Today's post is a real treat. It's a very personal story that will tell you how to persevere when you've hit rock bottom.
The author, Billy B., is a blogger from Minnesota that I met early this year shortly after I started Money with a Purpose. He blogs at Wealth Well Done. Bill has been featured on CNBC. MSN, and Rockstar Finance. The three themes Billy B. covers at Wealth Well Done are:
- Master Your Mind
- Compound Your Cash
- Pursue Your Purpose.
I read Billy's story on another blog and reached out to him. In several Twitter conversations, he encouraged me to tell our story of dealing with an addicted son. I'm deeply grateful for that encouragement. I'm not sure I would have told it without the encouragement.
His writing is insightful and enhanced by his life experience. I encourage you to visit Wealth Well Done. Be prepared to be both inspired and challenged.
Read on as Bill tells his story.
Tell us a little about yourself
I was released from prison when I was 31 years old in 2012 with no work history, experience, or college degree.
But I had a vision when I was released from prison. I never wanted to go back, and I wanted to live up to the potential to be an amazing human being that I always felt I had in my heart.
I first got a job making $10 an hour, and I graduated from college in that first year. In my second year out, I started my first business (a promotional company) from a computer in my parent’s basement. In the next five years, I sold over a million dollars of products to reputable businesses, learned how to invest, bought two homes (a primary residence and an investment property), got married, and have built a financial portfolio worth around $300,000 and growing.
You have a unique story that I know readers will appreciate. Tell us about your early years
Then, when I was finally old enough to have friends who could get me drugs and use drugs with, I’d almost describe getting high as a spiritual experience for me. I’d take a little bit of whatever (weed, acid, mushrooms, ecstasy) and the drug would whisk my imagination away to an alternate reality where I just thought life was more fascinating and interesting. I’d see hallucinations, and feel rushes of euphoria, and I’d wonder: How could this not be from God?
Now I look back on it, and I realize I was taking the easy way out of life. Being someone special in life is hard. It takes work, and sacrifice, and you have to take scary risks. With drugs, I’d have to pay $5 to feel like I was special and going somewhere, even though I wasn’t going anywhere.
I was a secret drug user from the age of 14, (meaning I still went to college and hid my drug use) until I was 21 years old. My life fell apart after I was partying with a friend in college. He walked home and died in his sleep.
The next morning I was arrested for providing the drugs to him at my house, and I was charged with: “Reckless Homicide by Delivery of a Controlled Substance.” I was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison with no chance at early parole. I served the entire ten-year sentence before I saw freedom again. (You can read my entire journey to prison and back here.)
Wow! I can’t imagine what that must have felt like. Most people would have folded under that pressure. You didn’t. Tell us what happened
The first day in jail was pure panic. I contemplated every possible way to escape the horrific reality I was stuck in, including suicide. But then the next few days were a period of acceptance. I wasn’t ready to die, and I didn’t want to give up. That led to a sudden revelation that completely changed the future of my life:
I realized life was going to be 100% up to me and my decision making now. It no longer mattered what race I was; or what neighborhood I was from; or who my parents were. The future of my life was going to be dependent on me leading myself out of that nightmare. So I made the logical choice: If my future were going to be determined by the quality of my decisions, then it would be smart to study how to make the most intelligent choices possible that would put me into the best chance for me to succeed.
Ultimately, I realized this: If I were going to lead myself out of the dungeon I was in, then it would be smart to study other great leaders in history and learn to think, do, and act like they did when they faced adversity.
My drug use and selfish behavior put me in the position to go to prison, so those were going to be the first things that would have to go. At that moment I decided to create a new personal identity away from drugs, and start pursuing God rather than my selfish ambitions. Those were the two decisions that began to lead me toward the future I am living now.
The temptations and pressure from other inmates to engage in bad behavior had to be strong. How did you resist and protect yourself?
If you wanted to make prison a horrible, nightmarish experience you just had to make the decisions to get into gangs, drugs, and make friends with awful people. But if you wanted to turn the prison into an enlightening experience, it was entirely up to you to turn it into an enlightening experience by hanging out in the library and making friends with inmates who were determined not to come back.
I’ll never forget my defining moment in prison: It was my first year in, and a guy offered me a chance to buy some pills (drugs) he smuggled in. It was such an unexpected moment, and I didn’t know what to do. I went to my cell to think about it, and I had an epiphany: If I were going to stay drug and crime free when I got out, it would have to start now. I said no to drugs, and I never turned back. It got more comfortable every time after that.
What was it like when you got out? How did you find a job, a place to live, etc.?
Two significant things helped my re-entrance into society after ten years away:
- A positive and healthy support system full of family, mentors, and friends who always believed in me and wanted to help me succeed.
- A positive, perseverant attitude embraced by me. I accepted that success would take a long time. I knew not everything would go right, so I’d have to survive the low points, and capitalize when things went right.
Put these two things together, and in six years, I was able to accomplish my dreams. I moved out of my parents' basement and got my first job making $10 an hour. From there, I started my first business a year later and sold a million dollars worth of product in 5 years. I took the money I made and invested it into real-estate and index funds to build a $300K portfolio in 6 years.
What lessons did you take away from this experience?
My blog, Wealth Well Done, is all about the lessons I learned and how I utilized those lessons to lead me to success. To learn more, read my article How to Create Wealth and Master Life.
Beyond a physical prison, the biggest prison you can put yourself in is negativity inside your mind. We can be our own worst enemies at a time. If you can break free from the lies you are told, and the lies we tell ourselves, you can begin to find the truths in life you're supposed to believe and live.
What advice would you give to people facing adversity in their lives?
Focus on impacting the things you can control, rather than the things you can’t control. When I got out of prison, I could have embraced a self-defeating attitude. I could have said: I’m a felon. I don’t have any work history. This shouldn’t have happened to me. But how far would that attitude have gotten me? Nowhere.
Instead, I said, I can make new friends. I can accomplish small goals that will lead me to bigger goals. I can save $10 a paycheck even if I’m only making $10 an hour.
Believing you can do something is the beginning of actually doing it. Believe in yourself, and accomplish the goals you can control no matter how small they are. Do that over and over, and you can do anything you set your mind to. I live my life to be proof of this.
Thank you, Bill, for sharing your story. There are so many lessons we can learn from it.
The one thing that stands out for me is in the advice you offer to others facing adversity: “Focus on impacting the things you can control.” We hear that all of the time and know it to be true. It's sometimes so hard to implement.
People imprisoned for ten years rarely come out and accomplish the things that Bill has. I think we can all be inspired by his courage, perseverance, positive attitude and refusal to let circumstances control his destiny when he got out. I know I am.
So, the next time you think your life is in shambles, I hope you will think of Bill and his story. I don't mean to minimize any of the challenges any of you might face. Adversity comes in many forms. It often happens in ways we can't control. SAurviving ten years in prison has to be among the worst kinds of adversity.
Remember, we can always control how we respond to adversity. Will we choose to stay positive and persevere? Or will we let our circumstances dictate to us? I hope we'll pick the first option.
There is always someone who's faced worse. And most circumstances are only temporary, even though they may not feel like it.
Now it's your turn. What adversity have you faced? How have you overcome it? Can you apply the lessons laid out here when face adversity? Please share your thoughts with Bill in the comments. And thank so much for reading.