I was sitting on a steel bed in a one-person cell in juvenile hall when I suddenly decided to do pushups. I dropped to the floor and began. From there I did pushups every night right after I was locked in my cell. It would be the first time in my life that I had done anything on my own to improve myself. I was 15 years old.
After that first act of personal development, I started reading every self-improvement book I could get my hands on. I read the classics and the latest best-sellers from well-known authors like Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, Wayne Dyer, and many more. All of them are included in the list of suggested books here.
My personal development journey was motivated by pain and fear. I have found that it’s the same for many people, especially those who accomplish great feats in this area. Nearly all of the self-help authors whose books I read have inspiring biographical stories about overcoming great obstacles.
My pain came from the guilt and shame I felt for being in juvenile hall even though I had no good reason to feel that way. I had only run away from home over a weekend a few times. I did this because my overly strict stepfather would not allow me to see the first love of my life. He said her parents were a bad influence. That was not true. Her parents were both teachers at the same education level (middle school, junior high then) and school district as we were in — for Pete’s sake. They were outstanding parents and individuals.
My fear came from the circumstances and environment I was in. Coming from a middle-class neighborhood where violence and crime were nearly zero to being in various juvenile detention facilities with many kids from low-income, crime and gang-infested neighbors, was a huge culture shock. I describe my experiences in more detail in these articles.
- Incorrigible Boy Successful Man
- How to Overcome Prejudice Feelings
- Underdog, Black Sheep, & Rebel Advantage
My personal development continued albeit with a few stumbles and slips along the way. After a usually long stay in juvenile hall, I was sent to a boys’ home. There my personal development continued. From day one I strove for the best job at the boys’ home: infirmary boy. I eventually got it. (Infirmary: a place in a large institution for the care of those who are ill. Source: Merriam-Webster online.)
What made this assignment so sought after was the fact that the infirmary boy got his own private living and eating quarters and the freedom to go anywhere on and off the campus as required or desired. What made it an honor was the fact that the infirmary was where new boys stayed during their first week. It was the infirmary boy’s responsibility to introduce, acclimate, and orientate the new kids to the boys’ home. The job also included keeping most of the infirmary building clean. I got to use some cool commercial-grade power equipment so it was fun.
At that early point in my life, I did not recognize what I was doing as personal development. I saw it more as a way out — a way of personal redemption. Not quite a Shawshank-style redemption though. 😀 My lockup experiences did enable me to really feel the storyline of that incredibly motivating 1994 movie, however.
That powerful moment when I first started doing pushups in that juvenile hall cell propelled me to accomplish some extraordinary things that should have never happened. Based on statistics, averages, and norms of a 15-year-old boy who has been incarnated for an extended period the predicted long-term outcome is grim. Although I was unable to find statistical information on this online, I heard about it many times from many sources over the years.
I ignored all statistics, averages, and norms from the start. And you should too regardless of whether your situation is about incarceration, career, health, relationships, or just survival.
I’m sure there are those who are reading this that had a much worse childhood than I did. Especially kids in war-torn countries and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Perhaps you are one of them. If so, your motivation toward personal development could be much, much stronger than mine. Although I cannot fully understand your pain, I can offer you this suggestion. Use your pain for gain! Huge personal development gains.
My purpose in sharing my story is to inspire you. Just as the biographies of the people whose books I read inspired me. My story continues in this article: Ignore Statistics, Averages, and Norms