I want to share with you a true story. It is my story, but it is not only my story. It is our story. It is your story. It is all of our stories in some way.
The power of story to resonate, connect and transform is unrivaled. There is no better way to connect the human race to one another than through a powerful and resonant story to which people can relate.
It was the summer of 2012. I was in my first year of parole after being released from prison. I had served three and a half years for causing a boat accident.
I had adjusted to my new life outside with considerably more freedom than I had previously in that wretched place. There I had no freedom or identity. I was just a number to the state.
I remember the day vividly—the sights and the smells, the feelings of that moment.
I was sitting in the mountains of the Adirondacks on a warm and sunny day in May. The air was a little humid, which was rare for the mountains. I felt like I was sweating, which was bizarre as it was only seventy-five degrees and I was sitting in the shade on the porch.
I sat in my grandfather’s old rocking chair, nervously rocking back and forth. I had the last letter in my hand from the law and business schools to which I had applied.
I was so incredibly anxious to open the letter, worried that I would read the same result that I had read in the prior six letters:
“Rejected! Denied! We regret to inform you….”
I could feel my heart beating faster, the air getting heavier, the rocking chair rocking faster.
I remembered the last time I had to open a letter with a fateful decision for my life. It was two years earlier when I was up for parole. I was denied and had to serve an additional two years.
I was devastated by that blow, essentially resentenced and told that despite my life transformation, all the hard work and model behavior, I would need to serve another two years.
I was completely defeated after that decision—but I never gave up.
My heart was racing faster and faster as I unfolded the letter and began to read, “We would like to thank you for your application to join Cornell University. Cornell University is a blah blah blah….”
Where is the decision! I exclaimed in impatience. I kept reading until I got to the middle of the second paragraph—and then my eyes met the cold reality.
“We regret to inform you that your application has been denied.”
My dreams and vision for my future that I had worked so hard for over the previous two years finishing my undergraduate degree, studying and excelling on the LSAT admission test, rebuilding my life and turning it around—had been forever dashed and denied.
I was in complete shock and disbelief. My heart started to beat even harder and more noticeably, I started to genuinely worry about my future and what I was going to do.
I now had been rejected from seven graduate school programs for a combined law and business degree.
I had scored well on the LSAT graduate admission test. I had a strong resume and grades from undergraduate studies at Syracuse University. I had letters from community members about my life transformation and a passionate essay and theme to my application on my turnaround story of redemption.
But none of that mattered. I was denied the opportunity by people I have never met to pursue a new life and direction that I had dreamed of and worked tirelessly for.
I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was twenty-nine years old, reading my last rejection letter for the future that I thought was going to be mine, the one I had dreamed of since I was a child.
I had plans of going to Wall Street, climbing the corporate ladder and being a titan of industry in the financial world.
You cannot do that because we say you cannot do that.
I sat there wondering, worrying, trying to find words. I was twenty-nine years old with no job, no money or savings, no job prospects, no driver’s license, no car, no belongings, no house or apartment of my own, on parole, with a curfew, attached at the hip to the state—with no future and no ability to find a path forward at that moment.
I had no idea what I was going to do, until…
Impactful moments of clarity
I realized right there on that porch that the only way I was going to achieve my vision for a massive life of achievement, contribution and impact, was to become an entrepreneur in every sense of the word.
In that moment that I could not leave my future in the hands of others to choose if I was worthy enough.
I refused to give up. I will never give up.
I was not going to let some committee, hiring manager, head hunter, or anyone tell me I couldn’t do something.
No. I refused to let that happen.
In that moment, I gained so much clarity, power and purpose, that it almost knocked me off that rocker—literally. I got up immediately and threw the letter in the trash.
I walked into the office and started to write a business plan for what would become, a few short years later, my first of three multimillion-dollar companies that I have founded and grown.
I began to chart and write out my vision for the future, for what I wanted my life to look like, for my goals, values and master plan to get there.
One door shut firmly in my face, but it opened up a far greater door to a new future. It was up to me to recognize that truth and react accordingly.
But I had a lot of work to do. The shift and transition were acute, painful and poignant in the moment; it would take weeks and months to make.
But I pivoted.
I found strength in denial and failure, clarity and a resolve to never give up.
You see, every journey along the path to greatness and redemption starts in adversity and is decorated with conflict, setback and failure. No one who has ever achieved redemption, greatness, wealth, fame or significance and had a massive impact in the world, has done so with a smooth road.
I was ready and focused. I chose to live a life of purpose, impact, contribution and achievement.
What will you choose to do?
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” —Henry Ford
Every journey to greatness and redemption starts in adversity and is decorated with conflict, setback and failure. No one who has ever achieved greatness, wealth, fame and significance has done so with a smooth road.
Think about adversity in your life situation. How might the setback in your life be a door closing so a bigger one will open? Are you letting other people define you when you should define success for yourself?
Think about the hard parts of today that made you feel like a failure. What did you learn from those hard parts? Think about how, because you struggled, you learned something new.