One of my goals moving forward is to help people who have stumbled along the way, in business or in life, and help them tell their side of the story and rebuild their image.
However, this is a very delicate position because nobody really knows when the right time is to come out from behind their mistakes, because there is no blueprint for it.
Regardless of how someone screwed up, whether they decided to sell drugs, rob a bank, launder or embezzle money, had a temporary lapse of judgment, or they just lost their job, I want to focus more on how and when you move forward and rebuild. I interviewed someone who recently got to Yankton. He isn’t ready to put himself completely out there yet, but he was more than willing to sit down and discuss the topic of rebranding and rebuilding one’s personal image with me.
I asked him what he did when the feds indicted him for the crime that landed him here and he said he did everything he could do to drop out of the public eye, simply because it was his natural instinct. But he soon realized it was no way to live. In his current business venture, he took a backseat role and let his partner take the reigns and spotlight, in hopes of not holding the company back from success and growth.
Hiding didn’t give him space to think, as he thought it would, and he felt as if he was going crazy wading through the various accusations, going head to head with the feds is a David versus Goliath scenario, and he felt hopeless, struggled with extraordinary anxiety, and in particular drowned himself in Xanax in an attempt to feel normal.
Even though he’d been using Marijuana and Xanax for a while, being indicted meant he could no longer smoke pot, and it was like throwing gasoline on a fire for his Xanax use. Reflecting back now he realized that was no way to live, but when you feel like your world is caving in around you there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop the inevitable. It wasn’t until he self-surrendered to prison did he realize how out of control his habit had become – as he pleaded with staff to just give him his f*ing pills. Instead, he was forced to detox slowly over the first few months of his incarceration – if anyone out there can relate to going through withdrawals it’s not a fun process.
So where do you go from that state of hopelessness and start to move forward? Well, first of all, he said you have to own the mistakes you made, acting like you are 100% innocent of all wrongdoing or even appearing defensive is going to get you nowhere. Let’s face it, “responsible people don’t end up in prison.” So regardless of how wronged you feel, or how inconsequential a role you felt you played, you have to take ownership of whatever happened.
We discussed how many opportunities exist in a grey area just ahead of the well worn paths of others, he preferred to call it the unexplored since the term “grey” seems to carry a negative connotation. But in this area, you have the opportunity to do something truly new or unique. He used a surfing analogy that I loved, as he described opportunity as riding along the edge between predictability and chaos, and sometimes along the way you fall and get a face full of coral. He said he never operated the business he was in with the intent of breaking any laws but somewhere along that razor edge of innovation and growth there was a calculation of error. He fell, got a face full of coral as his surfing analogy would say, and although it may have been extremely embarrassing he believes it shouldn’t be considered shameful, and I agree.
He also said he doesn’t think it’s right to take two or three disparate decisions made over a five-year time frame and allow those miscalculations to define him. Incarceration has given him time to grow and assess his life, he is using it as a character-building exercise, to prepare himself for release and a second act. I asked him, “so when is the right time to come out of hiding and lay it all out there?” He said that is a question he is still trying to answer, but he knows one thing, he doesn’t want the narrative of his indictment to be the last thing said about him. I told him whatever he decides construction2style is here for him when he feels that time is right!
I asked him about what he values in life and if that has shifted over the years. He talked about the business that landed him in prison and talked about how early on all that mattered to him was accomplishing something big, and that is how he defined his self-worth, and he was super successful in that aspect. As he accumulated wealth, he was checking all the boxes; from his ego to his bank account, and all the things he wanted to prove to the world what he could achieve, his way of giving the finger to any doubters along the way. However, once they were fulfilled he realized none of it mattered all that much, by then he had started a family and the importance of his own achievements seemed far less important. Of course much like myself, the errors had already been made, and he didn’t know it at the time, but in a few years, those decisions would catch up with him and land him in prison. No change in course, no good deed was going to change that inevitability.
How about when you get out of prison are there going to be new limitations? The obvious limitations include a tarnished reputation and the ability to raise outside capital, where a criminal record could be a real impediment. You could either look at this as a roadblock or you can look at it as an opportunity that forces you to create something great all on your own.
There will need to be an increased level of trust with current or future partners. This includes his partner(s) trusting that he will not repeat the same mistakes that previously landed him in trouble, and trust from him that his partner(s) will not bail on him because of a setback of his past. There could be additional roadblocks that come with being a felon and many of these are currently unknown, but he is more than confident he will overcome them as they arise. He worries about his reputation and how it has been damaged by his past. He pointed out the difference between him and me, “you aren’t going back out to the drug business, so you will be judged differently than I will. I am going back out into the world where I got myself into trouble, maybe not the same industry, but people may still be skeptical or question whether I’m the right guy to bet on again.” To overcome this he said he will have to block out the noise and use inner strength to make sure he achieves new goals.
So how do you build trust moving forward? He said it starts with re-building your personal image first because the person behind the brand is everything. When you think of Apple you think of Steve Jobs, even years after his passing, the same goes for Gates and Microsoft, or Musk and Tesla. You are your company and if the person behind the brand is a scoundrel it’ll never stand a chance. He said, “trust and reputation take forever to build and only a moment to mess up.”
He and I both agree that America loves a comeback story, but for people in our position coming out of prison, transparency will be crucial to rebuilding trust. Through transparency and clear values he believes both trust and reputation can be reinstated.
So what are you going to do differently? He said the dream hasn’t died, he still wants to create something with real value, but it must be built on values. That was the problem in his first company, they were too focused on growth and meeting the demand of their investors that there wasn’t a compass with which to guide every decision. Now, because of this experience, he will certainly exercise more caution and be more conservative, which will no doubt impede growth, but he reminds me it’s important to be gentle while maintaining forward progress. You can’t just hit the ground running, not when you have a family, there must be a balance. Balance is what he intends to bring not only to his own life but to the lives of others with any of his ventures. The biggest take away from this whole experience for him is the stark realization that anybody can find themselves in prison, and for that reason, you must be extremely careful in all aspects of business in order to protect yourself and everyone that cares about you.
Thanks for listening!