- Michael (“Mike”) a successful business consultant and investment banker, attributes his success to having a strong work ethic, excellent communication abilities, and solid critical-thinking skills. We strive to emphasize the value of developing such skills through our coursework. Through hard work, he graduated at the top of his class, leading him to attend high-ranking universities and attain a rewarding and meaningful career.
- In Mike’s story, participants in jail and prison will learn the value of developing communication skills and critical-thinking skills. Upon completing this lesson plan, participants should be able to identify possibilities to pursue self-directed learning projects that advance their prospects for success in prison and beyond.
- Watch the video that accompanies the lesson
- Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and italics
- Use ten of the vocabulary words in a sentence
- Respond to a minimum of three open-ended questions by following instructions at the end of the lesson.
- 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.
Our team at Prison Professors sincerely thanks Mike for sharing several lessons on leading a fulfilling, successful life. He distinguished himself from an early age as an athlete and student, eventually attending top-tier schools all while playing sports. He has managed several multimillion-dollar businesses in his role as an investment banker and professional in healthcare operations. In this lesson, participants will learn what Mike considers to be the fundamentals of personal achievement, including having a positive attitude, defining success, and creating a strategy to accomplish goals. His life reflects all ten principles we outline in our courses.
Mike attributes much of his success to lessons he learned as a young man growing up in Ohio and Florida. In the Midwest, he recognized the importance of strong community values, such as altruism and compassion for others, which are common characteristics for good people in any region.
In Florida, Mike’s parents exhibited these same principles by volunteering at the Space Coast Marine Institute, an organization for at-risk youth. There, they offered opportunities to many young people who were at risk of winding up in prison or worse. His parents felt a sense of personal enrichment through their volunteer work. Nearly every year, graduates of the program tell Mike’s parents about their successful and meaningful lives as adults. These graduates remind Mike’s parents of their role in improving society through their service. Mike still feels gratitude whenever he can similarly help others, even in just a minor way, based on this lesson from his parents.
He also developed traits like diligence and perseverance as a young man, both in his academic and athletic pursuits. In our course, The Straight-A Guide, the first principle we teach is that “to succeed, people must start by defining success.”
Mike knew that he wanted to attend an elite institution and play sports in college. By setting these goals, he visualized the success he wanted in his life. He made incremental progress toward both goals by working hard every day to achieve results, both as a student and as a high school football player. By holding himself accountable, he built a record that evidenced his 100 percent commitment to work toward his desired outcome. Mike graduated at the top of his class in high school. He accredits this accomplishment not to being the most intelligent student, but his willingness to work more vigorously than everyone else.
Mike eventually went to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the world’s premier business schools. Wharton is a highly exclusive institution; it accepted only five percent of applicants when Mike attended.
More so than in high school, Wharton surrounded Mike with other equally ambitious and competitive students. To distinguish himself, Mike found ways to work smarter rather than harder than the other students. He developed solid time-management skills to balance his studies with his 20 hours of weekly sports practice. He became more selective in his choice of study partners and employed more effective study habits, such as focusing on one task at a time and avoiding distractions. Throughout his academic and athletic career, Mike demonstrated authenticity by crafting action plans as he pursued his goals.
Wharton also taught Mike important lessons in humility. He realized that while he was intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious, several other students demonstrated identical qualities. Once he graduated from college, he received three job offers but 24 rejection letters. He hung those 24 letters on his wall to remind him of the inevitability of rejection. However, he did not harbor angst due to the situation. Rather, Mike has been determined to “look at the people who said ‘no’ and prove them wrong” by succeeding in other areas of his life.
While in prison, I would have been inspired by Mike’s story because his personality traitsare inherent in people who lead rewarding lives. As a young man, he defined success and set clear goals to advance in life. His hard work in high school undoubtedly led him to get into an Ivy League School, and his time management skills enabled him to play sports and study simultaneously.
Mike benefited from a strong support system from his parents and other mentors, an advantage not enjoyed by all members of society. However, people from underprivileged backgrounds and those in prison can still develop a success-oriented mentality.
While serving 26 years in prison, I learned that any of us could set goals that would help us make incremental progress. To succeed in society after release from prison, a person should follow the same principles that we learn about in Mike’s story.
While incarcerated, I would have considered Mike’s story as an example that highlights the importance of resilience. Despite being an exceptionally talented and hardworking individual, Mike still faced considerable amounts of rejection and competition. He would have reminded me of the need to work smarter rather than just harder to achieve results. This would have pushed me to develop more effective use of my time and associate with other individuals who follow the principles in The Straight-A Guide and other courses we teach. These lessons help people in jail and prison develop critical-thinking skills.
In Mike’s story, we also learn the significance of helping others. Lifting other people up rewards us because through our efforts, we strengthen communities and foster a sense of purpose. Even in prison, we can create opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others. Many incarcerated individuals serve as tutors, mentors, and administrators behind prison walls. Everyone benefits when we create symbiotic improvements within the community.
- Which of the following principles from The Straight-A Guide do you recognize in Mike’s story?
- Defining success
- Setting goals
- Showing the right attitude
- Having an aspiration
- Taking action
- Holding ourselves accountable
- Staying aware
- Being authentic
- Celebrating achievements
- Showing appreciation
- How can you put these same principles into practice in your own life?
- How do you define your success? What are small tasks that you can accomplish every day to achieve that success?
- How can you keep a positive mindset even while dealing with rejection?
- How can you practice humility and gratitude in your life?
- How could you help someone else today, even in just a minimal way?
Fundamental Skills: Math, Communication, and Critical Thinking
Mike attributes many of his accomplishments to his mastery of three subject areas: math, communication, and critical thinking. Any participants should see the vitality of these concepts in Mike’s education and career.
After graduating from Wharton, Mike worked for two years in investment banking, specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Although he was only 22 years old at the time, he relied on strong communication skills to articulate business concepts to senior leaders of large companies. He later matriculated into the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where he earned his Master of Business Administration. He enhanced his math skills by taking more accounting classes to supplement his knowledge of finance. Later in his career, he used these same talents to operatebusinesses in the healthcare and dental industries that generated between $15-$20 million in annual revenue.
Mike has also relied on his critical thinking to improve operations on the ground at clinics and doctors’ offices. He carefully listens to his workers as these employees are more likely to understand the root causes of inefficiencies. By being receptive to other people’s ideas, Mike can collaborate and brainstorm ways to solve problems. Today, Mike still uses his critical thinking talents as a consultant responsible for boosting the revenues of large businesses, often negotiating deals of between $50 million and $100 million.
The development of strong math, communication, and critical thinking skills is important for any job role. Mike brings up a scenario involving a painter. If the painter understands the costs of different types of paint, this individual could combine their critical thinking and math skills to find ways to save his employer money or improve operations. Ostensibly, this painter would then use good communication skills to deliver this plan to their employer. By reducing waste or saving time and money for the organization, the painter proves their worth as an employee. The firm is more likely to give this employee a promotion or pay raise based on their merit.
Education means more than earning a diploma or degree. A GED is a steppingstone for anyone seeking to advance themselves. However, the GED recipient is doing themselves a disservice if they earn their degree without grasping the subject matter. Simply earning a credential will not make you successful if you fail to invest the time to learn the concepts taught in school and apply them to your everyday life.
When I served my 45-year sentence in prison, I became an autodidact. I read frequently and taught myself new concepts and skills to prepare myself for success upon release. Likewise, participants may create opportunities, with or without incentives, that will lead to expanding knowledge of math, communication, and critical thinking:
- The rudimentary concepts of math, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are necessary for managing everyday life.
- On the job, these skills are important for understanding the value of time worked and the exchange of goods and services.
- By mastering these basic concepts, participants can learn how to gauge the value of time and money upon release.
- We need to develop strong communication skills to convey a message as intended to a specific audience.
- The formerly incarcerated will likely use prison-related parlance, such as different types of slang and profanity. Upon release, they must desist from using this type of language, especially in professional settings.
- Participants must work to refine and build a strong vocabulary to facilitate prospects for success after prison. When looking for a job or housing, we want to present a polished image to help avoid stigma
- Critical thinking helps understand the opportunity costs that come with every decision. We must train our minds to solve ordinary to more complex problems in life. These problems can range from helping a team perform better on the job to resolving conflicts.
- Employees who use critical thinking to save their employers time and money. As such, more opportunities open when leaders see value in members of their team. These employees are therefore more likely to get pay raises and promotions.
- Critical thinking will often require you to collaborate with others, as many problems require input from multiple people. The most successful critical thinkers are those receptive to feedback and different ideas.
Anyone in prison can benefit from honingskills in the three core areas:
- How can mastering math, communication, and critical thinking skills benefit a person after release?
- What tools are available to help participants learn these concepts?
- What disadvantages will a person face if he or she fails to understand the three concepts listed here?
- How can mastering these three concepts make a person more attractive as a job applicant?
- Why must a person go beyond simply earning a degree? Why is it important to master the three subject areas thoroughly?
Attitude is Altitude
Mike’s strong values, particularly his positive mentality, have helped him overcome significant obstacles. Despite his achievements, he has experienced setbacks in business and has had to change his career several times. He learned that the path to success is subject to change, so he was flexible with his goals and remained aware of different opportunities.
In one instance, he spent roughly six months unemployed after a business venture failed. He relied on his network and eventually began managing healthcare operations. He used his transferable skills in math, communication, and critical thinking that he learned as an investment banker to become successful in this new role.
Humility has also consistently played a role in Mike’s achievements. As a leader in the workplace, Mike advised his colleagues to “let me learn, and you tell me how to help.” When he got involved in healthcare operations, he spent several months in operating rooms to gain first-hand knowledge of the procedures involved and identify opportunities for improvement.
Mike’s long stint of unemployment despite his impressive educational background may appear discouraging at first. However, our team at Prison Professors believes that his ordeal can serve as a lesson for those working through our various courses, including The Straight-A Guide. Rather than lament his circumstances, Mike took the initiative to reach out to associates to find gainful employment. People reentering society after time in jail or prison face significant obstacles in finding work. To overcome the challenges, the formerly incarcerated must practice the same 10 principles to stand out amongst the competition.
Mike also displays an amiable personality. Because he avoids burning bridges, Mike has returned to work for firms after more than a decade due to his commitment to making other people’s lives easier. He mentions the importance of going beyond other people’s expectations by delivering more than what was asked for and arriving early rather than simply on time. Mike’s work ethic and friendly demeanor make him invaluable to his employers and clients.
We all can learn from Mike. We need to go the extra mile on the job and in other areas of our life. When we do more than what others require, we advance prospects for success. We can strive to be friendly and considerate of others. These principles we teach in our various courses will help people return to society successfully, as law-abiding citizens.
Critical Thinking Questions:
• Write at least three paragraphs, with a minimum of three sentences each, for each of the following questions
1. How did Mike’s commitment to leading a values-based, goal-oriented lifedrive his success in life?
2. Why are successful people likely to exhibit many of Mike’s personality traits, such as perseverance, positivity, and open-mindedness?
3. What types of pressure from competition have you faced, and how do they compare to Mike’s?
4. Mike persevered despite rejection from several jobs. How can you apply this life lesson to your own circumstances?
5. What does working smarter rather than working harder apply in Mike’s story? How can you relate to this concept?
6. Mike realized that the path to success is subject to change. How can adapting to change help prevent your time in prison from being an obstacle in your future?
7. Education goes beyond earning a degree. How will mastery of concepts like critical thinking, math, and communication help you after prison?
8. Humility is frequently brought up as an important value in this lesson. How does this concept apply in your life?
9. Mike was successful at identifying new opportunities for growth and accomplishment. How can you identify opportunities for success in different areas of your life?
10. Altruism, the act of selflessly giving to others, is also mentioned as an important value. How can you help others while incarcerated and upon your release?