Defy Your Barriers

Convicted felons who finish their sentences often struggle on the outside just like they did behind bars.

Often lacking skills, support and education, many go back to a life of crime, with nearly 70% returning to prison (44% within one year of their release). But some — including many drug dealers — have exhibited strong entrepreneurial characteristics; they’ve just used them in a detrimental manner.

Catherine Hoke saw the opportunity to help former criminals defy the odds. After a successful career in venture capital, helping entrepreneurs launch companies, she created a program to do the same for ex-cons: Defy Ventures.

This nonprofit provides more than 350 hours of training, support and coaching to each participant, helping to build skills and redirect efforts so they have a positive impact. The goal: Help people turn their lives around by becoming legitimate entrepreneurs.

Defying numerous critics, Hoke forged ahead. And after two years, the results have defied expectations. Since the program began, it has served 75 ex-cons, launched 44 businesses, achieved an 87% employment rate and created a 94% increase in annual income. Even more impressive, Defy Ventures’ participants have had a zero percent rate of recidivism: Not a single person has gone back to jail.

Hoke and her team seized an opportunity to make a real difference by doing what others believed could not be done. They focused on what could be, instead of the harsh reality of the day. They flipped conventional wisdom upside down, injected creativity and conviction, and today, are making an incredible impact.

In your own life, what barriers are waiting to be defied?

Nearly all human progress is rooted in an act of defiance, with brave creators determined to forge new ground. Edison defied darkness. The Wright brothers defied gravity. Mandela defied bigotry and hatred.

On a smaller scale, you have the power right now to defy many of your own obstacles. Perhaps your act of defiance is to become the first person in your family to go to college. Or to break the insidious cycle of addiction. Starting a business, standing up to your overbearing boss and becoming a better parent are all defying the status quo in favor of a better future.

The history books are written about those who defy, not conform. Give your own situation a careful examination and choose the areas of your life most in need of disruption.

Defy the norm. Defy the obvious. Defy the expected. Defy the critics. Defy your boundaries and seize the life you were meant to live.

This is your time … to defy.