I believe that adversity is the catalyst of growth
When the chips are down, when the struggle is real, that’s when we have the opportunity to pursue our potential. To become more than we could have otherwise. I believe that we don’t want to settle for the average or below version of ourselves, that we are instead driven to strive towards our potential and that the sense of satisfaction we derive in doing so is a far more enduring and meaningful source of wellbeing than any external measure of success. I know the theory on this stuff, but my passion and belief come from my own experience of transformational change and growth.
I grew up as one of four boys. I expected to join the infantry at 18 and then try to get into the S.A.S., that would have been living the dream for me. I grew up thinking that as a man I should always be in control, always able to stand on my own two feet, that I should never need support from anyone, and that I shouldn’t feel any emotions I’d associate with vulnerability or weakness.
By my teenage years I was trying to fit in and belong with people who didn’t make any kind of positive contribution to society. I was trying to feel worthy in a context where crime was the norm and the measure of a man was his capacity for violence and his willingness to show physical courage regardless of the odds. I started experimenting with drugs at about 12. The further I got into my teens the further my drug use escalated. My peer group did drugs and it was something that helped me escape the feelings I didn’t think I was supposed to feel as a man. When I was 18 my mother died and three days later, I choose to catch up with a drug dealer. That fateful meeting would conclude with him dead and me in prison for the first night of what would be the next ten years plus in some of New Zealand’s toughest prisons.
There would be lots of opportunity for character development through this decade behind bars.
It would provide me with the adversity that would prompt me to reevaluate my life and make the changes that would turn me into a contributing member of society. It was traumatic and constantly challenging, but rather than develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I look back on this period as one of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). Most people have heard of PTSD, but few know that an equal number of people emerge from serious trauma feeling better off for the experience. They feel that they have grown as a result of the challenge experienced and lessons learnt. For me, education would illuminate the path towards Post Traumatic Growth. The original Greek word for “educate” means to lead out of, and education would indeed lead me out of the darkness of my own ignorance.
I went into prison a high-school drop out in 1995. I thought I was dumb and not capable of succeeding in life. By my release in 2006 I had attained an undergraduate degree in psychology and philosophy, a master’s degree in psychology, and was two years into my Ph.D. in Psychology. I would complete this Ph.D. in 2011 after working for OPRA Consulting Group for five years. During this period I would discover my niche in leadership and organizational development. In 2012 I went out on my own and have never looked back.
These days I spend the majority of my time speaking at conferences and delivering workshops for organisations. These are a vehicle for assisting others strive towards their potential and learn how to more effectively cope with the stress and challenge they encounter along the way. I act as patron for START Taranaki, which is the equivalent of Outward Bound for wayward young men. I am also a patron for Reclaim Another Woman that helps female inmates get their lives back on track. I am an ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters New Zealand that provides a fence at the top of the cliff for at risk kids. I also visit prisons to tell my story and support the social enterprise Take2 and the Freedom and Philosophy charity. The most important thing I do in this context is serve as an example of someone who has been accepted back into society despite terrible misdeeds. I have been lucky in this respect, but like Seneca said “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Yet the most meaningful thing I have done with my life is becoming a husband and father. I thought that my release from prison would be the highlight of my life, yet this day has paled into insignificance relative to the day I married the love of my life, and the two days on which I watched my boys born. As well as being the most meaningful activities, being a husband and a father are the most challenges roles I have had in life. And I regularly fail to be the best father and husband I could be. Yet this is okay, because if there is one thing I have learnt through striving towards my potential in other areas, it is that the real goal in life is getting better not being good. And my only legitimate measure for success in this respect, is who was I yesterday and who am I going to be tomorrow.
Within this context, a failure is just an opportunity to learn and grow and come back stronger. The goal is getting better, not being good.
I went into prison thinking that a man should always be able to stand on his own two feet and that the measure of a man was his capacity for violence and his ability to show physical courage against all odds. I now know that the measure of a man is his ability to do what’s right despite his feelings of vulnerability, to show moral and emotional courage, to be open to his own limitations and willing to learn and grow. And to ask for the support of others in the process, because real success in life is a team effort, not something that can be done on your own.