Act Intentionally 

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Sequence 43

32-Act Intentionally

I started acting with purpose toward change after a jury found me guilty. As I rested on the concrete slab of my cell, I stared at the ceiling and the walls and thought about the life I’d been living before prison, and how poor decisions led me into my predicament. I had to block out the noise and think about what I could do to change.

  • Asking that question was an action step.
    • The question led me to look for an answer.
  • I read about Socrates.
    • Reading was an action step. 
  • By reading about a leader, I could start to think in different ways.
    • I thought about avatars, another action step.

By thinking about avatars, I could see the following action steps to take:

  • Avatars would want me to educate myself.
  • Avatars would like me to contribute to society.
  • Avatars would want me to build a support network.

By thinking about avatars, I devised a strategy to guide my journey. It led to my values: Education, contribution, and support. I set clear goals. I said I would achieve those goals during my first ten years.

  • I would earn a university degree.
  • I would find a way to publish
  • I would persuade 10 people to help me succeed.

To achieve my goals, I would need to take small action steps. First, I had to find a school that would allow me to earn a degree. I neither had the money for tuition nor an exemplary academic record that would qualify me for a scholarship. Still, I had to start somewhere. 

As I wrote in a previous lesson, I took the following action steps:

  • I found a dictionary.
  • The book included the names of universities, and I wrote out the names.
  • The book also gave the cities and zip codes for the schools.
  • I wrote an unsolicited letter to each school.


We need patience, persistence, and perseverance. Since my struggles were in prison, I had to figure out ways to transcend the walls that separated me from the community. I wrote more than 100 letters, exercising patience. I might have to wait months for a response. Sending a letter would be one step, but sending 100 letters would be 100 steps. I might not have found the right person if I had only sent one letter. By sending more than 100 letters, I had a better chance. I had to keep acting intentionally, with purpose. 

We all must be persistent with the action steps we take to prepare for success.

Small action steps each day would lead to my goal. I could not control whether a school would respond. 

But I could control how many letters I wrote to different schools. 

By hand, I wrote letter after letter. I bought stamps, and I wrote to as many schools as I could find. I wrote about four letters per hour. In eight hours, I wrote about 30 letters. In two days, I sent 60 letters. Then, I could wait, or I could write more. 

Those small action steps brought me closer to my goal. Ohio University accepted me. Once I started school, I felt a change. At that moment, I felt as if I were transitioning from prisoner to a student on my way to earning a university degree.

I wanted more than a credential. A degree was a piece of paper. More than the degree, I wanted to learn. By learning, I could persuade avatars to invest in me. They would see me as something more than my bad choices when I was 20. Acting with purpose would influence avatars I would meet in the future. 

Action Plans Lead to Success:

Marshal Goldsmith taught the leaders that hired him how to keep growing. We must keep growing, too. If we act with intentional purpose today, we will advance our preparations to succeed. Our growth will put us in a position for new action steps. We cannot reach higher levels of growth tomorrow unless we take our first action steps today.

I am always looking back. When I reflect, I can see the pivotal points in my journey. I finished my prison term in August 2013. When I transferred to a halfway house in San Francisco, I started to grow my business with incremental action steps. 

When did I begin sowing seeds that would lead investors to partner with me?

How did I start? 

I started with small, incremental steps, such as reading a book in a jail cell. The book led me to think differently and helped me to develop a mindset of success. I started to think about avatars. I took small steps that would show I wanted to earn their trust. I wrote to schools, which led to my studies and earning degrees. I wrote articles, chapters, and books, opening more opportunities to grow my support network. 

My commitment to preparing for success after prison gave me a reason to avoid problems with staff or other people serving sentences alongside me.

Each step led me closer. Now, when I face tough times, I look back. I see how small action steps got me through tough times before; there will always be struggles. The tough times are part of the journey. By focusing on success, I know I can take another action step. As in the past, the action steps I take today will lead to new growth. Countless action steps allowed me to pivot from struggle to prosperity:

  • I earned a bachelor’s degree in my fourth year of imprisonment.
  • I published my first article in my sixth year.
  • I earned a master’s degree in my seventh year of the term.
  • I published my first book in my 10th year.
  • By publishing, I built a massive support network.
  • The support network led to marrying the love of my life in prison.
  • Marriage allowed me to publish more, and the writing brought income.
  • Income from my writing supported my wife, who went to nursing school.
  • With my wife’s degrees in nursing, I could learn about health care.
  • My track record led to job offers and income opportunities before I got out.
  • I became a professor at a university within three weeks of finishing my sentence.
  • As a professor, I could more effectively work toward prison and sentence reform.
  • I worked with law schools to build more influence with judges, prosecutors, and prison officials.
  • I leveraged those relationships to begin bringing products I created into jails and prisons across America.
  • I persuaded investors to partner with me.
  • Those relationships led to my building many different businesses.


What incremental action steps can you start taking today?

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