If you had met teenaged Ian Humphrey, you no doubt would’ve deemed him a “bad” kid. He was an angry teen, acted out, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon when he was 19.
But is he, in fact, bad?
A difficult start
Ian was born two months premature after his mother was doused with a pot of boiling water by a woman she had argued with earlier. She fell down a flight of stairs, went into labor, and suffered third-degree burns over 25% of her body.
She was prescribed powerful pain pills, and when Ian was three years old he swallowed an entire bottle. He was rushed to the hospital and fell into a coma.
When he recovered, Ian was placed in the foster care system where he was physically and sexually abused. One foster mom locked him in a closet, beat him, and repeatedly told him, “You’re stupid and you’ll never amount to anything.” Young Ian believed her.
Eventually, his grandmother won custody of Ian, and he was reunited with his mother. He was blissfully happy, and promised his mom he’d buy her a big house and car when he grew up.
But Ian’s hopes, dreams, and plans for his mother died after she passed away when he was 12. He was left confused, hurt, angry, and no longer cared what happened to him. His acting out culminated in his 15-year sentence for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.
In prison, Ian heard the voice of his foster mother and the voices of others who had said he would never amount to anything. He believed they were right, and was sure he would die there.
It was when he heard the voice of prison educator Charles Lyles that his life began to change and he realized “bad” didn’t have to be his destiny. Charles told Ian, “Prison doesn’t have to be your life. You can get out of here and do great things. I believe in you.”
No one had ever said that to him, and that’s when Ian decided he would make some changes.
Today, he is a loving father and motivational speaker who helps people and organizations across the U.S. overcome the obstacles they face and achieve the life they deserve.
In the below Goalcast video, Ian uses both humor and hard-earned wisdom to share the message that your past doesn’t have to define your future. You are not automatically sentenced to a lifetime as a bad person just because you may have done something bad in the past. We all make mistakes, but we also all have the power to redeem ourselves through what we learn from those mistakes and though the decisions we make going forward.
A Jungian perspective
Psychologist Carl Jung famously said, “I would rather be whole than good.” Jung believed all humans are innately capable of both good and evil, and that it’s better to be consciously aware of your human capacity for bad deeds than to delude yourself into thinking that you’re an entirely and exclusively good person.
Jung said it was impossible to attain enlightenment without acknowledging one’s “shadow” – the dark side of one’s nature. Psychologist Jordan Peterson provides an excellent summary of Jung’s ideas and explains why it’s important to fully acknowledge your shadow in this interview with comedian Joe Rogan:
The truth of human nature
Many people are plagued with self-recrimination and self-doubt about their own goodness after making the kinds of mistakes Ian Humphrey made in his teen years, or after making lesser mistakes such as lashing out in anger, being dishonest in dealings with others, being selfish, cheating, etc.
The truth is, we as humans all have the capacity for such undesirable behaviors. Jung would say that those who fail to recognize and acknowledge this fact about themselves are more dangerous than those who do recognize and acknowledge it.
This is because the only way these desires, behaviors, and innate tendencies can be kept in check is to be consciously aware of them so you can control them when they arise.
Those who deny having a dark side/shadow are dangerous because, rather than acknowledging and controlling these instincts within themselves, they project them onto others. They convince themselves that others around them are the sources of these dark feelings, thoughts, and desires, not them. They can then justify committing great atrocities against those others in the name of what is good and right.
Jung’s theories were derived in part from his extensive study of the Nazis and his exploration into how otherwise good men were transformed into monsters … who still perceived themselves as good and noble men.
None of us are all good or all bad, but rather a mixture of both. There is no dark without light, nor light without dark.
Believe in yourself
If you’ve made egregious mistakes, have deep regrets about bad behavior, have made bad choices, and face self-doubt about your goodness, you have the power to take control and turn it all around, just as Ian Humphrey did.
The fact that each of us has the potential within us to do bad things doesn’t mean we have to be a slave to our dark side. It means we can use the knowledge of that potential to fuel our good side.
This knowledge allows us to make conscious choices to do right instead of wrong, rather than allowing our unconscious impulses to drive us further into the shadows. The only way to eradicate the darkness is to shine a light on it.
Believe in yourself and your capacity for goodness. No matter what you’ve done, you have the power to redeem yourself through the decisions you make in this moment and every moment going forward.
Change the meaning of your past
We can’t change the past, but we can change its meaning with every choice we make in the present.
Ian Humphrey was a convicted criminal at 19, and if he had continued breaking the law, his past criminal activity would’ve been deemed proof of his inherent criminality.
But when Ian made conscious choices to do better and be better, he transformed the meaning of his past crimes. He redefined them as mistakes, rather than indicators of a criminal character.
We all have tremendous power to define our lives and to define what each action we take means, even long after those actions have passed.
Never allow your mistakes to define you. Recognize the humanity in yourself and in your flaws, and use that knowledge to pursue the good while letting your shadow know who’s in control.
Redemption is always an option, and is attainable by anyone who genuinely wants to live a better, more honest, good life. Your shadow is not your destiny. Just ask Ian Humphrey.