I Lost My Job - and Found My Life; Finding Yourself Suddenly out of Work, or Unable to Get a Job after Years of Study, Can Seem like the End of the World - but It Can Also Open Up a Whole New One. by Using Your Spare Time to Volunteer, You Can Get out of the House, Learn New Skills and Meet New People. Four Voluntary Workers Tell Marianne Power about the Priceless Perks of the New Free Market

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Byline: Marianne Power

Sean Ginty, 35, lives in Temple Bar, Dublin, with his wife, Siobhan, who is a nurse. After years of working in property insurance, he was made redundant in June. He now volunteers full time for the Simon homeless shelter in central Dublin.

Until June of this year, I worked in property insurance. For years business was booming and I was living the usual thirtysomething professional life, working hard and living for the weekends. Then earlier this year it all stopped. The work started to dry up, my contract wasn't renewed and I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life.

I come from the kind of background where you're a failure if you don't earn a living and have a 'proper' job. I would have taken anything at all, but my wife, Siobhan, told me that this was the chance to try something really different. And that's what I've done.

After two months spent getting nowhere, looking for jobs that didn't exist, I contacted the Simon Community's homeless shelter and offered to help. I have to admit I was scared the first day I walked in. I started six weeks ago.

Most of the people staying there have substance abuse issues or mental health problems -- they are a million miles from the people you would meet in an office -- and the situation was chaotic. But I just have to let go of all my preconceptions and get on with it, talking to them as one human being to another.

What you see every day can be heartbreaking and humbling. I've realised that this could really be any of us. We have people come in who are normal, perhaps middle class, who had jobs but either got caught up in drugs or started drinking after a bad break-up. Before they know it, they were living on the street and wondering what happened.

We are all just one bad decision or one bit of bad luck away from this. Then young people who came from bad homes and are runaways. They're only in their 20s -- sometimes they look like they're barely out of school, they're so baby-faced -- but they're already resigned to their life. They can't see that there's anything else out there for them.

It's my job to help them get food, or medical and benefits appointments, or just be someone they can talk to -- someone to make them feel like a human being again. My friends sometimes ask me when I'm going to get a real job, but I don't think I'll ever go back to insurance.

I've signed up for nine months with Simon and, although money is tight, I'm lucky to have a wife who supports me and to have found something I truly love, something that gives my life meaning. At the end of each day now I come home and at least I feel I've helped someone.

In many ways, my redundancy was a blessing in disguise.

Nolita Ryan, 35, is an architect by training. She is single and lives in Galway. After being let go from her architecture firm, she trained as an adult literacy tutor earlier this year and also volunteers with Age Action West, teaching computer and internet skills to older people.

Being let go was such a shock to the system. After 10 years spent living in London, Sydney and Shanghai, working up the ladder as an architect, I came home in 2007 to a country I hardly recognised. I couldn't believe the amount of money that was being spent -- I was designing helipads and swimming pools in basements -- but soon, of course, things changed. I was let go in December last year.

It was hard. Work had become my identity and I didn't know what to do without it. Whole days stretched out before me but I was determined not to mope. After tidying the house a million times and looking for jobs that weren't there, I decided to volunteer. I saw a poster for a course that trained people to teach adults to read, and I signed up.

Helping my first pupil -- a 19-year-old man -- learn how to write was one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. This lad was a genius when it came to maths and had got into college, but his writing was terribly childish. …