them to start working for nothing. Shocked? Well, they are all creative and hard working people and they needed to have jobs that were stimulating to them. They were working office jobs and dog walking and doing administrative work and construction work but none of them found comfort seeing themselves doing these things for the rest of their lives.

My daughter started working for free doing set designs being a production assistant for films and commercial projects and eventually she started doing special effects. She is a kick ass artist and this turned out to be exactly what she loves to do. She works with dynamic people and she absolutely loves her work. She has sacrificed everything, her time, success and financial security to learn how to learn everything she can about special effects makeup and sculpting and she is really, really good. Every year she is doing better.

One of my sons is an amazing musician artist and poet. He plays anything with strings, sitar, mandolin, guitars and even the saw. He had gotten a job that was more administrative and he was miserable. So he started doing things for free and he wound up working for a non-profit bringing humanities events to Chicago and he loves it. He works with some amazing people and while he isn't playing music or acting on a fulltime basis, he played music for a production at the Steppenwolf Garage Theater this year and though he got offered a job there, he literally couldn't afford to take it because of his school loan payments. Even so, he is living a life that is interesting to him and he is happy and has friends and he is a good man.

My other son is interested in living off of the grid and definitely outside of the box. He is working on doing something new where he can give people the business and have fun and still be doing something a little different everyday. He has put in grueling hours driving a truck to achieve his goals. The way he thinks and tells stories and approaches life is like nobody I know. And he is an amazing dog trainer.

All three of my kids have continued to grow into wonderful adults. They are hard working and honest, with great friendships and even love. And they are living purposefully too, even in this crappy economy. They don't have much. They don't use credit cards. And sometimes a car sits for months or longer until something can get fixed. But they aren't wasting their time, their lives, being miserable victims of society. They are out there doin' the damn thing and enjoying living realistic, challenging and meaningful lives with good friends and lots of humor.

We work a long time. For many who have lost their jobs and whose careers have dried up, being out of work is devastation. But it is also FREEDOM!!! It can't get worse! Oh you can lose your home, yes. But you will find a way to live. Even if it is doing volunteer work for an organization like Americorp and traveling to places and living on next to nothing or living with relatives. You can still make a contribution to life. We ain't all out on the streets yet. So what do we do? If you are spending your days looking for work and being discouraged and depressed STOP IT!!!! Figure out something that you would actually like to do. And contact non-profit agencies, they are so broke these days, and help somebody. You don't have to be good at anything to help. You just have to be willing to help. Through doing this you will find your way to something new.

I've noticed that it is really hard to find anything made in America. So we need to get back to working for ourselves. Some people spend tons on sponges and paper towels. But someone could make really good dish towels and task clothes. It requires sewing straight seams. You don't even need a sewing machine. You could hand sew them. It doesn't cost much to have Made in America or Made in your Home town tags to sew in the towels. Then go to a flea market and spend the day visiting with people and sell dish towels.

Maybe you are a great cook and you make something delicious, make them and take a cooler or something you can wrap them in to keep them warm and go to a flea market and sell what you make. Sell things for cheap prices and just have a good time. Even if you make a zero profit but you can buy the supplies you need to do it again, do it. Your confidence will grow and you will see there are ways to sell something you can make. Flea markets are great because they can give you exposure and help you to get started. It takes a ton of money to get a place of business and hire people and keep books. So partner with family members or friends and help each other. If nobody is making money anyway and there are no jobs then work for yourself in your own home and provide a service that is needed. Meet in a library conference room or at a Community Center. There are lots of ways to have access to computers, free classes and community centers. Go see for yourself. Help some one else along the way. If you don't know what to do, volunteer. If you don't know where to go to volunteer, contact an agency like the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce and get out there and do something meaningful.

Go to a hospital and read stories to people who are really sick. One hour a week. Anything. Get out of yourself and your circumstances and your saddness and do show a kindness to someone you don't know and to someone you are not going to get anything from. Just do it. And you will find gratitude will enter your heart. Let it grow.

Young people need to match up with older people. Young people are savvy when it comes to technology and older people have life experiences to share. The mixture can be really exhilarating if everyone appreciates that we all have something to offer and we all have a need to live purposefully. Look around, offer to help, offer to teach and that will give you a reason to wake up and get dressed everyday. And just see where that leads you. You may not be able to take care of all of your debts or financial woes right away, but you will feel once again that your life is worthwhile and that you have something to offer and you may just find a new direction that actually is interesting and meaningful to you. You may lose your stuff. But when you can't hold it all up, maybe the best answer is - let it go.

No comments:

Post a Comment