Four Lessons I Learned In Prison

What Do You Think It Is REALLY Like Behind Bars?


It’s been said that a good friend is one who would come get you out of prison, but a great friend will be sitting next to you.  Recently, I had an experience finding me in prison with a whole bunch of new friends. And, in only one day, I learned some valuable lessons — many of which are easily overlooked by the majority of us on the “outside”.

Prison Entrepreneurship Program 2013
Prison Entrepreneurship Program 2013

Several months ago, a colleague of mine had to decline a meeting we were attempting to schedule because he “had to go to prison that day”.  I stopped in my tracks. “What?”, I replied. He confirmed that, indeed, he was going to prison the next day…and he smiled. Yesterday, I volunteered to attend (and help judge) a business plan competition carried out by the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP)  at the Cleveland Correctional Facility in Cleveland, TX. It was a moving experience.  Here are a few of the lessons I learned in prison:

  1. Everyone craves connection.

    When the volunteers walked into the room, we were immediately met with a huge cheer from the PEP participants immediately melting away any scenes I had previously recalled from Shawshank Redemption or an episode of Sons of Anarchy. Early in the day, I asked one of the long-time volunteers what kept him coming back. “Just wait until the end of the day. You’ll understand” was his reply.  In just one day, after hearing pitches for 14 legitimate businesses and observing the interactions between the PEP participants and executive volunteers, the only differences I saw between the two sides were the clothes.  Everyone in the room wanted to be successful. Almost all of them also mentioned their families.  Nobody focused on the differences.

  2. Mentors can learn from you, too.

    The focus for our day was to select four finalists (from a pool of 75+ business plans) in a “Shark Tank” style contest ahead of the finals, which would be judged the following day.  What I found amazing was the type of conversations that occurred by the judges AFTER the pitches were over.  Rarely did anyone seem to care that the presenter was a convicted criminal, rather the conversations were absolutely centered on the business attributes of the presented plans.  Many of the mentors even considered the fictional “investment dollars” as if it truly was their own actual dollars to invest, wrestling back-and-forth with how to allocate the money.


  3. Skills are transferable, even across very different disciplines. 

    No doubt, some of the men whose pitches were delivered yesterday once ran their own criminal enterprises.  But when you pull back the curtain, allow for time and healing to occur, create distance from bad situations and influences, underneath it all are many of the same skills someone would need to create a successful business.  Skills like marketing, business development, strategic planning, customer service, and, yes, even a little bit of “hustle”.  I don’t know of a single, successful entrepreneur who made it without a little bit of hustle.


  4. When telling someone your story, remember…it is your story to tell!

    Each plan I reviewed yesterday included some information about how that individual found himself in jail.  In many cases, I’d venture to guess what happened to them would not be much different from some of the decisions you or I might have made in a similar situation. These men, however, over the course of a six month program, learned that their story was just that.  Theirs.  Every one of them owned their story.  Most are heartbreaking to read or hear. Each of them knows that a leader is not defined by what has happened to them, but how they react, learn, and grow from that experience.

A few years ago,  following some setbacks in my own life, I wrote a book called Powerful People Overcome Powerful Failures. It is a success journal in which the reader invests 5-7 minutes a day to help get their thoughts and actions headed back in a positive direction.  In retrospect, my challenges were not near as steep  nor did they come with the consequences found by the men I met behind bars, however, the journey back to a blessed, fulfilled life was still a process.  As you consider the setbacks, failures and obstacles you may strive to overcome, just remember these four lessons I learned in prison and chart a course forward.  Abundance awaits, no matter what you have come through!

Click here to pick up your copy of Powerful People Overcome Powerful Failures (also available as an eBook).

Why Don’t People Answer Their Emails?

I know I didn’t email you back and I am not necessarily sorry.

Why you shouldn’t apologize, either!

How do you feel when someone you know tells you, “I’m not going to email you again, because you never reply to me, anyway”?  I would venture to guess it makes one feel like you have been sent to “time out”!  It does to me.

Recently, I have heard that from enough people to realize I may need to address the issue.  At least, that’s what I first thought.  And then I thought about it- see if this sounds familiar:

In recent history, have you:

  • Experienced population growth in your household?
  • Accepted a new job or role within your company?
  • Offered to serve in a leadership role of a volunteer organization?
  • Moved to a new city, state, or part of the country?
  • Taken up a new hobby you really enjoy?

Life-PrioritiesFor many people, simply adopting one of the above suggestions would be a “game changer” for your priorities.  The shift compounds exponentially when you take one two, three, or even ALL of the above.  It can be easy to feel overwhelmed. If I were to speculate as to what has “suffered” as a result of your new (and very productive, satisfying endeavors) becoming a significant part of your life, I might guess your email might not be as important as it once was, along with less time on social media, dealing less with OPD (other people’s drama), feeling sad or lonely, and generally feeling less satisfied with life.

When you make significant activity changes in your life and shift your focus to yourself, many benefits surface.  Most people report experiencing:

  • Better health
  • Stronger personal relationships
  • Feelings of gratitude
  • Increased satisfaction in the workplace, or even
  • The joy of becoming a parent for the first time.

Taking deliberate steps to improve your own life doesn’t mean you should ignore your responsibilities as a friend, co-worker, association member or neighbor….but it IS okay to enjoy the fruits of your decisions and shake off that guilt for not returning ALL of those emails as quickly as someone else thinks perhaps you should have. The CONNECTion you build as a result of living a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life will far outweigh responding to the demands of others.

However, ignoring ALL of those emails could be detrimental to your business, so be sure to carve out a little time for them…You just don’t have to apologize for taking a little longer to respond.

Get active.  Get healthy.  Do something you WANT to do.  Make good in the world.  CONNECT!


Why Your Top Choice for A Mentor Will Tell You No

The Top Five Rookie Mistakes When Asking For Help

Scott Cooksey and Randy Gage
Cooksey connects with Randy Gage at recent event.

Most successful people achieved their status shedding blood, sweat & tears.  The rest found success by accident.  Which path are you on?

Successful people also have another trait in common: failure.  Each person at the top, even the lucky ones, made many mistakes along the way.  Your journey is no different.   The problem occurs when you never learn from the mistakes.

In the corporate world, managers routinely send employees to training classes, in hopes the trainers will magically “fix” their broken employees.  (Read: Why Training Doesn’t Work).

What’s worse is when I routinely see “aspiring” individuals (often spending their own money) who continue to get in their own way when approaching a mentor, without even realizing it.

Here’s a list of the Top Five Rookie Mistakes:

1)   Never admit you have no idea what you are doing.
I can sum this up in two words: freshman year.   If you have blocked that traumatic experience from your memory banks, try to remember the second one…college freshman year.  Look, in the adult world, you will gain much more respect from the professionals even a few years ahead of you by just showing a little humility.  I have never seen someone in a business suit give anyone a swirly in the restroom—except once…and that guy deserved it.

2)   You can simply hire people to do what you do not do well.
Despite what you may have heard, there are no short-cuts!  You may have heard the phrase “Do what you do best, outsource the rest!”  Let me be clear: there are plenty of incompetent people who will take your money and make you feel good about it.  Outsourcing any task or aspect of your business should not occur until you fully understand what successful execution of said task(s) looks like. Before you divulge your plan to avoid doing any “heavy-lifting” to your prospective mentor, I suggest you think twice. (Required reading: The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss and Take The Stairs by Rory Vaden).

3)  Someone must agree to be your mentor before you can learn from them.  Recently, I was watching a video post by prosperity expert, Randy Gage.  He was talking about his “mastermind group” which included some of the greatest success-minded individuals of the past 100 years.  Suddenly, it clicked. He does not actually sit down face-to-face with his mentors (some of them are actually dead!).  Rather, he studies everything he can find where each mentor explains their philosophy: recorded speeches, books, articles, videos… And, in his mind, these guys speak to him and offer perspectives on success.

(More reading: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill – I recommend the original 1937 version for full effect of it’s power; Risky Is The New Safe by Randy Gage; and watch Dead Poet’s Society starring Robin Williams.)

4)  Make sure your mentor thinks just like you do. Listen up, kids, ‘cause I’m only going to say this once: Keep an open mind and turn off your filter once in a while – you just might learn something from your mentor.  Time and again, I have witnessed people who ask for help, then offer a host of excuses why they couldn’t possibly do what had just been suggested they consider. Note: I am not saying you should “check your morals at the door”. I am merely suggesting that you can learn from people who think and act very differently than you.  Especially an “unofficial” mentor. Even Einstein knew the definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.”

(Challenge: Research someone who has been wildly successful despite possessing very different values from yours. Look for motivators, techniques, and systems you could replicate – seek to understand the “how” and get out of your comfort zone.  It’s been holding you back, anyway!)

5)  Your plan is the only way it will work.  As I look back at my career, with all of its amazing twists and turns, it is almost impossible to believe I am a professional speaker.  What made it work was my perspective.  Every setback.  Every failure.  Every slower than desired success. Each micro-decision along the way led me to where I stand today…on the platform.  Your pathway to success probably will not look the way you think it should, but remember – it is your story to tell.

Turn each setback into a lesson and call it experience.  Remember to celebrate the victories, no matter how small, with loved ones and confidantes. The road to success is full of twists and turns but, when you find yourself enjoying the journey, you will know you have arrived.  You will be even more shocked when you realize who helped you get there. Now, pick up the phone and call that prospective mentor!

How to Fix Your Credit

In a timeless skit from NBC’s Saturday Night Live, here’s an infomercial regarding a new book for those who seem to be struggling with debt:

I’m thinking about creating a similarly titled e-book. What do you think?

Stimulus Shim-ulous…It's the System, Stupid!

Today’s Wall Street Journal article Credit-Score Pitfalls of the Wealthy , in my opinion, seems to shed some light on the problem of our current state of the economy, though it likely wasn’t the intention of the author. In short, wealthy people who believe that “cash is king” and don’t regularly use credit don’t get the best deals…and therein lies the problem. To that I ask, “What?”

My Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration centered my studies around Finance and Commercial Bank Management. I did pretty well in my “money classes” and worked in the financial industry first as a banker & trust officer, then as a licensed financial adviser for over 12 years. For those who don’t know anything about finance, you at least know that “with risk, comes reward”-at least, academically.

That’s what puzzles me. According to this report, college students, on average, may receive up to 4-6 unsolicited offers for credit cards…EACH WEEK. Students who don’t have any money (for the most part). In the presentations I deliver to high school students, we’ve been telling students that the most valuable asset you have your first five years out of high school is TIME. Reflecting on my own college experience, I’d say that is a true statement. It certainly wasn’t money! From the start, we’re programming the public that you MUST have and use credit.

Which leads me to the absurdness of the reality that moneyed people don’t always have good credit scores not because they don’t have cash, but because they don’t typically borrow anything. Stick with me here for a minute…You see, when a business applies for a loan, the inquiry is routed through a credit analysis process during which the company’s cash flow is scrutinized against it’s own past performance, industry peers, and overall risk on a case-by-case basis. A business with the luxury of being cash rich will have a high coverage ratio – the number of times “free” or available cash could cover the debt payments. If there’s a high coverage ratio, presuming that multiple is not a function of some one-time windfall of good fortune, there’s no reason to deny the loan or ask for overly aggressive terms. When a person applies for one, we look at an overall profile of what people have typically done overall…not so much that individual person, regardless of their means to repay the borrowed money based on some kind of “profile”… Um, the last time we separated common sense from the loan underwriting process we wound up with a country full of bad mortgages…Gasp! Is THAT what we’re trying to “fix” with this band-aid of a Stimulus Package?

According to the WSJ article cited above, however, and the information I’ve gleaned from some of the sources mentioned in that article – the same does not appear to be true for individuals. For that, we’ve dumbed it down into a “credit score” that is some seemingly arbitrary, digestible number that “allows” for consumer loan underwriters to count on a third-party calculation of the likelihood that a person should be able to repay any debts they may take on (cars, boats, mortgages, etc.). [By arbitrary, I mean: Does anyone REALLY know what that “equation” looks like?]

As President Obama often begins an explanation, “Look…” If people WITH money suddenly decide to access credit (for whatever – likely economic- reason), they SHOULD get the best rates. Instead, we’re busy shucking out credit cards, 72 and 86 month car loans (seriously?), and arbitrarily cutting available credit via credit card limits to small business owners for unexplained reasons because we’ve become a nation of debt-hungry consumers.

And now, we’re injecting ANOTHER $700+ Billion into “the system” to avoid catastrophic failure…um, respectfully, the system has already failed us in the name of progress.

For those who find themselves seeking a return to personal financial success in these challenging times, I suggest the following:

  1. Put yourselves on a CASH BUDGET. If you don’t have it, don’t spend it. Sure, it may cramp your style a bit.
  2. When money comes in, STICK SOME IN A SAVINGS ACCOUNT. Yes, I know that the rates aren’t great, but wait until you start bouncing checks and receiving those aggregious fees on even the smallest of overdrafts.
  3. BE HONEST WITH YOUR LENDERS. If you are in a pinch and can’t make the payments, give them a call before they call you and let them know what’s going on. Often times, if you will simply schedule payments to automatically come out of your account (at a level YOU are comfortable with, NOT one set by the creditors), you can often cut down or even eliminate those calls that do nothing but remind you of the financial pickle you’re in.
  4. FOCUS ON THE TASK AT HAND. Sure, they will talk about how you’re going to “hurt your credit score” by closing this account or that one, or making less than the minimum payment….However, when you ask them if they’d like SOME payment or NO payment from you, it’s funny how their tone changes.
  5. RE-EVALUATE your needs vs. wants. Yes, television is an inexpensive entertainment option, but did you know you can actually get channels over-the-air FOR FREE? Hey, with the switch to digital television broadcasts, those new shows and channels will look EVEN BETTER than via cable or satellite when you watch them on the HD-TV you financed at 27% on your credit card. Turn off the cable….

Take this opportunity to re-value what’s important to you and your family’s financial future. Take charge of it. Pick up some books from Dave Ramsey! It’s going to be alright.

Re-wiring the Communication Gap

I don’t know anything about the company whose logo appears on this video, so this is NOT an endorsement. As a speaking professional (and a man), however, this presentation is pretty well delivered. OH, and I think you’ll get a kick out of his message.

Question you can answer in the comment section:

Please share a story about a time when a simple communication issue kept you from achieving a desired result.

When $700 Billion Isn't Enough

One visit to my website, and you know how I feel. Today was simply VALIDATION when I found these two articles at the Wall Street Journal’s website:

The latter of these two articles backs up the message I’m on a mission to remind bankers: “Your customers don’t need you anymore!”

No one needs to be reminded the crisis our country is in today. (Been “off the grid” all year? Read these posts from Oct 14th & Aug 19th.) While there is plenty of blame to spread around, our nation’s financial system neared collapse earlier this year prior to the U.S. Government’s stepping in to provide a $700 billion “bailout” package. The harsh reality is that it is going to get worse before it gets better. Please fasten your seatbelts and place your tray tables in the upright position!

The U.S. unemployment rate for October, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was reported at 6.5%, up from 6.1% in September. Mortgage foreclosures are happening at rates not seen in this country since the real estate implosion of the late 1980’s. Despite the fact that the United States has a new President headed to the White House and a power shift in Congress, those new elected officials won’t be in office until late January 2009.

In all fairness, it’s not really the smaller, community banks who are to blame for this financial debacle in the mortgage and banking sectors. In fact, many of those banks represent the viable option for consumers who seek someplace safe to keep their money. Should the trends reported by the Wall Street Journal articles above filter down to these community banks, however, I don’t know why ANYONE would want to continue doing business with ANY bank!

The regulatory environment that governs many of the overall policies to which commercial banks are subject has done much to “protect” our banking system and consumers. While I’m not a fan of over-zealous, government regulation, I simply believe there are many predatory practices banks engage in every day that add BILLIONS to their bottom lines to which the regulators simply look the other way. We’ll get into some of those in some upcoming posts, so keep coming back! You won’t BELIEVE what they can do to you!

Consumers: You deserve ANSWERS, TRANSPARENCY, and COMMON SENSE from the financial institutions whose services you employ. Keep coming back to this blog, and you will learn valuable tips your financial institutions don’t want you to know about.

Bankers: You’d better get your act together, because the public is weary of your ways, and frankly, have alternative ways of obtaining the services for which you used to have a lock on delivery. Do the right thing. Get ahead of the wave and do what’s right. You just might be rewarded with more customers than you’d ever imagined. (Shameless plug: This Consultant Can Help)

Three Card Monte

We’ve all seen the game, Three Card Monte. On a side note, I actually saw some vice cops take down a game that had attracted quite a gathering around it on the Las Vegas Strip. I guess you have to have an actual gaming license in the State of Nevada to actually rip people off….but that’s not my point today.

On the television screen at the gym a few days ago, I watched the mainstream media following the latest on the U.S. financial markets and how they were reacting to the passage of the $700 Billion bailout bill. I was listening to some of my favorite guitar players on my iPod at the time, but just watching the pictures on the screen had me asking, “How in the world get we get into this mess?” Then, immediately, the answer came to me as if in a song, “Greed.” What else?

As a “recovering financial advisor” I have to say all of this madness isn’t all that shocking to me. Don’t get me wrong, as a self-employed person who can’t just take a copy of a paystub down to the local mortgage shop and get a home loan (they still do those, right?) I know it’s going to be a while before I will be able to buy another house….Frankly, that’s okay with me.

It IS the alleged American Dream to own the house you live in…but is all the stuff we see in the mainstream media just financial pornography for the masses?

Somewhere along the way, Americans seem to have shifted from a curious public to public unsaddled with the burden of responsibility, wise judgement, and just knowing what the heck we were getting ourselves into. “It’s okay,” say many. “Someone will come along and bail us out if we really screw this up. Besides, what are the odds this is really going to happen anyway?” [If that last comment intrigues you, here is some recommended reading: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable]

I love this country. I’m also a fan of capitalism – even though it has it’s dark side. Because of the fundamentals (yes, they ALWAYS matter) on which the United States of America was built, we DO have a nearly unlimited ceiling of opportunity for anyone willing to work hard. The problem of it all, though, is when it becomes so difficult to know who you can honestly trust, and who you can’t.

There are a number of financial advisors in this world who truly DO CARE about their clients. I’ve had the priviledge of working around some of them during my tenure in the business. Unfortunately, when you start moving up the food chain toward the top of so many of Wall Street’s operations, there appears to be a real disconnect between what is “right” and what is “right now”. Big finance is driven by deals (a la capitalism), but it’s also driven by greed. When those two are shuffled, dealt, and flipped over on a piece of cardboard on the side of the road by a huckster, all that remains is a house of cards.

There is more than one way to work through this financial crisis we’re all paying for today, and how we got here is another story (read “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game“). I’m personally nervous that Congress has put into play a $700 Billion “bailout” plan for our economy.

Did something have to be done? Yes. Might there be a better way? Yes. Is it time for the United States to have it’s leveraged head handed to it for pushing too close to the financial edge of the world? Maybe.

Let’s just make sure we’re not playing a high stakes game of Three Card Monte.

The Ultimate Video Resume

If you haven’t heard, Journey is back with a brand new lead singer. Sure, you die hard fans (Hi, Terry and Shanna!) find this news to be “old”….but for people thinking they could be at the bottom, here’s a great story of what happened to a kid living on the streets in the Philippines was able to achieve.

Congratulations, Arnel, on living your dream!