24-Aspiring for More
A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself. Such pursuits produce aspirations.
We open this section with a quote from Marcus Aurelius. His book, Meditations, inspired me while I served my sentence. I always found it helpful to read about people who began their lives in a challenging environment. If they triumphed over the disadvantageous and difficulties they faced, I believed I could learn lessons from them.
Success always leaves clues that we can follow.
From Marcus Aurelius, I learned the importance of aspiring. If we can train ourselves to learn from others, we gain the power to suppress worthless emotions such as envy. Rather than begrudge the success that others have, we should open our minds to learn the steps they took to reach the position they aspired to achieve.
Marcus Aurelius began his life in an orphanage during the Roman era. As a child, he knew he did not want to live in disadvantaged or marginalized circumstances. Since he was poor, he chose to open his eyes and observe the patterns of behavior that he saw in leaders.
To record what he learned, he kept a journal. That journal guided him on what he should do and should not do. Later, publishers brought his journal to market with the book Meditations.
As I recall, Marcus Aurelius wrote that book to guide his future decisions and to teach lessons to his son and others. Although he lived more than 1,000 years ago, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius remains one of those influential books in the self-help genre.
From Marcus Aurelius, I learned the importance of journaling. Through journaling, we can memorialize the methodical steps we take to prepare for success after prison. Participants who document their journey inside may have more power in reaching their aspirations.
First, a person must aspire to something more than what they’re currently experiencing. While living with the pressures of confinement, we need to muster the strength to fight off the stress. Those walls and bars can feel like they’re closing in, and our aspirations can free us from the pressure.
Like many others in prison, I felt the pressure. Yet leaders teach us that if we remember how every decision influences our prospects for success, we empower ourselves.
Never forget the reality that at any time, we can choose to work toward empowering ourselves.
Had I learned that concept in school—before I broke the law—I may have made better decisions as a young man. By reflecting, I could see that my choices before I turned 20 had as much to do with my imprisonment as my crimes. Instead of learning from leaders, I learned from people of questionable character. That failed strategy put me on a destructive path.
Fortunately, it’s never too early and never too late to begin working toward self-improvement. The strategy I learned from leaders like Marcus Aurelius is twofold.
- We must reflect on our past decisions and connect the dots, so we know how those decisions led to our current situation, and
- We must aspire to what we want to become and then figure out the changes we must make to reach our full potential.
As a reckless adolescent, I chose to ignore my teachers, guidance counselors, and advice from my parents. The friends with whom I surrounded myself used similar judgment. All those choices led me into a life of crime by the time I turned 20. At 23, I started serving a 45-year prison term.
I should have made better choices while in school. Fortunately, I started to make better decisions when I began my prison term. By aspiring to something better, I could carve out a strategy to help me succeed when I would walk out of federal prison—26 years after my arrest.
How to Aspire:
After my arrest, I learned what living in a total institution meant. I felt like a cog in a machine. Regardless of how much I would have liked to change the machine, I couldn’t. Administrators would determine the clothes I wore, the food I ate, the books I read, and my ability to interact with others.
I’d lost my liberty. I didn’t know how to liberate myself, but I knew I loathed living in prison. Despite the challenge, like every person striving toward a better life, I had to build a positive mindset and prepare. Without preparation, I wouldn’t be able to seize opportunities around me or create new opportunities.
When we look beyond our current struggles, we may find light, something worth working toward. Forcing ourselves to ignore the concrete walls and barbed-wire-topped fences requires discipline. As Socrates taught me, we can always ask good questions to develop our critical thinking.
Develop critical thinking with your responses to the following questions:
What does the best possible outcome look like for me?
Who would be the people that could influence my prospects of getting that outcome?
How can I influence people to invest in the future I’m building?
In what ways will the decisions I’ve made over the past month open new opportunities?
What are the characteristics of people who have overcome the challenges I face?
What lessons can I learn from reading about those people?