After serving 20 years as a Republican Senator, Alan Simpson is now the Director of the Institute for Politics at Harvard University. When he first ran for office in 1978, he noticed a friend in the crowd of his kick-off rally. Simpson called him to the podium and introduced him to the throng. Simpson explained he owed his success to the man standing at his side, J. B. Mosley, his former probation officer! Yes, from someone who served two years on probation, he became someone who served 20 years as a respected Senator. From someone who ran from the police, he became someone who ran for office and served his country. Simpson turned his life around and so can you.
Bob Beamon started out as a gang leader and juvenile delinquent. He used to jump in fear at the sight of the police. But he, too, decided to turn over a new leaf. At the Mexico City Summer Olympics of 1968, he jumped for joy after shattering the world record in the long jump by leaping 29 feet 2 1/2 inches. Beamon became a new person and so can you.
Luis Rodriguez roamed the rough streets of South San Gabriel, California as a member of the Las Lomas gang. After winding up in a Los Angeles County Jail cell next to the infamous Charles Manson, Rodriquez decided it was time for a change. He returned to school and became a writer. No longer running from the police, he now runs his own publishing company. Rodriguez made a complete turnaround and so can you.
Regardless of the state of our lives – shady, normal, or extraordinary – there is always room for improvement. Considering the brevity of life, the time to begin to become what we aspire to be is now. Below are a few of the steps we can take to begin our transformation.
1. The source of all progress is dissatisfaction. How can you become what you are not unless you are unhappy with what you are? How can you become good unless you first believe you are bad? Dissatisfaction should not be used as a tool to wallow in self-pity, but as a motivational instrument for change.
2. Realize that dramatic change is difficult to achieve. How difficult is it? It’s like taking a bone from the mouth of a huge, vicious dog. But if that bone were your leg, what would you do? Wouldn’t you reach deep within yourself and muster all your strength and begin the struggle of your life? Wouldn’t you tell yourself, "One of us is going to wind up dead, the dog or me, and it’s not going to be me!" That’s the attitude we have to take. Although some will use tormenting circumstances as an excuse for despair, we need to use them as a reason for change. Others have done it and we can too.
3. Realize you're not alone. Are you discouraged by the struggle you face to abandon a life of crime, overcome an addiction, or simply become a better person? What about the fight for survival that Afghanis are facing. Families have returned to the rubble that was once their homes. The bitter winds of winter seem to mock those striving to survive without heat, running water, or a source of income. But they refuse to be victims and choose to be gallant fighters. No, you’re not alone. Around the world and in our backyards, others are coping with challenges. They are successful and we can be too.
4. Acquire self-discipline. Those who have gotten in trouble with the law have learned that if we do not control ourselves, others will have to do it for us. Whatever lies in our power to do also lies in our power not to do. Self-discipline is the choice to use our power. It is an important virtue because it is the foundation of all other virtues. The best way to develop it is by doing something we don't like every day.
5. Change the way you view life. Whether you resent or like what needs to be done depends on how you look at the situation. For example, if you tell yourself the boss will fire you if you arrive late, you are looking at it in a negative way. A way that creates stress and resentment. You feel like you are forced to do something against your will. But if you tell yourself that you are reliable, dependable, and the boss can count on you, you look at it in a positive manner and build character, self-respect, and self-confidence.
6. Develop good habits. The bad acts I perform start out as minor weaknesses. Like the strands of a spider's web, they are easily broken. But as I repeat them, the strands grow into a thick rope that binds and imprisons me. Don’t be like some people who use a fine thread when mending their ways. Repeat your good acts often enough to form the thick rope of habit. Good habits will help us automatically succeed.
7. Cultivate self-reliance. Our own growth and change cannot be delegated to another. Our lives are in our own hands. Realizing this, it’s time to say: No more will I live off others through intimidation or manipulation, for that is the path of the unworthy. No more will I take advantage of others by cunning, for that is the path of thievery. No more will I seek to survive by borrowing or begging, for that is dishonorable. From this day forward I will support myself, for that is the path of self-respect.
8. Get in the habit of making plans. No one succeeds by accident or luck. They succeed by making a plan and following it. You can begin by asking yourself questions. What am I doing wrong? What can I do better? What steps can I take now that will lead me closer to where I want to be? Use your answers to make a plan and start taking action. Once you begin on the path to success, every day can be a success. For example, if I decide to go to school and get a degree or certificate, I will not only experience success on my graduation, but also every time I turn in an assignment and every day I attend class. So, following a plan not only leads to success, but allows me to experience it every day.
What can be greater than those who repent of their wrongdoings and begin life anew? If we would be great, all we need do is give ourselves the gift of change. After transforming our lives, we’ll be able to transform others by giving them the gifts of friendship, help, and encouragement.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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