Zoned Out?

After doing a 20-month bit, my guy got out a few years ago and has been doing reasonably well since then. However, between school, a full-time job and the social temptations of youth, he’s found it hard to study and do homework. He’s absolutely serious about getting his degree, but life in general keeps pulling him in the opposite direction.

The other day, while listening to this childhood friend explain his difficulties, two thoughts went through my mind. The first was, “Oh, boo-frickin-hoo. Grow the hell up,” which is merely a natural reaction that we tend to have towards free people’s problems when we’re locked up. The second thought was about how the root of his difficulties was the same issue behind most of our problems: we make life so much harder than it really is.

We burn bridges and make enemies over misunderstandings and teenager-like sensitivities. We pass up or miss out on life-changing opportunities in order to spend time on stuff that we can do anytime, anywhere. We fail or give up on goals because we’re too prideful to use proven resources or ask for help. We’re like swimmers holding onto 50 lb. boulders while complaining about how hard it is to stay above water. Just let go of the damn rock!

I often laugh-though bittersweetly-when I think about the “problems” I used to have. Like most people, I simply couldn’t see the big picture. Everything seemed to deserve my attention; I had to have this, I had to go there, I couldn’t pass up on that. And if things didn’t go right I reacted as if something terrible had happened, instead of concentrating on what I’d done wrong or could learn from those that had achieved what I wanted. Then, prison slapped me into a state of focus. When you’re trapped in a room virtually 24/7 with strangers using the bathroom a few feet from where you’re sleeping, and with neighbors shouting back and forth right outside your door all night, you quickly start to concentrate on what’s important in life.

The interesting part is how my guy expressed this very idea before I even had a chance to mention it: he needed to get back into his prison mentality. While locked up he’d been starving to get out and grind, to do whatever he had to do to make it, permanently. But now that he had the opportunity he seemed to have lost the hunger.

Fortunately – to use a phrase from technology – there are a number of apps for that.

I have my weaknesses and I mostly know what they are. But I also have at my disposal-even in prison-proven strategies for addressing these weaknesses. In fact, we all do. The question is why so many of us ignore them. Is it fear? Delusion? Whatever it is I’m sure that if we could meet that restless inmate dying for freedom that we were back then, he’d beat the crap out of us for getting tripped up by such avoidable obstacles.

My guy has goals and he knows what he has to do. After all, winners have been doing it for centuries. It’s no coincidence that content, loved, successful people think and behave differently than those who are angry, stressed, unpopular, and can’t seem to stay out of jail.

No matter what some of us do, we just can’t seem to catch a break. But a closer look at the situation will often reveal our actions and inaction to be the cause. Because, ultimately, our problem is not the things that tempt us. Our problem is ourselves.

Get out of your own way.

TIP: With an ever-growing list of over 100,000 people in need of an organ transplant, just 5% of the more than 2 million inmates in this country can help save half of those lives. Unfortunately, and unreasonably, they aren’t allowed to do so. Please check out G.A.V.E. at to learn more about the movement to allow inmates to donate organs. And while there look into the inmate donor registry and sign up any current inmates you know who would be willing to donate if allowed to. Your support could one day end up saving someone very close to you or perhaps even yourself