Many people often ask me how did I not only go from welfare to work, but in doing so end up with a great career that I love? I started to reflect on this and came up with five key factors in my life that led to my current situation. I am writing this article for the sole purpose of inspiring and helping people who feel trapped in the system and feel there is no escape.
First, I would like to state that I am grateful to live in a country like Canada which has income and disability support programs to help people when they have no other means. I have to admit it is very difficult to make sudden profound changes in your life when the support and shelter allowance is a bare sustenance level. Nonetheless, I believe every human being has the potential to make the most of their opportunities in this great land including those living in poverty.
Factor #1 – Stable Affordable Housing
The most important factor was finding stable housing that I could afford. A home provides the foundation upon which to start building and improving your life. Not surprisingly, I am concerned the lack of affordable housing in Vancouver may lead to a cycle of chronic poverty for many people. This may lead to a potentially huge loss of innovation, new ideas, and injection of raw talent into the work world.
Factor #2 – Build A Social Support Network
The next major factor was creating a social support network around me that was full of my well-wishers. This included members of my family, friends, as well as professionals I saw regularly. You need to remove the negative toxic people in your entire social environment. I feel they will only stall your success. I even had a mentor who I had coffee with every week. I recommend you get out there and seek someone to help you. Do not do this alone. Everyone needs someone who believes in them. This will provide you with the motivation and momentum to facilitate change, as well as a short-term and long-term path or direction and guidance.
Factor #3 – Change Your Approach To Welfare
Being on welfare and living in poverty takes its toll on your self-esteem and self-confidence. People look down upon you and think you’re a burden to society. I had to change my whole mental attitude and approach to being a welfare recipient. I no longer seen myself as a victim. I convinced myself that I had the abilities, skills, and knowledge to succeed in society. I also no longer felt entitled to welfare. I felt fortunate to live in a country that provided it. I could have easily been born somewhere else like billions of other souls and possibly have no one to rely on but myself. I accepted that the mandate and purpose of the income support program was to help people to become independent. This was a shift in my thinking because from a theoretical perspective I have always supported a guaranteed annual income for the needy.
Factor #4 – Brush Up On Your Practical Skills
In addition, I started to brush up on my practical skills and make the most of the time I had while I was unemployed. I did volunteer work, took education and training courses, and obtained a leisure access pass to exercise and go to the pool and live a more healthy and well-balanced lifestyle. I even published a book that ended up being a finalist in a well-known book awards competition. Furthermore, I was lucky because I was on disability income (PWD) as I live with a number of chronic conditions and this meant that I could attend school and even start a business. I did both and could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Factor #5 – Follow Through With Your Plan
My real career door opener was completing a Master of Social Work degree which I did entirely online from home to save money and minimize my student loans. The volunteer work I was doing with a number of organizations, some of which I founded, made me socially more alert and skilled in communications and knowledgeable about local resources and job opportunities. So what was the end result? Even before I graduated, I landed a professional job as a social worker with a health authority. It was just a casual position but I got my foot in the door. Within a few months I applied for an internal position and was the successful candidate. I work full time now in a great job helping seniors with mental health challenges and dementia and Alzheimer’s in the community.
So what’s the bottom line?
Make sure you can adapt to change. Position yourself to be ready when opportunities arrive in order to succeed. Have a plan and support system and take care of yourself and watch the changes in your life unfold.
Alex Sangha is an award winning author and social worker based in Surrey, B.C. His social discussion book, Catalyst, was a Finalist in the Current Events and Social Change category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for 2014. For more information check out http://alexsangha.com