The below lesson is an excerpt from my upcoming book, When Not If: A CEO's Guide to Overcoming Adversity, Forbes Book, January 2024.
Lesson: When at the lowest point in your life, stop and write down a list of all the incredible people you’ve known and loved, the beautiful places you’ve been fortunate to visit, and the cool material possessions you have earned through your hard work.
In my prison cell at night, when the volume of shouting and the clanging of gates diminished to a low roar, I reviewed the lists I had made. I smiled ruefully at the long register of the amazing people I’ve known, loved, and helped, along with incredible people who had helped me throughout my life. I was ashamed that I had let so many of them down.
As hard as it was to face my predicament, I was astonished at how focused and clear my mind could be. The most detailed recollections flowed from memory. I listed my Air Force buddies who had stayed remarkably close to me through my ordeal. I listed the mentors who were so generous to me in the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). From them I learned that success is not about how much you can take, but how much you give.
I finally listed all the wonderful people who I had the honor to know and realized it was a miracle they showed me so much grace and love. I was determined to prove myself worthy of their support.
I wrote down memories of the fantastic places I had been fortunate enough to visit. Although I was at best a mediocre tourist, sadly indifferent to the sights and culture of foreign lands, the locals I met always fascinated me. My new friends in Vienna who
stayed up all night with me at the blackjack table and then took us on the train to Budapest to see the buildings still pockmarked with World War II bullet holes.
I chuckled to myself as I recorded my days on safari at Kruger National Park in Africa. My party was shocked that rather than observing the lions and giraffes in the bush, I preferred to stay at the lodge all day with my new South African trail guides drinking Glenlivet and listening to their life stories.
I recorded the unique items I had been able to acquire and at one time seemed so important to me. I reminisced about my first car, a beloved 1975 Firebird I purchased for $500 earned by shoveling snow in my neighborhood. I thought of the beach house that held many incredible family memories. The summer retreats with so many children, friends, and nourishing relationships felt like a distant other life.
This cathartic exercise seemed to peel back a thick layer of dread and pain and allowed me to realize once more how incredible my life had been. I quickly understood that, even if I never made it out of prison, I had already lived a life far beyond the bargain we make with heaven before coming down for the next challenge. I could breathe easier. I was almost able to look at my predicament from a third-party, objective view outside myself, and this helped me begin to strategize.
I became so motivated that I instantly started on a new list of all the things I would accomplish and experience once I won this battle and got out of prison. A new bucket list!
Stop and appreciate how amazing your life has already been.
Have a great week!