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Getting Past Your Past



by Bob Pelshaw

We all have things we’re ashamed of. The mistakes we’ve made, the time and opportunities we’ve lost, the people we’ve hurt, and the things we destroyed. Things that make us cringe. Things we hope no one “googles.” Those are real and there’s nothing anyone can do to change the past. Given the fact that our sins are now forever online for the whole world to see, how do we “get past our past?”

I lost a $34 Million real estate portfolio because I trusted the wrong people, made some mistakes, and ended up serving a 10 month felony sentence at Leavenworth Federal Prison Camp. I’ve been called the “dumbest smart person” on the planet! I used to cringe, and be de-motivated, when I thought about what I had and what I lost.  I avoided friends and family because of the shame I was bearing. It was starting to beat me down, and it kept me from moving forward. I couldn’t get past my past.

Bishop TD Jakes once asked: “Are you defined by your past or by your destiny?” We can’t control what other people think, but we can create how most people respond to us by how we live our lives. Others will believe more in you then a derogatory online search if are willing to pay the price to do one thing:

To get other people to believe more in you than in your past mistakes, you must BE that person others can believe in, regardless of what anyone may think, say, do, or don’t do. This requires hard work and different actions by you.

I’m not some “goody two-shoes” trying to tell you to do the right thing because that’s what your momma wants. I’m telling you to do these things for YOU and your future, and to show the people that didn’t believe in you that they were wrong. Doing the right things will, over time, help you win back the people you lost. Its hard work, but worth it compared to the alternative.

Some won’t believe in you no matter what you do, but don’t prove them right by repeating the same decisions and actions that created your past you want to get past. Here’s a reminder of some things you already know: Don’t have the same habits you had. Don’t hang around with people that you know will pull you down or get you back in your old ways. Don’t think the same thoughts about yourself that you did in the past. These things won’t come naturally to you – especially if it’s all you knew. But you, your future, and rebuilding broken relationships are worth the effort.

I love what’s known as “Einstein’s Definition of Insanity” which states that “doing the same thing thinking it will bring a different result is insane.” Here are twelve practical powerful proven ways to become the person that others can believe in, despite your felony. If you follow these things I KNOW you can get others to believe in you, and your future.


1. Everyone has a past – not everyone is strong enough to admit it. Don’t hide your past when it comes up.  Since anyone can check your personal history online in seconds, why hide it or be embarrassed by it? If it’s important for someone to know, then bring it up to them so they can hear your version and not see the ugly online version. Make a short summary statement that shares the truth about your failure but doesn’t go into great detail. In sales we call that an “elevator speech.” It’s a sales pitch designed to explain a motivating summary of your product in about the same amount of time as you are on an elevator.

You will earn respect for bringing up your mistake yourself. I’ve had interviews where the people already knew about my past before the meeting, and they tested me to see if I would be honest with them about it. Sincerely assure whoever you are revealing this to that your past is in the past. Be prepared to prove that statement as well. Be sorry for what you did but don’t let yourself be ashamed. The more you try to hide it, or the more shame you carry, the more you choke your ability to succeed.  I don’t flaunt my mistakes like a brazen hussy, but I don’t hide it or have shame about it anymore because I know that I am not the same person that I was. I prove that, to myself and others, by my daily actions: big and small, seen and unseen.

2. Do what you say you are going to do, even if it’s not convenient.  I often say this: “I’m sorry I can’t hear what you’re saying, your actions are screaming at me.”  For instance, a lot of people are weary of us ex-offenders because we know how to talk a good game, but what everyone wants to see is if we can live what we’re saying. Some people will challenge you, or maybe not accept you.  DON’T LET THAT GET YOU DOWN! Most people are just testing you to see if you have really changed. You won’t earn trust again until you have shown that you will do your best to do what you say you are going to do.

3. Become a person that is solid and dependable by approaching life like a weight lifter approaches lifting weights. The weight lifter knows the more repetitions he does and the more weight he lifts the stronger he becomes. I say “becomes” because the lifter is aware weight training is a process he must continue to see any progress. If you were like me you have years of past behavior and habits you have to reprogram and replace with new ones, daily. You know what’s right and wrong, so do it, no excuses.  The right ways are always harder, but you’ve already lived the alternative. Don’t you deserve a different life? Make it happen with new thoughts, decisions, and behavior.

4. If you lied, or told half-truths, stop! Yes, we all lie, but when we do we lose credibility. Freedom can be lost but I won’t let anyone take my credibility and self-worth again. Telling the whole truth can make you credible again. Usually we lie because we don’t want others to think poorly about us, or we try to avoid a confrontation.  What we do to avoid telling the truth is usually worse than just dealing with it.

5. Read good things.  You don’t have to be a great reader, just read a few minutes at a time until you get better at it with practice. Leaders are readers.  You want a new path in life, and absent of it falling out of the sky, you will have to search for it and walk that new path.  Start by reading things to help you prepare for the future you want to have. Read biographies, self-help books, and good articles.  Read things to reinforce your faith and spirituality. Exercise keeps our bodies in shape. Reading the right things keeps our minds, attitudes, and lives in shape.

6. Stop dwelling in your past; instead, learn from your past. In my book ILLEGAL TO LEGAL: BUSINESS SUCCESS FOR (EX) CRIMINALS I talk about how to do that. You past is like the fuel in a rocket. If unused it weighs you down. If improperly used its dangerous and volatile. If properly used the lessons from your past will propel you to your destiny. People won’t have confidence in you until you prove that your past is in your past and not in your present.

7. Think about what your strengths and weaknesses are, and find ways to build a future based on your strengths. Can you get a job, or start a business, that uses your strengths or things that you love doing? Are there clubs or groups you can get involved in that uses your strengths? I talk about how to discover your strengths and weaknesses in my book, but the Gallup Strengthsfinder Test is an excellent way to really discover your strengths, and your weaknesses.

8. Don’t live just to please yourself – live like you have a great future, because you do if you work hard and create it.

9. Don’t wait for things to happen, or for perfect conditions. Something will always go wrong, you’ll never have enough money, or someone will let you down.  So what? Don’t let those things stop you. Do whatever you can do to change and prepare for the future you want.

10. Be smarter than an infant by trying something new until you succeed. When an infant is learning to walk, which is something new for that baby, it’s smart enough to get up when it falls down.  You will make mistakes along the way, but don’t let your mistakes keep you down. You’ll never change your life otherwise. A baby doesn’t stay on the floor when it’s learning to walk right. You are going to have to learn to “walk out” your new life, so expect to fall. Don’t focus on your fall, how much you fall, or how far or how hard you fell. Focus on getting up! That’s the only way to walk towards your new future. If (or when) you fall again, get back up and keep going until you can walk well enough not to fall. Then RUN towards your destiny.

11. Sincerely considering the needs of others is the most important way to get others to trust you and to rebuild broken relationships.  Global leadership expert and best-selling author John Maxwell says “the whole world, with one notable exception, is made up of others.”  It’s easier to get along with others when they know you care.  If you can’t get along with people then they won’t go along with you, trust you, or help you.


R.L. Pelshaw, is a successful real estate developer, consultant, entrepreneur, public speaker, and  is the author of an exciting new book to help offenders, ex-offenders, those at risk to offend, and their families.

Please buy one for yourself or as a gift for the offender, ex-offender, or person at risk to offend.


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