Sarah was in more than $40,000 of debt with little income and little hope. Encircled with the love and compassion of others, she was able to accomplish her dreams of starting her own business.
I started Circles in January of 2016. With more than $40,000 in debt and practically no income, I had many goals and dreams and plenty of hard times to show for it. I had hesitations about joining Circles because I believed my ideas about money and work were in contrast to the those of the standard population. I didn't want a group of people constantly questioning or second-guessing my overall plan to get out of poverty. I also feared I would be judged and told what to do.
I was amazed at the love and support. I found so many compassionate people at Circles. In my Circle Leader Training group, a willingness to open up and share feelings brought so much healing. The overall mission of the class was to connect people who were hopeless because of numerous obstacles and setbacks with a group of people who had succeeded despite the burdens with which they were laden. Those people choose to embrace hope and understanding that even if there continue to be setbacks, they could accomplish their dreams.
I think that Circles approach is fabulous and would work for anyone who is willing to open themselves up. The model for Circles is counter-intuitive because it teaches that in order to become self-reliant you have to recognize that you cannot do it alone.
Through my year at Circles and because of the love I found, I chose to become more humble. Prior to my experience with Circles, as I was building my own business, I didn't want to be told what to do or how to do it. I had my own vision. I didn't listen to many suggestions at first, and in some ways that was good. I found a lot of people respected the fact that I was willing to move forward in my own way, even if it looked different from the "normal" road.
But at the same time, as I saw the real love that the people at Circles had for me, I understood that perhaps it was I who was judging them. Perhaps they actually did have my best interest at heart. In the end it was my choosing to listen to the things I originally thought were bad ideas (along with more humbling setbacks and tons of support). Love and humility filled the last gap toward escaping poverty.
The best part is that I feel better than ever. I realize now that my push against their suggestions came from a feeling of insecurity. Now I am accomplishing many of my goals and dreams all because I heeded the advice of others and found that my team was there to catch me regardless of how stubbornly I fell.
What was the thing that pushed you to eventually get help from Circles? How did you seek them out?
I was talking to a friend of mine from church about my goals for the future and how hard it is to not fall prey to the expectations that people have of you when you’re in poverty. I felt like I needed more resources and a support system. She just so happens to work for Circles.
What would you tell others who are in a situation like you once were? What would your advice to them be?
To not give up! To turn to God and resources outside of yourself. You don’t have to do it all alone. It can be a humbling experience to admit that you need help, but when you realize that there actually ARE people ready and willing to help you carry your emotional burdens and meet your temporal needs, the fear and stigma go away.
What was the single most important thing that helped you succeed?
Recognizing that I don’t have to be ashamed that I was poor. I didn’t have to justify to anybody that I was poor. People didn’t judge, but they loved me, welcomed me, and recognized my strength and capacity to fix my life in my own time and on my own terms.
What might you say to someone who doesn’t understand what living in poverty is really like? How might you help them imagine and understand it?
It is as if you are running through the forest and you think someone is chasing you—your heart races because you are going so fast. You don’t have time to assess your situation, to stop and breath or eat or sleep.
People in poverty live this way in their minds because of the threat of not surviving. The lack of resources are around every corner and you are just trying to take one more step.
It might seem illogical to an outsider who can see the threat is gone or that the exit of the forest is just a few step away. The feedback we hear is “you’re not working hard enough.” When we are like, “There is no physical way I can exert any more energy to survive.”
You mentioned the people that helped you through the process. Why do you think they did it? What were their motivations?
I genuinely think they cared about me. They wanted me to succeed. They were happy with my successes and mourned with me in my setbacks. I am particularly impressed with how people cared about me and worked to be supportive even though I knew they didn’t fully understand why I was in poverty or my plans to get out of it.
What’s the biggest difference in your life now compared to before you started with Circles?
I feel so much more calm. My ability to cope with setbacks still sometimes involves crying and frustration, but these feelings only last for mere days or minutes instead of weeks or months. I have learned to be committed and that I can move forward even when I am not always cheerful or know all the answers to what’s going on—I have so much more hope.