From Prison To Purpose: Transforming Rock Bottom Into My Greatest Gift

“Out of massive suffering emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Khalil Gibran

When I was arrested, my life was over.

When I pleaded guilty, my life was over.

When I was barred from my career, my life was over.

When the gavel came down, punctuating my prison sentence, my life was over.

When my ex-wife told me she was leaving me inside the prison visiting room, my life was over.

So many moments when I believed my life was over. I believed it with the same conviction when I say my eyes are brown.

The moments were sad, terrifying, filled with shame, and certainly life-altering, but as the author Cheri Huber wrote,

“Nothing has ever happened to us that we haven’t survived.”

Each one of those moments, with their sadness, fear, and shame, knocked me on my ass, but as Mickey told Rocky,

“I didn’t hear no bell!”
Life will knock us down; it’s an inevitable component of our shared human experience.

Sometimes, the knocks are minor, and sometimes, they’re life-altering, so much so that life becomes neatly divided into before the knock and after the knock.

The life-altering knocks can define our lives, but this is critical; how they define our lives is our choice.

It’s easy to allow “what” knocked us down to define our lives.

When we allow what happened to define our lives, we relinquish agency to the event; we remain in the burnt ashes of what was, wishing and demanding the impossible, that the past is anything other than it is.

Our lives become frozen in time, and we hold onto our fear, anger, shame, and sadness, watching helplessly as they dominate our lives and evolve into victimhood, bitterness, and regret.

The “what” defines us and our lives.

Or we make one of the most challenging, terrifying, and empowering choices we’ll ever make.

We choose to define our lives not by what happened but by how we respond.

What do we choose to do while on the ground with our faces in the dirt?

How do we pick ourselves up?

And perhaps most importantly, how do we take the first step out of what was and into the unknown of what could be?

The first step on my journey was practicing acceptance; no amount of wishing or demanding will alter the past.

When we accept the past, we cultivate the room required to create a new future. We’re no longer prisoners of the past, living diminishing lives under the constrictive nature of the past.

Acceptance is the gateway to personal freedom and expansiveness.

With our newfound freedom and expansiveness, we find the room to dig and explore, seeking the lesson and the gift inside our adversity.

We use these moments to better understand ourselves, what truly matters to us, and what we hope to create.

We cultivate the willingness to receive the gift of perspective that awaits us when we make it through the other side of adversity.

From here, we can truly change the trajectory of our lives by giving meaning to the suffering and serving something more significant than ourselves.

We do this by alchemizing what we’ve learned and sharing it with the world so it can reach someone, somewhere, who feels how we once felt.

Lost, alone, afraid, uncertain, feeling broken, uncomfortable in their own skin, desperately wanting to be anywhere other than where they are, but with no idea how to take their first step.

When we connect deeply with ourselves through acceptance and self-inquiry, we create a new future for ourselves.

When we share how we created our new future with others, we give them the opportunity to create a new future for themselves.

Our greatest adversities do not have to be the end; they can, in fact, be our greatest teachers and our greatest beginnings.

It’s our choice.

Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect & Mindset Coach, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and the Best-Selling Author of “Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison.” He specializes in working with high-achievers who’ve chased success, money, and status in their 1st half, only to find a success-sized hole in their lives. He helps them unleash their full potential, break free from autopilot, draft a new life blueprint, and connect with their Life’s Mission so they can live extraordinary lives with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. Craig is also a member of the Ministry’s White Collar Support Group that meets every Monday evening on Zoom.