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Archive for the “Addiction” Category

411bLjUOvdL._UX250_I found this line in a recent John Grisham best seller.  “Prisons are fascinating places, especially when the inmates are educated white-collar types.”

The distance between the criminal and the successful entrepreneur is not so very far.  We both intuitively operate out-of-the-box with an instinct for not accepting the status quo.  We both are not inclined to accept the tyranny of the given.  We both intuitively color outside the lines.

Note the work of Bill McCarthy (UC Davis) and John Hagan (Northwestern) who report that people who are the most successful at crime have a strong desire to succeed, to take risk and to live by their own rules.  Hmm.  Sounds very much like most driven entrepreneurs.

I recently met a wonderful man named Jeff Grant who heads up an organization in Connecticut called the Progressive Prison Project, a non-profit dedicated to guiding and supporting business owners and white-collar executives. who have been accused of, convicted of, or been incarcerated for crimes ranging from DUI to financially motivated felonies.

Jeff Grant feels entrepreneurs, single-practitioners, DBAs, and small businessmen increasingly face exceptional dangers of drifting into damaging legal problems and even incarceration for a variety of reasons.

  1. Entrepreneurs lack the infrastructure resources to keep abreast with the increasingly complicated and onerous regulatory load emanating from all levels of government.  They are  overwhelmed with putting out constant fires in their real business. They have neither time or nor the inclination to spend days boning up on staying exactly on the right side ofevolving law.
  2. Furthermore, entrepreneurs frequently don’t even have a peer-level partner to challenge them on their interpretation and/or ignorance of compliance issues.  It becomes all too easy to carelessly cut corners.
  3. The combination of daily pressure and aloneness may make it tempting to make a deal with the devil—a deal often abetted by drugs or alcohol or sex, which fuzz over and break down a  man or woman’s moral center.  More than in most professions, entrepreneurs may be tempted to take ethical risks when bills threaten to overwhelm.
  4. Entrepreneurs often have big egos and suffer from hubris.  When they do not have the tools or knowledge for compliance, it is hard for them to admit it.  They (we) can suffer from  grandiosity.  We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up.  We sometimes don’t want to admit a core fear that we may not be the master of the universe, that we are not Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or Mark Cuban.  Not even remotely.  We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up.
  5. Entrepreneurs are dreamers who can drift into not living in the rigorous reality of what their life actually is.

JeffGrantNewHeadShotJeff Grant can speak with authority on this subject.   He spent 14 months in a federal prison for a financially motivated crime stemming from bad decisions made under the dual influence of prescription drugs and financial pressure.

Grant headed a highly successful legal practice in Westchester County, New York.  The Greenwich Sentinel reports Grant as saying, “In the course of rehabilitating an [achilles heel] injury, I got hooked on prescription narcotics.  Doctors were more than happy to continue to prescribe them to me, and I took them for about ten years.”

Grant gradually lost control of his firm and eventually couldn’t meet payroll—at which point he made up the shortfall by dipping into client escrow funds.  He lost his company, his marriage, his money, his respected position in the community, his freedom.

What he found in prison was that there was little or no support for small businessmen like himself.  His present wife and Co-Founder of the Progressive Prison Project, Lynn Springer, puts it this way:

“Typically in the upper-middle class, where white collar criminals tend to come from, the husband has been the bread winner.  Generally, these are people who are considered to be very well off.  All of a sudden, all of their assets may have been seized by the SEC.  They don’t know how they are going to buy food, how they are going to heat their home, how they are going to put gas in their car.”  (The Greenwich Sentinel)

Furthermore, when Grant came out of prison he had to deal with what he calls the “schadenfreude” of many folks who took a closet joy in seeing the mighty fall.  Grant thinks there is an ecosystem problem in our society in which the rich person and the celebrity are both adored and virulently hated, and there is little sympathy, governmental or societal, for the fallen entrepreneur, who many see as a stand-in for the greedy 1%.

Grant speaks with power out of his own humiliation and suffering.  He has the well-earned authority of a deeply humbled man.  After his release from prison he got an M. Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary and founded the Progressive Prison Project, which is the first ministry in the U.S. created to provide support and counseling to individuals and families with white-collar and other non-violent incarceration issues. Der Amerikanische Priester haelt Vortraege und Seminarien in der Elisabethenkirche ab. Photo Stephanie Grell(For further information on Jeff Grant try www.prisonist.org.  Also related to this issue check out my Inc. column of last year titled Criminals and Entrepreneurs.)

Robert Rohr, in his excellent book on addiction, Breathing Under Water, says, “People who fail to do it right, by even their own definition right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion.”  Like Jeff Grant.  Thank you, Robert Rohr.

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There are two experiences in my life without which I personally could never have become an entrepreneur.  These two things are addiction and failure.  They are seminal to my entrepreneurial vocation and the bedrock of my current joy and fulfillment.

imagesCAJFIQ8LI spent many years as a committed addict of several sorts.  Without detailing the specifics of this, suffice it to say I was at times a liar, a thief, a drunk, a seducer, a narcissist, a scofflaw, and a devotee of magical thinking.  I was a wastrel using his innate gifts, education, and background to avoid reality, to not grow, to hide his authentic core and to avoid an engaged life.  I was a creature of ashen hollowness living in the shadows of a moral and mental abyss, a soulless Gollum caught in a vertiginous descent into life killing compulsion and escapism.

I was not unaware of my fallen state, but felt quite like St. Augustine who famously prayed, “Lord, take this sin (read lust, compulsion, addiction) from my heart—but not yet.”  I told myself I could give up my addictions any time as long as it was next Tuesday.  Nevertheless, at a nadir I had to stop or spiritually die.  I chose to come to a dead stop with the help of the usual suspects—Twelve Step programs, friends, family, faith, therapy.  But most importantly to me, I discovered, quite by accident, a new vehicle of salvation into which to pour a repairing soul.  For me that vehicle was entrepreneurship.

The formation of my executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain, was an attempt to simply create a company I could live healthily in.  Yes, I needed to make a profit, but my primary purpose was to become useful and whole and sustainable in rebuilding a personal center.  For me that meant staying honest with myself and others and forming a communal value system that constantly buttressed those qualities.

My addictions were close kin to my series of failures in life.  I started out to be a minister or teacher or professor.  Something ennobling and service oriented.  I actually was on the road to a Ph. D. in philosophy, but I dropped out to become an actor for ten years, where, despite appearances in a couple of Broadway shows and a national soap opera I basically crashed and burned, supporting myself mostly on unemployment and bar tending.  (Being an actor was also like catnip to my addictive nature.  It was like putting Miracle-Gro on my character defects.)  I tried to sing opera for two years and totally failed.  I tried to produce a Broadway show and lost a ton of money.

As I approached 40, I was broke and didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do.  Quite out of the blue, a CEO, who I knew socially, asked me to represent him around some high dollar discreet business matters.  It was essentially a customized, high-level sales job.  The very idea of of sales made my gorge rise.  What was sales?  Used car sales?  Glengarry Glen Ross?  A corporate Willy Loman?  I had no business training, no sales training, and no interest in being a corporate cog.  But the offer was from a friend, so I tried it.

Lo and behold, I was a tremendous high-level salesman.  And I loved it.  I saw a niche in executive sales outsourcing and formed a company around the idea.  It worked.  Out of the maelstrom of confusion, chaos, and bleakness in my life to that point, I became a successful entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurship offered me a unique life saver and a shot at personal redemption.

My gratitude for the institution of entrepreneurship is beyond words.

My entrepreneurial journey is not about money.  It is about meaning, integrity, recovery, and usefulness.  Entrepreneurship gave me a magical palimpsest reset to my life of addiction and failure.  It allowed me to banish demons and pour myself into a profit-making service vocation, fraught with meaning and value.  It was the ultimate therapy, offering the where-with-all for a life awash in grace and earned dignity.  A life after death, so to speak.

Thus, for anyone with a yen for meaning, I suggest entrepreneurship.  It is a gift quite separate from its value as a vehicle of capitalist striving.  If I went bankrupt tomorrow I would be a success as an entrepreneur because I have grown courageous, passionate, free, and whole through living in my company and serving its corporate community and clients.

So, as a recovering addict and as a multiple failure, my business life daily offers me a spiritual home and a locus for centered growth and earned satisfaction.  This is the goal and chief reward for my personal business journey.

Sherman-Alexie.-002[1]One of the many insights of AA include the suggestion of shifting out of your addiction through substitution.  My small business is The Good Addiction.

So addiction and failure can be the hand maidens of success, when mediated through the leavening antidote of entrepreneurship.  While the bad stuff doesn’t go away, it is transmorgrified into new and useful experience through productive enterprise.

I am convinced we are all addicts and failures to a lesser or greater degree.   Sherman Alexie, in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, says, “There are all kinds of addicts, I guess. We all have pain.  And we all look for ways to make that pain go away.”  Thanks, Sherman.

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