Former Executive – Never a Victim: There's Always a Choice!
Categories: Business, David, Jesus (Parables), Law
Mike Ritter was able to break free of gangs and failure, raise his level of expectation about himself, earn a law degree, and eventually become the president of a cable company. In retirement, he has sailed around the world, serves on non-profit boards, invests, snowboards, is a jazz piano student, and enjoys his grandkids and farm. Read his remarkable story and discover what he has to teach us about overcoming adversity and understanding true employment.
You're a successful man in so many ways. Where should we start?
To know me a little bit is to know that I came from a very broken home. I grew up fatherless, in a non-religious, low-economic situation, with a fair amount of abuse. My mom was always screaming at me. Our occasional church going (Christmas and Easter) was out of obligation to my grandmother, whose father was a minister.
A turning point in my life happened when I was 16. I was growing up in gangs, riding motorcycles. Then I had a motorcycle accident and broke both of my femers. I was bedridden for two years. During this time, I began to learn that there was more to whom I was than my history or my physical body. I was not a victim.
How did you realize you were not a victim?
I had an epiphany, so to speak, at the lowest point of my bedridden experience. I had broken my leg again while exercising it. A sense of light came to me in my thought that was so peaceful and loving. I don't know how long it lasted, but I knew that there was a caring creator, God, who was with me then and would always be with me. While this didn't lead to any spiritual training then, it did leave me with a really important conviction that with the help of this ever-present goodness, I would get through whatever needed to be gotten through. I never looked back.
How did you move forward?
From then on, I slowly improved my level of expectation about myself. It wasn't that I suddenly decided I was going to get a college degree or become a lawyer, but I knew I could do better, and so I raised my sights for myself. I had two different home teachers who came from the school because I was a shut-in. They came just to teach me! This was the first time anyone had cared for me directly. I found that I loved learning. I even read a book. And then I met my future wife, who knew that there was more to me than even I could see. She has been the greatest blessing in my life. We've been married 50 years now!
Before the accident, my goal was maybe to be an auto mechanic. I had been kicked out of high school and was required to go to a trade school, where the students learned a trade like auto mechanics. Kids would go there until 18. After the accident, I went to college, finished in 3 ½ years, went to law school, practiced law, got into the cable TV business, and became president of a company that grew to have 7000 employees and $2 billion in annual revenue.
My career was not without setbacks, but I saw them as opportunities to grow. The healings we've experienced as a family, including our economic situation, have been absolutely revolutionary.
What happened that caused economic challenges?
I left the practice of law after 3 years, partly because I had trouble getting up every day to go fight people. It was not an environment I enjoyed. When the opportunity was presented to me, I joined a small cable TV company, which was a wonderful start to entrepreneurship.
At one point, I decided to change careers. We bought a couple businesses in a place where we wanted to live. While I was winding down my job at the cable company, my wife ran the businesses and learned that the books were misrepresented; the revenue wasn't going to support us. I had to retract my resignation to keep my job as long as I could until my replacement was hired. It took a full year of going to court and living apart from my wife and two daughters. We won the lawsuit and were freed from the debt we owed, but we lost all the money that we had. Yet, we were reunited as a family with a deep sense of gratitude.*
How did your economic situation improve?
I learned what real employment is: it doesn't have to do with worldly jobs, but with God. If you look at a job description of someone striving spiritually, the job is to learn more about God, to understand the truths of the Bible and of God's reality, and to live what we know. This idea of employment is less about going to work and getting a paycheck and more about understanding my oneness with God. I realized that I was already fully employed in God's kingdom to live a Christly life, to listen and to follow. The better job I do at living out from this spiritual standpoint, the more my human experience reflects growth and goodness.
I was unbelievably happy about being with my family again. Only God was above them. My days of employment with that small cable company were numbered as my replacement had been hired. Then I received a phone call from a man in Michigan whom I had only met on the phone after I first left the law practice. He had to hire his replacement to build and manage cable systems in the Midwest because he was going to Corporate Headquarters in Boston as vice president.
I never thought I'd go back to Michigan, but we decided as a family that this was a good thing for us. For nearly 20 years, I worked with the most ethical and highly principled individuals I had ever known. I went from manager to president of this cable company, which became the third largest in the country at the time.
What a recovery – a true blessing!
I was spiritually prepared to take this job, which came "out of the blue" (but it really came from God). All the prayer that I had been doing really elevated my thought. I became very blessed. We were a privately held company and decided to sell the company when we found ourselves forced to go public in order to keep current and grow. This meant we couldn't run our business or serve our clients in the way we thought best, with autonomy and independence. It was a good time to sell the company as the phone company that bought us paid a premium.
So I went sailing around the world over a period of 10 years. One of the coolest highlights of that journey was when my daughter, her husband, and their 8-month-old son joined us for 10 months and 7000 miles through the South Pacific.
Were there any prayerful thoughts or ideas that helped you through all this?
I knew that Love would meet all my needs. All through my life, my needs were met—from the recovery of physical problems, such as my accident, to economic recovery after losing the business. The idea that we are all employed by God has truly blessed me.
The Prodigal Son is probably the most meaningful story to me because it's about learning humility after going off the track, and then receiving such unbounded forgiveness and blessing, love and bounty. Not only does the prodigal receive this love, but so does the loyal son who thought he had done everything right and was a bit jealous. Despite this jealousy, his father reminds him he has had everything—and always would: "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours" (Luke 15:31 NKJV). It's just mind-boggling. I feel that I have been an example of the prodigal, and know what it means to be forgiven and to be given God's blessings.
The story of David and Goliath has also stayed with me. I love the idea of David running at this monster without armor. He was armed with faith in the omnipotence of his God, knowing that there's no human condition so ugly and terrible that God cannot defeat. David proved the powerlessness of evil, and we do, too, when we understand that God created all and made all good. Even though it looks like an ugly monster is staring us down, we can trust that good is happening right there at that moment.
Is there anything else you've learned that could help others?
You always have a choice. That's one of the things I shared with our employees. I tried to help move them away from feeling like they were victims of their circumstances. Some of them felt they were locked into their job because they had security in a retirement pension. I would explain that they had a choice; they just might not like the alternative. They could either embrace where they were and what they were doing or make a change and accept what goes with that.
Essentially, we are where we want to be. We can make a change, or if not, happily agree that where we are is where we've chosen to be. There's never a bad move because we can always change direction. There are no victims! Everything is a learning experience, an opportunity to see God at work in our lives.
You've certainly seen God at work in your life. At the lowest of lows, God spoke to you, and your life changed. That accident sure was wonderful.
Boy, was it in so many ways. Here I am, well into my 70s, and I snow board and water ski and am very active on our farm. The fall never held me back. I've only experienced activity and progress.