Blog Article 

 How to Prepare for Success (Draft) 

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Michael Santos

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Course: Self-Directed, Self-Help with Journaling 101

URL to Video:

Title: Immigrant Success Story—Merchant Trading and Real Estate


  • We can learn a great deal from Igor, a man reinvented himself and his career on multiple occasions. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Igor adjusted, training himself to become a global businessman. Despite not having any experience with business, Igor built a merchant-trading business that generated tens of millions of dollars in revenues and transformed his family’s life. Then, he immigrated to the United States, learned our language, and built a real estate empire that created jobs, generated tax revenues, and created communities for hundreds of families.


  • Participants will develop an understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Participants will see the relationship between personal development and success.
  • People will be able to describe the mindset Igor found necessary for resilience.
  • Participants will see an example of math and communication skills in action.

Lesson Requirements:

  • Watch the video that accompanies the lesson
  • Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and italics
  • Choose ten of the vocabulary words highlighted in bold and italics, then use those words in a sentence.
  • Respond to a minimum of three open-ended questions by following instructions at the end of the lesson.

Lesson Outcome:

  • Participants will increase their vocabulary by at least ten words.
  • Participants will improve writing skills and their ability to contemplate how their responses to open-ended questions relate to their prospects for success upon release.
  • Participants will add to their journal, demonstrating a self-directed, self-improvement pathway to prepare for success upon release.
  • Participants will see a practical application of the Straight-A Guide.

Our team at Prison Professors sincerely thanks Igor for his commitment of time and energy. By volunteering his time, we’ll teach more people how to prepare for law-abiding, contributing lives, in a self-directed way.

With many responsibilities competing for Igor’s attention, we’re grateful that he agreed to assist in the development of our community-service project. We told him about the challenges that people in jail and prison face when they strive to acclimate to society after a challenge with the criminal justice system. He devoted scores of hours to create resources we can use to teach. His story helps us to show that by developing skills and exercising the principles of a good work ethic, a person can achieve far more than anyone would expect. He is an American success story, showing how a man can change the trajectory of life for himself and for the people in his community.

We consider Igor a role model and his story a beacon of hope, one that can help people who want to overcome challenges in their own life.


Igor grew up in Uzbekistan. Until 1991, Uzbekistan existed as a part of the former Soviet Union. The world changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union’s economic and political structure. In an instant, the Cold War ended and people that lived in the former Soviet Bloc countries had to adjust. Prior to the government’s implosion, people lived under a communist regime. With communism, the government owned all property and businesses; it employed all citizens, in accordance with the needs of the country. In theory, the government distributed goods and services to its populace.

A communist government differs from a constitutional republic. In the United States, for example, the democratic process requires our citizens to rely upon elections to choose leaders. In theory, those leaders will pass laws that align with the values and goals of their constituents. If citizens don’t like the laws in a federal republic, they can work to change the laws by electing new leaders. Citizens in a democracy like the United States have the liberty to choose their vocations, and their decisions determine how far they advance in life. Such opportunities did not exist for people that lived inside the Republics of Russia.

A communist government places its value on the “collective,” meaning every person must serve the state. We can juxtapose the political-economic theory of communism with capitalism, which places more value on the individual—meaning every person will sink or swim based upon the decision a person makes.

Like every other person in Uzbekistan, communist regime conditioned Igor’s thinking. When that regime collapsed, he had to adjust in a changing world. In a relatively short period of time, stores ran out of supplies. People could not buy basic goods or services, because the government ceased to function as it had functioned before. Political turmoil and disruption broke the supply chains.

Igor understood that complaining about the changed situation would not help him. He had the intellectual bandwidth to adjust, understanding that he must live in the world as it existed, regardless of external forces. Since the world had changed for everyone in his orbit, he had to adjust in ways that would make a positive contribution.

He didn’t have much in the way of financial resources. When the Soviet government collapsed, Igor was about 30 years old. Through his previous employment and frugality, he had approximately $10,000 to rebuild his life.

Igor faced a dilemma. Without a capital base, and with uncertainty in the job market, an opportunity cost would accompany every decision. He could choose a cautious approach and conserve his resources, saving his money until he had more clarity in what would transpire with the changed political situation. In the alternative, Igor could take the more courageous route, working creatively to create an income stream.

Creating an income stream would bring more risk. In the past, a communist government outlawed economic trade for personal financial gain. Such activities could result in a trip to the gulag. With the changing times, Igor chose to become an entrepreneur, pursuing a self-directed path to provide for his family. He would learn both the arts and sciences of business in incremental stages. We can consider business as an “art,” because it requires critical thinking; we can consider business a science, because success simultaneously requires the application of objective disciplines of mathematics, law, and language.

To get started, Igor assessed the needs of the marketplace. People needed everything. Supplies had become sparse. Igor gave considerable thought to what option would give him the highest prospects for success.

Since all women needed shoes, he perceived a big potential market. Igor began laying plans, making a commitment to turn his dream of becoming a shoe merchant into reality.


When any of us are living in challenging times, we’ve got to take lessons from people that overcame struggles in their life. Igor gives us a great example. The world that he had known for his entire life had come to an abrupt halt. He had to reinvent himself, learning a new language and a new livelihood. Rather than breaking down and crying or complaining about what wasn’t fair, he took action to change his life. He had the courage to invest in himself; as a result, he carved out a magnificent future for his family.

While I climbed through 26 years in prison, stories like Igor’s inspired me. They still inspire me.

The living situation of any jail or prison may be as close as we get to communism in the United States. Jails and prisons are total bureaucracies. Administrators govern jails and prisons by policies and procedures. Every person, in theory, is given in accordance with the person’s needs. Regardless of how hard a person works, the sentence a judge imposed will influence liberty. A person will have to perform jobs that the institution assigns, and rules will forbid a person from acquiring personal property. Although a black-market economy exists, disciplinary procedures will punish a person that attempts to engage in trade or business in jail or prison.

Although I lived in jails and prisons for multiple decades, I learned by paying close attention to people like Igor. If I had watched his interview, I would have taken notes, finding inspiration in the story of personal development, courage, and community service. His response to the problems he faced would have restored my courage and fortified a personal belief that even during difficult times, a person must prepare to succeed.

Critical Thinking Questions:

  • In what ways does communism differ from capitalism?
  • How would learning more about economics influence your prospects for success?
  • Describe how an understanding of political theory would open opportunities for you?

Becoming a Merchant:

In the video that accompanies this lesson, we hear how Igor got started. After deciding to pursue a career as a merchant, Igor made a 100% commitment. He deployed his time, energy, and resources to do everything necessary to learn. Putting priorities in place, he realized that first he would need to create a relationship with a supplier. Undaunted by the task of travel, he coordinated the necessary arrangements to visit New York City. Despite not speaking English, and not knowing anyone in Manhattan, he purchased a ticket to a city that served as the nexus of all trade.

Since he didn’t speak English, Igor explained how he hired a translator for $50 per day. Then, he began cold calling on businesses with hopes of opening a relationship. Igor didn’t use the telephone to make those calls. Instead, he led his translator through the congested streets of Manhattan.

He learned that many wholesalers and suppliers based their business operations in the Empire State Building. While walking through the hallways, he looked through transparent windows. If he saw a person engaging in textile-related industries, he went inside and opened a conversation. Through that work, Igor opened a relationship with a supplier.

In the end, Igor relied upon his skills of persuasion to secure a contract. The contract would bind the supplier to fill two shipping containers with 14,000 pairs of shoes, if Igor could meet the financial conditions.

With his contract in hand, Igor returned to Uzbekistan. He met with one of the newly formed commercial banks. Igor presented the contract to show that he had entered a contract with a reputable supplier. The bank agreed that it could provide the capital necessary to fulfill Igor’s financial obligation if Igor could demonstrate that he had a distribution system to sell 14,000 pairs of shoes.

At the start of his venture, Igor did not have a business plan in place. He would not have known how to create a business plan, because he did not have any experience with capitalism. On the other hand, Igor had self-confidence and courage in abundance. He understood that he had a duty and a responsibility to care for his wife, his children, his entire family. He knew that with work, he could improve life for people in his community.

With fierce determination, he began visiting stores in Uzbekistan. Despite not knowing people, he began opening relationships by knocking on doors and introducing himself. He lived by the principle that 90 percent of success is just showing up. Through those personal efforts, he opened relationships. One of the largest stores agreed to purchase the 14,000 pairs of shoes from Igor if he could deliver them. Igor signed a contract with a person that had the authority to bind the store. With that contract, Igor then returned to the bank. He showed the banker the contract he had with the supplier. Satisfying both ends of the transaction, with an agreement from a supplier and a buyer, Igor secured the financing he needed to begin his business,

The supplier delivered the 14,000 pairs of shoes to Uzbekistan. The lender paid the vendor in accordance with the terms of the contract. Igor had to overcome a few challenges, as is the nature of business. In the end, the supplier agreed to accept the shoes. Within three weeks, the supplier had sold all 14,000 pairs. The supplier paid Igor in accordance with the terms of the contract. That transaction netted Igor more than $100,000.

From start to finish, Igor’s business transaction lasted less than six months.

The supplier urged Igor to repeat. He then expanded his business, providing more than 100,000 pairs of shoes each month to the supplier.


Igor personifies the meaning of perseverance. When we listen and learn from him during the video, we get a clear sense of each person’s responsibility to live in the world as it exists. Rather than complain about changing situations or predicaments, we must adjust and create. Any person in Uzbekistan could have taken the same pathway as Igor. Like his compatriots, he didn’t have any money and he didn’t have any experience. Those limitations did not stop him from action.

As we show through other areas of our course, Igor defined success. He set incremental goals. And he moved forward in accordance with the lessons we offer in our Straight-A Guide:

  1. Attitude: He made a 100% commitment, as evidenced by his trip to New York. He hired a translator and started cold calling on vendors.
  2. Aspiration: He aspired to become something more than a person living on the brink of poverty, and instead created a new career.
  3. Action: Every day, he took another step toward becoming successful.
  4. Accountability: He held himself accountable, measuring the progress he made every day.
  5. Awareness: He kept his head in the game, creating relationships with both vendors and buyers.
  6. Authenticity: Rather than being a person filled with happy talk about wanting to become successful, he created tools, tactics, and resources to help him succeed.
  7. Achievement: He celebrated the incremental success along the way, like getting a ticket to New York, hiring a translator, opening a conversation with a vendor, securing financing, and finding a buyer.
  8. Appreciation: He served his community, doing his part to live as a servant leader.

In Igor’s story, we see the embodiment of being self-directed. We learn that complaining about the predicament we’re in rarely leads to a better life. Yet if we live in accordance with the principles that guided Igor’s mindset, we can reach our highest potential.

Igor refused to ignore the complexities of life. He lived in an anti-Semitic country, where others might persecute members of his family because of their faith and ethnicity. Knowing the perils for his family, he emigrated to the United States, where he launched an entirely new career in real estate development.

Critical Thinking Questions:

  • To what do you attribute Igor’s success as a merchant?
  • What pivotal steps do you perceive in Igor’s story?
  • In what ways would you say Igor’s mindset influenced his career?

Real Estate Development:

When others began to saturate the market for import-export transactions, Igor did not complain. His story shows how he repeated the same cycle. He began looking for opportunities. First, he defined success, declaring that he would create jobs and build his family’s next fortune in real estate. Understanding the limited opportunities in Manhattan, Igor identified a market that would open a better chance to succeed. He chose to begin his search for properties in the borough of Staten Island.

As he did in developing his trading business, Igor invested time and energy to learn everything he could about the market. He began his search for the right property. He opened relationships with people, learning that he would need a team to help him realize his dreams. Igor aligned himself with a real estate agent, an architect, a civil engineer, and a lawyer that specialized in real estate transactions. Through those relationships, he learned that he should become a general contractor. As a general contractor, he would be able to hire subcontractors that specialized in various trades, including excavation, concrete foundations, framing, electrical, and plumbing.

Igor persuaded his family members and friends to join his vision. He acquired lots with appropriate zoning to build two single-family residences. He offered jobs to his family members, saying that they would work alongside the subcontractors to assist with building the houses. Together, they would learn everything. If the project succeeded, they would build a business in acquiring larger properties and building houses that they would sell to others.

Knowing the importance of leadership, Igor did not ask anyone to do anything that he would not do. When it came time to excavate the property, he picked up a shovel to dig the trenches alongside the subcontractor. When they poured concrete, Igor mixed the cement and worked to finish the foundation. As the framers began to put the lumber in place, Igor picked up a hammer and pounded the nails. He loved his project, and he learned alongside the experts.

Within a few months, two brand-new houses stood on the vacant land that Igor had purchased. He sold the property, earning a profit of more than $35,000 on each house.

That incremental success led Igor to launch the next venture. He purchased a property that would allow him to build 12 houses. With soaring property values, he earned more than $60,000 on each house he built. Then he continued to acquire raw land and build. Over time, Igor developed entire communities, providing housing, schools, and daycare centers for several hundred people.

Igor began as an immigrant from a communist country. He did not have training in business, or even examples of business. Through his ingenuity, Igor became a master entrepreneur and an incredible American success story. By coordinating businesses that generated tens of millions in transactions, he generated a taxable income that provided resources for police departments, fire departments, schools, hospitals, and funded the entire infrastructure of Staten Island.

For these reasons, we can learn a great deal from his story.

Critical Thinking Questions:

To develop your writing skills and critical-thinking skills, write at least three paragraphs, with a minimum of three sentences each, for any three of the following questions:

  1. How did Igor’s commitment to leading a values-based, goal-oriented lifedrive his success?
  2. Why are successful people likely to exhibit many of Igor’s personality traits, such as perseverance, positivity, and open-mindedness?
  3. What types of pressure from competition have you faced, and how do your pressures compare to Igor’s?
  4. Igor persevered despite changes that could have undermined his mental health. How can you apply this life lesson to your own circumstances?
  5. In what ways does working smarter rather than working harder apply to Igor’s story?
  6. How can you use your time in prison to overcome obstacles that the future will bring?
  7. How would mastery of academic disciplines such as math and language help you after prison?
  8. In what ways did Igor’s story show his commitment to building communities?
  9. How can you identify opportunities for success in different areas of your life?
  10. How can you apply the principles we learn from Igor to assist people in your community?

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