Your past does not have to be a prison sentence.

What The Shawshank Redemption can teach you about making the best of a bad situation.


In dealing with any kind of trauma or stress, I believe one of the most vital things one can learn from it is that it does not have to “become you”. You do not have to have your whole identity made up as “the trauma” or in other words, your past does not equal your future. You can heal from trauma, betrayal, rejection or even that chatterbox in your head that tells you that you are a complete failure or that you will never be good enough.

I want to write a post about the all-time classic movie, “The Shawshank Redemption” because it has some great learnings within.

 “The Shawshank Redemption” (based on Stephen King’s short story, Rita Hayworth, and the Shawshank Redemption) is about a successful banker, Andy Dufresne, who is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. I am sure many of you have seen it.

Andy Dufresne is falsely accused. He is sentenced for a murder that he did not commit. I cannot imagine serving time in prison for a crime I did not commit but, in a way, a lot of a do serve time in prison for crimes we didn’t commit.

But we serve our time by being the “prisoner” in our own minds. We punish ourselves for things that happened to us that are not our fault. My life’s journey and why I even started The Gwyneth Montenegro Foundation are very much linked to my own story of being a prisoner in my mind, for the crime I did not commit. I was drugged, taken away and gang raped. I then in turn believed it was my fault. A lot of clients of mine that I talk to punish themselves in various ways for a lifetime for things that were not their fault. This is quite common.

We certainly can imprison ourselves for something we didn’t do …maybe not a physical jail like Andy Dufresne was sent to …but a sometimes equally insidious one of that being the limitations and punishments that we give ourselves.

Getting back to the movie, for nineteen years Dufresne quietly chips away at his goal to escape, by literally chipping the wall in his cell – a little bit every day – until one day he reaches his goal and escapes.

His jail buddy, Red, comments that all it took “was pressure and time.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any movie replayed so many times on TV. It really intrigued me. So I did some research and found out that according to IMDB, The Shawshank Redemption is the second most popular movie of all time with The Godfather taking first place! That’s quite the accomplishment given how long The Godfather has been out.

Why is this movie so popular? I don’t really know the answer. But I think it’s because many people feel like they’re living in a prison and have been given a life sentence, doing work they really hate or that they are a prisoner to their own limiting mindset. They want to break free from their shackles and their self-imposed limitations on their lives.

More than anything else, most people want FREEDOM! And Shawshank delivers that moment of freedom. It’s a beautiful story that makes the soul weep with joy and provides the hope and promise of being human. It provides one with hope that they too can escape their prison and live out their true destiny on their own terms.

The great thing about Shawshank is that it also provides a solution: by quietly chipping away at your main goal and consistently taking action every day, you will achieve the success and freedom you have been longing for. With ‘pressure and time’ you can take the darkest coal and turn it into the most brilliant, most magnificent diamond the world has ever seen.

It’s true!


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