Never Ever Give Up

633 Days Inside by Greg Lindberg


Never Ever Give Up

Your future and freedom depend on your ability to conquer your fear.

met a fellow prisoner who was originally sentenced to life in prison. He was a young man, maybe 30 years old. He had won several appeals, all done on his own, and was now facing another 5 years instead of the

rest of his life in prison. Being sentenced to life in prison puts this in perspective. This fellow inmate had no choice: he was going to win his legal battle, or he was going to die trying.

I was inspired by him. If you can learn to face death in the way that this inmate does, or a solider does—as a possible sacrifice for the g oal you are fighting for—death simply becomes one of the potential sacrifices you must make to achieve your goal.

Whatever you are fighting for will live on as energy even if you are not around anymore. Your family, your business, your art, your community, your life’s work comprises the energy you bring to the world.

A simple statement I say to myself when I set a goal is, “I am going to achieve this goal, or I am going to die trying.” It is a simple binary outcome. You can rest assured of one or the other outcomes.

  • I am going to win the case pending against me, or I am going to die trying.
  • I am going to build the business I want to build, or I am going to die trying.
  • I am going to raise wonderful children, or I am going to die trying.
  • I am going to cure aging, or I am going to die trying.
  • I am going to survive my brain tumor, or I am going to die trying.

Love Yourself

In prison, you encounter people who had the unfortunate accident of birth to be born in an unloving and hostile environment. At a very early age, this negative energy instilled self-doubt and a lack of self esteem. In the class I taught for my fellow inmates, I emphasized the mantra, “I love myself.” 

Love yourself enough to forgive yourself.

Self-appreciation and self-esteem are the keys to not tolerating a life you don’t want to live. Self-love is the key to demanding what you think you are worth from life. If you think you are nothing, life will give you nothing.

The day before I checked into prison my mom said to me, “Son, I am so proud of you.” I credit this unconditional love from my mother as one of the key reasons I have found the fortitude to persist through adversities to find the advantage they can bring. My father died while I was in prison, and I miss him greatly.

Success begins with faith in yourself. If you find yourself lacking faith in yourself, discover what subconscious beliefs are lurking unexamined and examine them. It’s likely that, at some point, someone put a belief into your subconscious that you weren’t good enough or weren’t worth loving. Surface that subconscious belief and relentlessly rewrite it with a new belief: “I am worthy, I am loved.” Drill this into your subconscious with emotion. Emotionalizing new beliefs is the only way they can travel into the reptilian brain, which stores your subconscious beliefs.

Andrew E. Budson, M.D. explains in Psychology Today, “Automatic routines which, over time, we have learned to do without thinking about them, such as playing tennis and even driving, are largely performed by our reptilian brain. So, when we are driving and, at the same time, engrossed in a conversation with a friend, we may find that we have driven somewhere with no memory of how we did it—that’s because the reptilian brain was doing most of the driving.”

The scary part of life is that a lot of what we do is done without thinking, governed by our reptilian brain. Our fundamental beliefs, for starters, if they are not excavated, challenged, and potentially revised, are then governing our life from their position in the reptilian brain.

If you do not have total and utter faith that you can keep your own word and achieve your goals or die trying, then someone, somehow, has put the wrong belief into your reptilian brain. If you cannot rewrite this faulty belief to give yourself new faith on your own, seek professional help.

The more you show gratitude and appreciation, the more it comes back to you.

Appreciate the Small Things

Prison teaches you to value the small things. When I broke my fasts, I loved to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One day, one of my fellow inmates gave me a bag of peanut butter, and it was the best part of my week. Regardless of how bleak your situation may be, there is always something you can appreciate, and always something that can bring you joy.

Everything is a matter of perspective. That bag of peanut butter, which had a dozen or so individual packets in it, was enough for 10+ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I enjoyed just as if they were a 5-course meal at a Michelin star restaurant. A simple sandwich can bring enormous joy in prison.

“On the street,” people are far too dismissive of the simple joys and rewards in life. We pass them over without thinking. On the street, far too often we end up failing to show gratitude for our sustenance. What are some small things you may overlook that fuel you?

75% of the communication in the modern work environment is a waste of time.

Set Aside Time for Reflection

One of the things prison taught me was how important setting aside time for reflection is. In the world outside of prison, you are bombarded with electronic messages constantly. Each one of these triggers a brief emotional response as the very first response to all stimuli: fight or flight. Once your brain understands this new plea of information is not a threat, it relaxes, and your cerebellum takes over. Constant stimulus from new information in the new electronic age puts us into a constant “fight or flight” mode which burns out our adrenal glands and causes all manner of health problems. In prison, I can check email once every 45 minutes. There is usually a line since we only have three computers for 100 inmates in my unit. I tend to check email two or three times per day. So, I only have two or 

three “fight or flight” moments where my adrenaline goes up as I review new emails to see if there are any threats. The rest of the day is far more relaxing. I take a daily nap. I think, ponder, and reflect. I find myself to be a far better decision-maker.

Constant electronic communication harms our ability to think, which is, after all, the most important job of a leader. In prison, given the very limited access to email, I tend to think about a response for several hours before sending anything. I also have long periods with no new information stimuli which allows my brain to stay in a reflective vs. reactive mode. It’s highly productive to step back and think.

Nurture Growth

I loved to see my fellow prisoners get excited about starting a business. Most of them had to fight for everything in life and were never given any inspiration or positive feedback that they could, in fact, succeed in business. Many were born into families where drug use was common, and they turned to the drug trade. I saw an enormous amount of talent in my fellow inmates for business success —what is missing in many of them is the encouragement and someone to simply say “I believe in you.” Sadly, many of them never had anyone who believed in them. It brings tears to my eyes .

Everyone has the seeds of something great inside them. Help them unlock it.

just thinking about it. You can turn a life around by helping someone change their beliefs about themselves and helping them put new positive affirmations into their daily thoughts. I saw it firsthand every day in class and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve printed here in this book some letters from my fellow inmates so you can see for yourself what my classes meant to them.

The biggest lesson I learned from my fellow prisoners is what resilience really means. I mentioned a young prisoner who was originally sentenced to a life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. He had fought a legal battle over several years and now had less than 5 years left to serve. Many others endured deaths of children, divorce, and abandonment by loved ones. They just kept going. You can, too.

Over the years, we have acquired a number of companies that no one wanted, and no one had the expertise to turn around. Just about every company can be a great company with the right people in the right place on the bus. Likewise, there is enormous value in taking the time to find the right place on the bus for employees who may not otherwise be valued.

I believe there is greatness in every human being. Every one of us has a special gift. In prison, if you get to know an inmate well enough, you will find their special talent. It may be poetry. It may be art. It may be leather craft. It may be cooking. I saw an amazing range of talent in prison and there is an amazing range of talent in everyone on your team. One of my fellow inmates who had been down for many years had composed and memorized hundreds of poems. He wrote them on greeting cards in the most perfect handwriting I had ever seen. This was his greatness.

If you get to know someone well enough, you can find their inner greatness. And if you are a leader, you can find a place for them on your bus. Most importantly, you must keep an open mind and believe there is greatness in everyone—if you are patient to look for it and nurture it.

Every one of us is a descendant of Mitochondrial Eve—the most recent common matrilineal ancestor for all modern humans that lived around 155,000 years ago. Mitochondrial Eve gave all of us our mitochondrial DNA. We are all brothers and sisters, part of the same big family. Every one of us has the same mitochondrial DNA from Mitochondrial Eve. And every one of us has a greatness within that is powered by our mitochondria, even your worst detractors and those who want to “incapacitate” you. They, too, have a greatness within if you look hard enough and forgive them for what they have done.

Are you willing to face the most pain and danger of anyone you lead? The leader must always be willing to face the most pain and the most danger.

Welcome Pain

Many of us have heard of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Less well-known is post-traumatic growth, or PTG. Developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., in the mid-1990s, PTG is the understanding that people who endure a psychological struggle following adversity often experience positive growth afterward.

PTG is different than “resilience.” People who are resilient rarely experience PTG. It is people who struggle to bounce back who often grow the most after a traumatic experience. Tedeschi and Calhoun developed a “Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory” which measures growth in seven areas:

  • Greater appreciation of life
  • Greater appreciation and strengthening of close relationships
  • Increased compassion and altruism
  • The identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life
  • Greater awareness and utilization of personal strengths
  • Enhanced spiritual development
  • Creative growth

There is a great book by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey called What Happened to You? (2021) about trauma and resilience. Dr. Perry helped Oprah set up her leadership school for girls who had experienced sexual violence and abuse as children. Here, he uses the term Post Traumatic Wisdom or PTW. The text, using this concept, offers a great way to look at the adversity—you aren’t less because of the trauma that happened to you. When you experience it, pull through and thrive, you have a wisdom that others may never have.

It is possible to thrive after a disaster. Given that 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women report at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, we need to develop a new attitude to pain. As with failure, we are taught to avoid pain from the earliest age. Pain, however, is not only unavoidable, it is essential.

COVID-19 has presented all manner of trauma for millions of people. Lives have been lost, businesses ruined, relationships torn apart, and careers ruined. If you are fortunate enough to be alive to be reading this, then this trauma can turn into an even greater advantage.

I do not know of a single great artist, musician, entrepreneur, religious leader, or military commander, personally or by reputation, who avoided pain. You must know you can endure pain to be a leader. It is by withstanding pain that you find the truth and break free from the constraints that put you in danger—moral, physical or emotional—in the first place.

The types of pain most people want to avoid include:

  • Physical pain (lack of exercise)
  • Mental pain (lack of disciplined thought)
  • Emotional pain (fear of loss of love)
  • Social pain (fear of failure)
  • Financial pain (fear of financial risk)
  • Pain that keeps us locked in the prison of our comfort zone (fear of life)

Sam Chand spells it out beautifully: “Do you want to be a better leader? Raise the threshold of your pain. Reluctance to face pain is your greatest limitation. There is no growth without change, no change without loss and no loss without pain. Bottom line: If you’re not hurting, you’re not leading.”

Until recently, most of my pain was self-inflicted, giving up a social life to work, dedicating my time and energy to my business. The greatest test of my life has been my trial and public accusations of wrongdoing. I was fortunate to have the funds to fight a battle in court , but my money would have been worthless if I hadn’t been prepared to suffer through the pain of this battle. The measure of the strength of your character is your ability to endure pain. This translates into your ability to seek the truth and escape the prison of your comfort zone and mediocrity. Quite directly, your free will is dependent on your ability to endure pain.

The amount of pain and trauma you can endure and turn into an equal or greater advantage is the measure of your ability to connect with your fundamental will to be free. Each of us has that fundamental will, and each of us can identify, surface and connect with that will through making the subconscious conscious.

To understand how enduring pain can free your will, become an art and music lover. Most great art and music comes from a place of great pain.

Hegel said it best: “If we are in a general way permitted to regard human activity in the realm of the beautiful as a liberation of the soul, as a release from constraint and restriction, in short, to consider that art does actually alleviate the most overpowering and tragic catastrophes by means of the creations it offers to our contemplation and enjoyment, it is the art of music which conducts us to the final summit of that ascent to freedom.”

If you want to succeed, you must study the masters in your field. This might seem obvious, but the most successful people make it an obsession.

If you find your happiness in business, start by memorizing the Forbes 400. You have to read every single scrap of information you can find about people who are successful. You need to read and emulate. Then, most importantly, put your own ingredients in the mix. I learned the hard way that you cannot simply emulate someone else’s success; you must always innovate.

Many savvy investors have admired the Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) model that provides $118 billion in insurance “float” for investment , primarily in affiliated equity. Competing buyers, like private equity funds, must pay equity returns to their investors, whereas BRK’s cost of funds is based on underwriting losses and annuity crediting rates—a far lower cost than private equity LPs demand or even corporate debt markets.

Under insurance laws in many states, and under the NAIC Model Holding Company Act, affiliated investments are permitted without limitation, provided they are fair and reasonable. So, why is BRK the only insurance company with the majority of its assets invested in affiliates? The answer: Regulators in various states don’t like the model of affiliate investment.

The BRK model was first approved by the Nebraska Department of Insurance in the late 1960s and 1970s. Now, this approval is effectively grandfathered, and further approvals for new entrants into the market are not welcome.

Senator Ben Nelson was appointed the director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance in 1975. He made the wise decision to support the growth of BRK’s National Indemnity’s affiliate investments. Policyholders win when their premiums are invested by a long-term, patient and savvy investor with a reputation for investing in inflation-protected investments.

BRK has become the backstop for the entire P&C world, and has l owered the cost of insurance worldwide with its large balance sheet. It has also provided stable capital for a long-term buy and hold approach protecting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of employees. It’s the right model of capitalism—long-term and people-focused.

Numerous investors have pondered how to replicate this model. I tried to replicate it. Some critics might say, “well, you aren’t Warren Buffett.” True, I’m not.

My group of companies was founded with $5,000 in 1991 and has a fair value net worth in excess of $1 billion today—a CAGR in excess of 50 percent. This corporate annual growth rate is a significantly better performance than BRK and most family offices, private equity funds, hedge funds, and publicly traded conglomerates. Other critics might say, “Well, you don’t have Warren Buffett’s reputation.” True, but where was Warren Buffett in 1980? Our equity returns are better.

Some other reasons our model was superior to BRK include:

  • BRK typically puts its acquisitions on the balance sheet as “wholly owned subsidiaries,” which means these assets are less liquid than our middle market loans. Refinancing a loan is easier than selling a company.
  • BRK is primarily a P&C insurance company, which has more volatile liabilities and needs more liquid reserves than a life insurance company.
  • Our portfolio is more 21st-century oriented, with a focus on health care, technology, and financial services. And, our investment track record is superior to what Buffett was able to achieve at the same age.
  • We added two layers of disaffiliation to provide third-party oversight in a downside scenario: stock holdings in trusts and affiliated assets managed by third parties. BRK doesn’t have these protections. If things “go south,” the largest shareholder can call all the shots—which could lead to a conflict between the shareholder of the parent company and the policyholders of the subsidiary insurance companies.

It wasn’t until March 2018 that the Nebraska Department of Insurance told us it would never allow anyone to repeat what Warren Buffett did. Through no fault of his own, Buffett now has an ironclad regulatory monopoly on investing insurance reserves in affiliates. No one else need apply. Warren Buffett made his $100 billion and single-handedly lowered insurances rates worldwide. But don’t try to emulate his success because the door is firmly closed to new entrants.