The below lesson is an excerpt from my upcoming book, When Not If: A CEO's Guide to Overcoming Adversity, Forbes Book, January 2024.
In prison I fought to improve my chances of survival in all the ways I could control. But I didn’t have control over what I wore. I didn’t have control over where I slept or what or when I ate. Every door and gate were locked to me. Prison life limits everything. I had to find a way within these confines.
So, I made a commitment to every day get a little stronger in the three dimensions I could control: physically, intellectually, and emotionally. In my former life as the CEO of a wealth management firm, I encouraged clients and employees to embrace the power of compound interest and continuous improvement. And now I put those tools to work to save my life. So, in the three areas—physical, intellectual, and emotional—I decided to apply continuous improvement at the rate of 1 percent per day.
I knew physical strength and fitness would be required for my survival, but it’s a misnomer that physical strength, by itself, will protect inmates from violence from fellow prisoners. Surviving prison, I soon learned, was 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. I was focused on improving my physical strength less for deterring violence against me from the outside and more to protect myself from the raging war inside my mind.
I knew that daily workouts would provide the needed serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins necessary for positive forward progress and daily resilience to fight the good fight. I hit the FCI Fort Dix weight room religiously. After the first couple of months, since I didn’t quite fit in, the gang members stopped asking if I was a “chomo” (child molester), the derogatory designation for sexual offenders. Chomos were not allowed in the weight room and took their lives into their own hands if they attempted to violate these rules.
I ran the track every other evening, sometimes in prison work boots through the New Jersey snow, where I would find an hour of peace and tranquility, enabling me to visualize a positive future. Just as Tony Robbins had taught me, I practiced smelling the beach, tasting the quality food, and feeling the touch of a beautiful woman holding my hand.
Embarrassingly, I spent $3 per month earned at my prison 16-cents-per-hour job on a big bottle of cheap lotion. Each morning and evening my cellie made fun of me as I lathered up a thick covering of chemicals. I responded, “The haters are really going to be pissed when I come home looking younger than when I went in. It will be like it all never happened!”
The extreme physical workouts allowed me to manifest victory, at least survival, and gave me the absolute strength to get up the next morning and do it all again. Sometimes you don’t have to win, you just have to outlast them.
For overcoming adversity, I understood the strategy of religiously committing to physical strength and fitness every single day. It was not an option, but mandatory. Whether part of our life already, or a foreign practice, once the black swan shows up on a random Tuesday, we must dive into health and strength immediately in order to survive.
Have a great week! Be strong!