On December 8, 1941 Franklin Roosevelt, one of the most revered wartime presidents bellowed that “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” At a time when most of America felt as though we had hit rock bottom, Roosevelt was confident enough to see a way through it.
Roosevelt was no stranger to adversity. Only 20 years before this speech, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio. As a result, he was paralyzed from the waist down, but it offered him his most important challenge that prepared him for the Great Depression and winning the Second World War.
My rock bottom moment came from a prison cell in the Texas State Penitentiary. From this, I learned a similar lesson that Roosevelt grappled with while fighting polio: Daily, disciplined action is the only way to overcome obstacles.
Rock Bottom is a Good Thing
It wasn’t easy to consider my prison sentence a good thing. After months of emotional turmoil and feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I could only get more successful. There was only one way to go from rock bottom: upwards.
After the mindset shift comes the requisite actions. No matter what the situation, what is the one thing you can do right now to overcome this obstacle? Don’t worry about how it all fits into the bigger picture. If you’re at rock bottom the big picture is intimidatingly large. Consider one simple thing you can do.
Start with reading. In prison that is one of the first actions one can take to improve the situation. Malcolm X did it, Nelson Mandela did it, and I did it. Books provide knowledge, the wisdom of others, and varied perspectives that build skills for the future. It wasn’t hard work, but it was a single step in the right direction.
After reading books I started to brainstorm ideas and keep a journal. Then I started to exercise and even created a fasting practice. The purpose of starting with one thing is to build momentum. Then you can add another and another and even more difficult disciplines to your daily routine as well.
“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” – George S. Patton
There is not much one controls from inside prison. Guards would force us to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and much of the day was forced upon us. No matter how much power was taken from me, there were still things that I could control. Every option I did have was met with my full engagement.
No part of our day should be done mindlessly and certainly not when we have reached rock bottom. We should question why we do everything each day and see whether it aligns with our goals.
We engage everything because it helps us to build daily disciplines throughout all facets of our lives. From making my tiny prison bed in the morning to bodyweight exercises in the prison yard, everything was part of a bigger plan.
This doesn’t mean we can’t rest or enjoy ourselves. Even taking a moment to watch a show on Netflix might be useful. The point is to consciously acknowledge why we do so rather than blindly follow habit.
One Step At a Time
The road to the top from your lowest point can seem insurmountable, but it isn’t. When Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio he never questioned how he was going to reach the presidency and become one of the most revered men in United States history. Instead, he focused on the small tasks he could take to overcome his illness.
As we gain momentum from the small tasks, we can incorporate more of them in our lives and tip the balance in favor of what we desire to achieve.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu