About 3 weeks ago, I stumbled upon an article that stopped me in my tracks and had me gnawing on my fingernails. Not because I was nervous––although it is a nervous habit of mine, but because I was undone.
An inmate named Nico Walker became an “overnight sensation” as a published author.
For the first time since I became a writer, I was vulnerable and exposed to my self-imposed creative captivity. Why? Because for a long time, I held the belief that the stars had to align; something (or someone) had to have pity on me and recognize me for taking a step towards what I wanted in life before I could make it big. I would never admit this if you asked and of course, admitting this to myself didn't feel good. So I looked for any excuse to make me feel better. That I was busy DOING things to help make the shift.
So I desperately searched for any excuse to cling to. Excuse for why I couldn't get up at 3am to write even though I felt the stirrings in my soul. Excuse for why I couldn't post a social media status update to drop little nuggets of "wisdom for the day." Excuse for why I couldn't do a livestream on Facebook. Excuse for why I couldn't send a pitch to the New York Times magazine or another. Excuse for why I couldn't create content for my Instagram account…
And boy did I come up with several. I've taken several online courses. I have multiple academic degrees. I've hired coaches and mentors. I have a ton of books at home enough to start a book business.
But the truth remained; I was a lousy excuse maker and each excuse I came up with only revealed how lame, weak, envious, and lazy I was. The truth was that I could've been happy for Nico and wished him good luck. I could've shared his story with my online community and used the same momentum to work on my craft.
But nope, I didn't do that. I had to someone divert attention from him to come up with reasons for not achieving what he has, and excusing myself for not achieving them despite the many chances I have.
So, yes, I was completely undone because the person I deemed least likely to succeed in something that I've been throwing money at for several years made it happen.
Being a nosy writer, I searched online for an image or something that could grant me access to who this person is. I felt that I needed to draw my own conclusions. You know, the one where you assign a personality type based on the arch of one's eyebrow or the symmetry of his face.
My Google search yielded positive results and the interesting image that popped up is this.
Not an image of him in a coffee shop burying his face in a novel with a cup of frappe in front of him to suggest that he's “doing busy work.”
Not an image of him at a tourist destination with his arms spread eagle to suggest that he's living the life.
Not an image of him making funny faces at the camera to suggest that he's happy with his life.
But an Image of him in a prison suit.
Meet Nico Walker, a war hero with no previous criminal history who became a serial bank robber, was caught and pleaded guilty to robbing 11 banks around Cleveland during a four-month spree. Prior to being a felon, he enlisted in the Army and became a combat medic; went on more than 200 combat missions in 2005 and 2006; and received seven medals and citations for service in Iraq.
Yet far, far, away in a gated prison community, someone I never pegged to become a writer not only wrote a book and published it, he became a sensation overnight with several media outlets wanting to who he is.
Several articles later, I'll come discover 4 things you can actually accomplish while serving an 11-year sentence in a federal prison in Kentucky:
- Read 19th-century Russian literature.
- Study Spanish, German and Latin.
- Tutor other prisoners trying to take the GED.
- Write a darn bestselling novel, and be interviewed for it while you're STILL in prison.
So, how did this promising 33yr old veteran become a criminal who later became a GED tutor, then a novelist?
This same guy was able to write a novel that traveled outside of his prison cell, impacting thousands of people who don't even know his situation.
This is the story about how a young man became a literary wonder overnight, only for me to discover that he doesn't enjoy the same freedom that I do (and probably take for granted).
He can't sit in front of a computer to screw around in his SquareSpace or WordPress account, changing themes and fonts. He can't complain about traffic and how slow restaurants servers are.
All he had was a connection to the outside world. An editor who didn't see a prisoner but a writer; fifteen minutes with this editor via prison telephone. A grueling daily process that would break even the strongest of most entrepreneurs. He couldn't write down his feedback, he had to rely on his memory to help make his manuscript better. All he had was a typewriter to write his story from.
Yes, with outside help he was able to publish his novel. But without him voluntarily embracing creative freedom while behind bars, he wouldn't have made it.
And without further ado, here's what I learned about his feat from prison that we (non-prisoners) seriously need to know.
1) You can't throw money at your problems to make them go away.
At the risk of sounding very unsympathetic, I have to say this: stop being such a wimp. Your money will not save you.
Your college degree will not save you. You can buy online courses all you want. You can attend the most talked about conferences in the world. You can hire the best mentors and coaches in the career and business to help you "free your mindset." Heck, you can go on a no-civilization retreat to reset your mind as a self-care treat.
But the truth is no one is going to do the work for you. No one will make the moves you're unwilling to make. No one will take the risks you're too scared to take. And no one will make you feel comfortable about your decisions if you're unwilling to face who you are and become more self-aware.
You need to travel to places less frequented before you can attempt to take others on a journey of wonder.
2) Overnight success is a myth.
You see those Facebook posts that tell you how they made 6 figures in 6 months just by tweaking one thing? Yea right. Let me tell you the real secret and I promise to keep it shorter than a 45-minute webinar.
There is no such thing as an overnight success. This is a myth.
Behind the scenes of an overnight success is a hardworking man or woman who has tied and tested and launched and failed...multiple times. Behind the scenes of an overnight success is someone who has been disillusioned by the promise of 6-figures, fallen into a slump, taken a break from all things entrepreneurship or life itself, and "magically" bounced back from the dreaded hell hole.
Little drops of water make an ocean.
In conclusion, here's what I want you to know.
Creativity cannot be imprisoned.
Tell me about how being a high school dropout stops you from going after your dreams and I'll introduce you to Nico Walker.
Tell me about how being XYZ stops you from moving ahead in life, and I'll gladly inform you that Nico was addicted to heroin and OxyContin for a while.
Here's my point: no matter what your excuse is for NOT doing what you want to do in life, you have it in you to rise above all.
Creativity is NEVER meant to be boxed.
Creativity is meant to be shared with others.
Creativity IS unrest.
Creativity is mind-boggling, begging for attention until you realize that you can't do without one another.
Oh––one last thing:
Creativity can break out of prisons. Just ask Nico Walker.