How to Persevere When You’ve Hit Rock Bottom

Today’s post is a real treat. It’s a very personal story that will tell you how to persevere when you’ve hit rock bottom.

The author, Billy B., is a blogger from Minnesota that I met early this year shortly after I started Money with a Purpose. He blogs at Wealth Well Done. Bill has been featured on CNBC. MSN, and Rockstar Finance. The three themes Billy B. covers at Wealth Well Done are:

  1. Master Your Mind
  2. Compound Your Cash
  3. Pursue Your Purpose.

I read Billy’s story on another blog and reached out to him. In several Twitter conversations, he encouraged me to tell our story of dealing with an addicted son. I’m deeply grateful for that encouragement. I’m not sure I would have told it without the encouragement.

His writing is insightful and enhanced by his life experience. I encourage you to visit Wealth Well Done. Be prepared to be both inspired and challenged.

Read on as Bill tells his story.

Tell us a little about yourself

Here are a couple of unique things about me: I am a felon. I spent virtually all of my 20’s incarcerated in the Wisconsin State Prison System (I am a proud Minnesotan) for various drug charges. Click to Tweet

I was released from prison when I was 31 years old in 2012 with no work history, experience, or college degree.

But I had a vision when I was released from prison. I never wanted to go back, and I wanted to live up to the potential to be an amazing human being that I always felt I had in my heart.

I first got a job making $10 an hour, and I graduated from college in that first year. In my second year out, I started my first business (a promotional company) from a computer in my parent’s basement. In the next five years, I sold over a million dollars of products to reputable businesses, learned how to invest, bought two homes (a primary residence and an investment property), got married, and have built a financial portfolio worth around $300,000 and growing.

You have a unique story that I know readers will appreciate. Tell us about your early years

I was fascinated with drugs at a very early age. They sounded powerful, and they really inspired my curiosity. Click to Tweet

Then, when I was finally old enough to have friends who could get me drugs and use drugs with, I’d almost describe getting high as a spiritual experience for me. I’d take a little bit of whatever (weed, acid, mushrooms, ecstasy) and the drug would whisk my imagination away to an alternate reality where I just thought life was more fascinating and interesting. I’d see hallucinations, and feel rushes of euphoria, and I’d wonder:  How could this not be from God?

Now I look back on it, and I realize I was taking the easy way out of life. Being someone special in life is hard. It takes work, and sacrifice, and you have to take scary risks. With drugs, I’d have to pay $5 to feel like I was special and going somewhere, even though I wasn’t going anywhere.

I was a secret drug user from the age of 14, (meaning I still went to college and hid my drug use) until I was 21 years old. My life fell apart after I was partying with a friend in college. He walked home and died in his sleep.

The next morning I was arrested for providing the drugs to him at my house, and I was charged with: “Reckless Homicide by Delivery of a Controlled Substance.” I was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison with no chance at early parole. I served the entire ten-year sentence before I saw freedom again. (You can read my entire journey to prison and back here.)

Wow! I can’t imagine what that must have felt like. Most people would have folded under that pressure. You didn’t. Tell us what happened

The first day in jail was pure panic. I contemplated every possible way to escape the horrific reality I was stuck in, including suicide. But then the next few days were a period of acceptance. I wasn’t ready to die, and I didn’t want to give up. That led to a sudden revelation that completely changed the future of my life:

I realized life was going to be 100% up to me and my decision making now. It no longer mattered what race I was; or what neighborhood I was from; or who my parents were. The future of my life was going to be dependent on me leading myself out of that nightmare. So I made the logical choice:  If my future were going to be determined by the quality of my decisions, then it would be smart to study how to make the most intelligent choices possible that would put me into the best chance for me to succeed.

Ultimately, I realized this:  If I were going to lead myself out of the dungeon I was in, then it would be smart to study other great leaders in history and learn to think, do, and act like they did when they faced adversity.

My drug use and selfish behavior put me in the position to go to prison, so those were going to be the first things that would have to go. At that moment I decided to create a new personal identity away from drugs, and start pursuing God rather than my selfish ambitions. Those were the two decisions that began to lead me toward the future I am living now.

The temptations and pressure from other inmates to engage in bad behavior had to be strong. How did you resist and protect yourself?

My personal experience in prison was like living inside a choose-your-own-adventure book. Click to Tweet

If you wanted to make prison a horrible, nightmarish experience you just had to make the decisions to get into gangs, drugs, and make friends with awful people. But if you wanted to turn the prison into an enlightening experience, it was entirely up to you to turn it into an enlightening experience by hanging out in the library and making friends with inmates who were determined not to come back.

I’ll never forget my defining moment in prison:  It was my first year in, and a guy offered me a chance to buy some pills (drugs) he smuggled in. It was such an unexpected moment, and I didn’t know what to do. I went to my cell to think about it, and I had an epiphany:  If I were going to stay drug and crime free when I got out, it would have to start now. I said no to drugs, and I never turned back. It got more comfortable every time after that.

What was it like when you got out? How did you find a job, a place to live, etc.?

Two significant things helped my re-entrance into society after ten years away:

  1. A positive and healthy support system full of family, mentors, and friends who always believed in me and wanted to help me succeed.
  2. A positive, perseverant attitude embraced by me. I accepted that success would take a long time. I knew not everything would go right, so I’d have to survive the low points, and capitalize when things went right.

Put these two things together, and in six years, I was able to accomplish my dreams. I moved out of my parents’ basement and got my first job making $10 an hour. From there, I started my first business a year later and sold a million dollars worth of product in 5 years. I took the money I made and invested it into real-estate and index funds to build a $300K portfolio in 6 years.

What lessons did you take away from this experience?

My blog, Wealth Well Done, is all about the lessons I learned and how I utilized those lessons to lead me to success. To learn more, read my article How to Create Wealth and Master Life.

Beyond a physical prison, the biggest prison you can put yourself in is negativity inside your mind. We can be our own worst enemies at a time. If you can break free from the lies you are told, and the lies we tell ourselves, you can begin to find the truths in life you’re supposed to believe and live.

What advice would you give to people facing adversity in their lives?

Focus on impacting the things you can control, rather than the things you can’t control. When I got out of prison, I could have embraced a self-defeating attitude. I could have said:  I’m a felon. I don’t have any work history. This shouldn’t have happened to me. But how far would that attitude have gotten me? Nowhere.

Instead, I said, I can make new friends. I can accomplish small goals that will lead me to bigger goals. I can save $10 a paycheck even if I’m only making $10 an hour.

Believing you can do something is the beginning of actually doing it. Believe in yourself, and accomplish the goals you can control no matter how small they are. Do that over and over, and you can do anything you set your mind to. I live my life to be proof of this.

Photo of Bill and Amanda of Wealth Well Done

Final thoughts

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your story. There are so many lessons we can learn from it.

The one thing that stands out for me is in the advice you offer to others facing adversity: “Focus on impacting the things you can control.” We hear that all of the time and know it to be true. It’s sometimes so hard to implement.

People imprisoned for ten years rarely come out and accomplish the things that Bill has. I think we can all be inspired by his courage, perseverance, positive attitude and refusal to let circumstances control his destiny when he got out. I know I am.

So, the next time you think your life is in shambles, I hope you will think of Bill and his story. I don’t mean to minimize any of the challenges any of you might face. Adversity comes in many forms. It often happens in ways we can’t control. SAurviving ten years in prison has to be among the worst kinds of adversity.

Remember, we can always control how we respond to adversity. Will we choose to stay positive and persevere? Or will we let our circumstances dictate to us? I hope we’ll pick the first option.

There is always someone who’s faced worse. And most circumstances are only temporary, even though they may not feel like it.

Now it’s your turn. What adversity have you faced? How have you overcome it? Can you apply the lessons laid out here when face adversity? Please share your thoughts with Bill in the comments. And thank so much for reading.

26 thoughts on “How to Persevere When You’ve Hit Rock Bottom

  1. Wow, what an impactful story. Thanks for sharing.

    10 years seems pretty harsh for non-malicious intent, but it is what it is. Bill, you faced up to the music and you are making excellent strides forward. No doubt your experience will continue to touch others in a positive way.

    1. It seemed harsh to me too. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Bill. It’s a great story of perseverance and not allowing circumstances to define you. I’m grateful he allowed me to interview him for this. I doubt many have dealt with such adversity. I hope that helps someone get through whatever challenge they’re facing.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    2. Hey thanks Michael. Ten years was brutal for 21 year old kid, who had never been in trouble before, and never meant to harm anyone. But unfortunately, they didn’t ask my opinion before they sentenced me. I try not to have anger toward the judges and district attorney’s who sentenced me in 2002. I tried to move on with my life, because anger wouldn’t do me any good. But sometimes I do with I could meet them 15 years later, and just let them know that the kid you sent to prison wasn’t a bad, dangerous person. I was a kid who got a little lost in life and made mistakes. But that was 16 years ago now, and the best decision for my future is just to move on toward creating a better future and leaving those memories of pain, hurt, and regret in my past. .

      1. Your experiences shaped your life and you used them to do more than most would. I made bad decisions from high school through 23, but luckily married the right person which caused me to change direction. I was lucky in many instances to have never been caught with drugs or kill someone while driving under the influence.

  2. What a motivational story. It takes real grit and perseverance to see the end of a long 10-year road. But now we have the rare opportunity to learn through his life experience. It also teaches us, society, not to judge or criticize those with “history.” I’m glad the blogging world allows us to do exactly that.

    1. Hi Jane,

      I couldn’t agree more. I’m a parent of an addict. There are lots of opinions about addiction that are way off base. Our son has spent time in jail. He’s currently in jail awaiting a court date early next month. I’m familiar with how hard it is to get on your feet as a felon. Most people don’t do what Bill has done. As you read, he decided while he was there to prepare himself for when he got out. That takes focus and determination in a very dark place.

      That’s why I wanted him to tell his story. I think of him any time I start feeling sorry for myself. ? His is a remarkable story of overcoming adversity that most of us will never face.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    2. Thanks Jane. The funny thing about meeting me in person, is that you’d probably never have any idea that I served a day in jail. In fact, when I tell people that I was in prison for 10 years,, they stare at me shocked, like they can’t believe it. It really makes me wonder how many people we meet who have a story behind their surface exterior that we’d never believe if we ever got to know them deeper. 🙂

    1. Hey thanks Mrs Groovy! We all have our own prisons to free ourselves from. My personal prison was a physical prison cell I put myself in. Other people’s may be an invisible prison of emotions, regrets, or shame. I just want to be proof that you can free yourself from anything, and give hope to those people still incarcerated in their own personal prisons that they can one day be free too.

  3. Billy you inspire me! This is an amazing transformation that you have had in your life. I admire all that you have overcome and the choices that you have made to move forward after all that you went through. Keep Sharing your story to make a difference. I have a younger brother currently serving time and I only hope when he is released that he can make a great future for himself.

    1. God bless you and your brother. If you write him, don’t be afraid to print this story out and mail it to him.. When you’re in prison, you’re surrounded by the hopeless and negative 100% of the time, and it sometimes is hard to believe that there is a better life somewhere outside of those fences. Hopefully your brother can believe that a better life does exist for him. Tell him not to listen to the lies in there. Freedom, just like prison, is a choose your own adventure story. Your future becomes what you turn it into.

    1. Well thank you F.P. I’m just trying to do my best, and play the long-game toward my dreams. It may take me 5,10,15, or 25 years, but I believe I have a great american novel inside of me, and I just want to keep writing and working until one day it comes out of me and onto a manuscript page. That’s my ultimate goal.

  4. “….the biggest prison you can put yourself in is negativity inside your mind.”

    Powerful words and I had to fight those negative thoughts in my head when I went through my awful divorce (1 year) and 2 years dealing with a civil lawsuit my ex put on me. I mentioned in my blog, but I definitely had suicidal thoughts at one point as well, thinking I just need to escape. I am glad both of us took the harder path but with a much better outcome.

    Very inspiring and shows that even at rock bottom you can climb your way back up. Keep continuing the outstanding progress you have made and your past (like mine) will be a blip in the rearview mirror.

    1. Way to fight back from your personal nightmare. Just like I could have given up, you could have too. And now we’re both moving forward to bigger, better lives, and all those nightmares in our past are just blips in our rear view memory we hardly remember anymore.

  5. Such an amazing story of redemption. “…I decided to create a new personal identity away from drugs, and start pursuing God rather than my selfish ambitions.” To make that decision when you are locked up is incredible. Well done. Furthermore, the amount of wealth you built in the 6 years after prison is astonishing. Well done.

    1. Hey thanks for taking the time to read my life story Sandra. I could have given up, but I didn’t. I feel like an athlete sometimes who was getting beat in the first half of the game so badly I wanted to just cry and give up. But I didn’t. I believed that I could still win, and did everything I could to fight back. And in the second half, I got a few lucky breaks, and worked my way back to start winning the game that I thought I was destined to lose. I just want to give hope to people that it is possible to come back from anything.

  6. This is a pretty amazing story. You “lost” ten years of your life. Or no one would have blamed you for seeing it that way. But instead of trying to make up for lost time in your thirties with an extended adolescence, you prepared yourself for the real world, learned from others, took small steps, and built a strong life.

    This is not exactly the same but I am rereading “Man’s Search for Meaning” and it amazes me that people came out of those concentration camps and led productive long lives. You’d think they’d feel entitled and victimized but they didn’t.

    Your story and theirs demonstrate the psychological strength of some people to move on from injustice and use it to maximize their freedoms.

    1. Hey thanks Drew! I read man’s search for meaning when I was locked up. That book taught me to “find purpose in your suffering” and then use your suffering to motivate you to accomplish your purpose, and that’s what I tried to do.

  7. A very inspiring story, truly! I’m very curious, what job did Bill get that paid you $10/hour right after getting out of prison with a felony record, no degree, and no job experience? That is a considerable feat! And to be able to get back into school and finish a degree within a year of release, that is also an incredible feat. I’d love to know more details, because honestly, as inspirational as the story is, there are major components that aren’t addressed in this story that can make the entire difference for people to be successful or not. And a lot of that comes from money and connections. Being as Bill was in prison for 10 years and had neither money nor connections of his own, my guess is those came from his parents. Congratulating & celebrating a success story is always a good thing but not being more forthcoming about the very things that allowed him to be able to become successful, and making this seem like a bootstraps kind of story (just do these magical things and all the pieces will fall into place!) makes it disingenuous, in my opinion.

    1. I can assure you that no one gave Bill anything. Labeling this as disingenuous is pretty harsh.

      You apparently missed the link in the article to his full story. You can read it here – Below is an excerpt that should address your question:

      “On August 21, 2012, after 10 years to the day of going to jail, I was released from Prison. I immediately went to work executing all of the plans I made while in prison. I started my senior year in college six days after getting released. I graduated college in my first year. I got my first job delivering magazines to big box stores for $9 an hour. The best part of that job was that the hours were flexible, so I was free to interview for better, higher-paying jobs. On one of the interviews, an entrepreneur recommended that I start my own business, so that’s what I did.

      I went door to door, building relationships with local businesses, and selling them branded clothing. I now do about $300K in sales a year with that business, but my dream always has been to be a writer and help people overcome the challenges in their lives. Because if I was able to overcome all the challenges in my life, I can show people how to overcome theirs. Ultimately, we are all living in our own prison, whether it be financial, spiritual, peer pressure, or self-esteem. We all have the power to break free and escape into a new life if we want it bad enough.”

      I appreciate your reading and commenting, though I strongly disagree with your characterization of Bill and his incredible accomplishments.

    2. Wow Jessica. I’m sorry you have such a pessimistic view on life, and don’t believe that people can accomplish amazing things when they try their hardest. I personally would have preferred you to ask me these questions and given me a chance to explain some of the steps I took before you judged me without meeting me, or talking with me, and instead calling my life story “disingenuous.”

      The reason why some facts were left out of this story, is that if I perfectly re-counted everything that happened to me in this 20-year period of my life every interview I’d do would last 50,000+ words and would take forever to read. So when I do interviews, I try to cover the important decisions I made that helped me succeed, and answer any details in the comment sections. So please allow me to respond before you judge me and call me disingenuous.

      Fact #1: Because I was a non-violent inmate with a record of good behavior, I was put on a work release program for my last 18 moths in prison where I was able to make $10 an hour at an institutionally allowed chemical coatings company. After paying a monthly rent fee to the prison, I was able to save around $10,000 when I was released from prison. So I had $10K of my own money when I got out.

      Fact #2: Before I got out of prison, I asked alot of mentors who stayed in my life during my incarceration (uncles, aunts, friends, old bosses and college professors who I kept in touch with as pen pals through my prison time) what I should do when I got out. The consensus advice I got was to finish college because I only had a year left. My parents got the name of a guidance counselor in the college I left before I was arrested, and through the mail, this guidance counselor recommended a college government grant to apply for that was available for low income adults like me. So she helped me apply for this grant, and I was approved. My only year in college was paid for by the government program, and this guidance counselor helped me enroll for a full load of classes 6 months before I got out of prison. I was released on August 21st, 2012 which was a Tuesday. The college semester I had enrolled for started 6 days after I got out on August 27th.

      Fact #3: It is true that I was able to stay in my parents basement when I got out. But a lot of prisoner’s stay with family when they get out, and alot of older millennials now say with their families until they can get their feet back under them. My parents had 2 rules for me when I stayed with them: I could stay there rent free, but I always had to be working toward getting out on my own. This was never an issue as I was always making progress toward moving out every day I lived with them .

      Fact #4: About 3 weeks after I got out of prison, I got on facebook for the first time. Alot of friends knew about what happened to me even though I hadn’t heard from them in 10 years and wanted to help. Through one of these connections, a friend told me about a job opportunity re-stocking magazines in big box stores making $10 an hour. I applied and got the job at the interview. I checked the box being a felon, and they never asked me about it. If they wouldn’t have hired me, I would have just gone to the next interview until someone gave me a chance. Success is a numbers game. Just keep trying until you break through failure and you start succeeding.

      Fact #5: After getting college paid for by a government grant, and being ultra frugal for my first year out because I was ultra-motivated to move out of my parents house, I still had the $10,000 work release money, and I probably had another $10,000 from the magazine job saved. That’s when I started looking for a better job, and met the man who inspired me to start my own business selling his products. This random man who I met through a craigslist job opening I applied to, offered to fund all of my purchase orders since I was selling his products. So the only money I needed to start my own business, was buying a computer, which I did. The rest of my business was built on sweat equity that I built going door to door and getting my own clients. All of the projects I sold were financed by the larger company I contracted with so I didn’t have to put up the cash.

      Fact #6: A year after starting my own business, I’d met my wife, and together we had saved $40,000 in the next year, which we used as the down payment for our first house, and we just kept saving and investing, and never looked back.

      So I am sorry you think that I am disingenuous. But I worked my butt off getting so lucky in my first 6 years after getting out of prison. I got told alot of “No’.” I had alot opportunities fall through, and sales calls that led no where. But I just kept on trying until I started to succeed.

      I’m also a guy of faith: And sometimes when people believe, sacrifice, and work for a purpose bigger than anyone else thinks is possible, miracles can happen. And I believe that’s what happened to me. .

      1. After writing this reply, I thought of one more fact I wanted to add. I think what irritated me about the comment above, was that it tried to simplify my journey to seem like everything just magically appeared for me when I walked out of prison. But that wasn’t the case. Every day for ten years straight, I dreamed about what my second chance at life would be like, I used to walk the prison yard, and prepare for every scenario that could come up, and mentally practice what I would do, and what I would say to overcome that challenge. I mentally studied every step I’d have to take, and logically thought through the best way to handle each step.

        So when my moment to be free finally came, it did almost feel easy to me, because I had spent ten years practicing and preparing for that moment. I was almost over-prepared for it, and preparation and practice leads to excellent performance, which is what happened to me, So I don’t want to make it sound like I just walked out of prison and all my dreams appeared. I spent ten years tearing myself down, and then building myself back up so that I’d be prepared to do what I had to do to finally reach my potential.

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