If you have seen Seinfeld, you’re very familiar with the character George Costanza. And there’s a wonderful episode where George does the exact opposite of what he would normally do, right?

He’s in this cafe or restaurant, he walks up to this woman and says, “Hi, I’m George. I’m short, bald and I live with my mother.”

And she says, “Oh, nice to meet you.”

Throughout the whole episode, it works. It’s actually true with respect to being a convicted felon.

What I mean is sometimes doing the exact opposite of what we’re inclined to do and learning to think differently. The author, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a phenomenal book, David and Goliath. And in that book, he wrote about the power of underdogs, and underdogs succeed throughout centuries when they think differently.

Well, if you’re a convicted felon, I’m a convicted felon, what began to change my life, while we’re serving time alongside Michael Santos, was thinking differently.

What does that mean?

Well, a number of people don’t want to talk about their crime or speak openly about what they did for fear of how they’re going to be judged. The problem with that is we have to consider everything that’s already been put out in the universe. Department of Justice press releases, background checks, people in the community know. It’s hard in this age of Google to hide the fact that you’re a convicted felon who served time in prison.

The normal response would be to pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t talk about it, sweep it under the rug. The George Costanza approach, the thinking differently approach that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about so persuasively is own it, talk about it, share lessons learned.

So there’s a very practical way that can actually happen. Because I think any advice only works if it’s practical. In other words, like, what do I do next?

“This sounds great, Justin, what do I do next? What’s the next step?”

That’s a conversation I had with Michael while I was in federal prison. “Sounds great, Michael. Very inspiring. I have the right attitude, Michael. I aspire to be better, take action and hold myself accountable. What do I do next?”

He pulled out a pen and a piece of paper he got from a library and he said, “Start writing to people in your network. Start writing to your family, demonstrate what you’re learning through confinement. Demonstrate how this is going to be a net positive in your life.”

And naturally, I was somewhat a little like, “Wow, people are going to think that’s crazy. I’m going to tell them how much I’m enjoying federal prison.”

He said, “I’m not saying you’re enjoying prison. This is hard. Talk about how you’re growing through confinement, what your plans are. Let’s inspire them. Better yet, why don’t you share your goals with your network and with the world so they can begin to hold you accountable.”

When I began to write openly about my goals in prison and sharing them with my network, began to think differently. In other words, owning my conduct, not blaming UBS, not blaming my business partner, not blaming Judge Wilson, not blaming David Willingham, the US attorney.

It was all because I began to think differently. So I want you to do that at every stage of the journey. If you’ve been reluctant to share your story, become George Costanza. Own it. Talk about it.

I don’t think it’s wrong to say that most people are driven by their own self-interest. If you’re interviewing with someone and they’re going to be thinking, “Okay, prison record, felony.” You know what they’re thinking at the end of the day? How can this person help my company? How can this person be of value to what it is we’re trying to do here?”

If articulate your values, clearly define them with metrics and how you’re pursuing them, living faithfully to them. Know what some employers are going to say to you? “You’ve really learned from this. If anything, you’re better because of what happened, because you know the consequences of bad choices.”

I’m grateful that you’re letting me share these insights. I look forward to returning soon.

Justin Paperny

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Justin Paperny