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How to Start Over From Scratch: My Top 5 Life Lessons

We don’t need to go to prison to implement these lessons to create the life we want to live.

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Image Credit: Midjourney

My life changed forever on October 1st, 2013.

I had just walked into my new job when I received this voicemail.

“Mr. Stanland, this is Special Agent McTiernan with the FBI. We are at your residence and have a warrant for your arrest. You will need to call us and come home immediately, or we will issue an APB with the federal marshals for your arrest.”

It was, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying days of my life so far.

For just under a year, I committed fraud against one of the largest tech companies in the world.

In that one moment, my life was no longer my own.

It belonged to the agents, the faceless people working behind the scenes, and the judge I had yet to meet.

I pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and was sentenced to two years of federal prison. 

I watched helplessly as the life I knew grew smaller and fainter as I descended into the abyss of uncertainty.

I watched as the dark cloud of shame enveloped my life and cast everything in its shadow.

I watched the bottom fall out every single time I thought I had hit bottom.

I watched as I walked down the darkest of paths, planning how I would take my life.

And I watched what happened when I chose to step out of the burnt ashes of what was and into a new life.

Stepping out of the ashes was another terrifying moment; I was leaving the known, even if it was terrible, for the unknown.

But there was something incredible waiting for me when I did.

There’s a gift when you hit rock bottom and come out the other side.

It’s the wisdom and perspective that can only come from staring into the eyes of the worst version of yourself and despising what you see.

And instead of trying to kill it, you acknowledge its existence, accept its existence, and learn to love its existence.

But you don’t allow its existence to define you.

It’s through this often painful process that I completely reinvented my life.

I’ve spent the past decade transforming prison into purpose, and I’ve found my life’s mission, and now I help others do the same. 

I don’t make as much as I did in the corporate world.

But I have what I was chasing for all those years, and I was too blind to see I’d never catch. 

Purpose

Meaning

Fulfillment

Inner Freedom

Emotional Peace

These are the top 5 lessons I’ve learned from reinventing my life after prison.  

1. Acceptance is Freedom

I spent my days in prison, wishing I wasn’t in prison. I spent my days wishing I didn’t make the choices I made that landed me in prison.

I wished and dreamed for life to be anything other than it was. 

I was fighting against a past and circumstance that couldn’t be changed.

I would never have the freedom to start over and reinvent if I continued to fight for what can’t be changed. 

I had to do what I was so afraid to do.

I had to accept reality.

I didn’t want to. 

It felt like giving up; it felt passive. Fighting equals progress. But does it? What was I fighting against? As much as I wish there were, there is no such thing as a time machine Delorean.

Accepting reality isn’t giving up; it isn’t passive. 

It was an act of courage for me to say,

“I accept that I betrayed myself and chose to commit a crime. I accept I made the choice to continue in the face of the universe screaming at me to stop. I accept that I am in prison. I accept that I hurt my family, my friends….”

A weight lifted off of me; I wasn’t trapped in the past. Instead, I felt something I thought was impossible in prison, freedom.

It’s the freedom that comes when you’re no longer locked in the past. 

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” – Lao Tzu

2. Self-Trust is a Must

My fraud required thousands of choices to keep it going. Each one of those choices was made in the face of my heart, saying,

“Stop, don’t do this. This isn’t the way.”

I ignored my heart, violated my voice, and I paid the price.

My inner voice disappeared, and I didn’t trust myself to make the easiest decisions. 

What to eat, and what exercises I would do in the gym. 

I was paralyzed by the torture of self-mistrust.

I had to learn to trust myself again, which was one of the most challenging tasks ever.

And it all started by making and keeping commitments to myself.  

The more commitments I made and kept, the more I became the person who did what they said they would do.

I reconnected with my inner voice.

3. Execute My Fears

Fear was a primary driver behind my choice to commit a crime. 

It was easier to commit fraud and violate my inner voice than to be honest with myself and my wife at the time. 

I understood fear landed me in prison and that I could leverage fear to reinvent my life after prison.

I made a list of all my fears, and inside my prison cube, I committed to executing them one by one. 

My #1 fear? Public speaking. 

It took five years, but I landed on the TEDx stage. 

This was when I executed that fear, and my world expanded. 

4. Have a Mission

I thought I had a mission before prison. 

Make as much money as possible and spend it all on fancy things. 

That wasn’t a mission. 

It was what I thought I should be doing, not what I wanted to do. 

Only when I started writing my 1st book and pursuing public speaking did I understand what a mission truly is. 

A mission is something I’m willing to sacrifice all the short-term shots of happiness (drinking, social media, Netflix) in pursuit of long-term purpose, meaning, and fulfillment – with an unknown outcome. 

A mission is something more significant than myself and serves a greater good outside myself.

My desire behind the book and the TEDx? 

To help one person. 

That’s my mission to this day. 

5. Stop Chasing/Start Creating

Pre-prison, I chased happiness, purpose, meaning, and fulfillment at the bottom of a bottle and the swipe of my American Express Platinum card.

I was on The Golden Treadmill, racing furiously to a finish line I’d never reach. 

Purpose, meaning, and fulfillment aren’t chased; they’re created. 

And when I take the time to focus on what really matters to me and align my actions with that, I create them.

And happiness naturally ensues as a result.

The funny thing about these lessons is this:

They’re what I learned from going to prison, losing everything, and reinventing from scratch, but they’re universal. 

They apply to any one of us at any time. 

We don’t need to go to prison to implement these lessons to create the life we want to live.

Nor do I suggest you wait for the bottom to fall out before implementing them in your own lives.  

Start now to create an extraordinary future.

Craig Stanland is a Reinvention Architect & Mindset Coach, TEDx & Keynote Speaker, and the Best-Selling Author of "Blank Canvas, How I Reinvented My Life After Prison." He specializes in working with high-achievers who've chased success, money, and status in their 1st half, only to find a success-sized hole in their lives. He helps them tap into their full potential, break free from autopilot, draft a new life blueprint, and connect with their Life's Mission so they can create their extraordinary 2nd half with purpose, meaning and fulfillment. Connect with him here

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