Catherine Hoke — The Master of Second Chances (#293)

“You are not your past.”

– Catherine Hoke

Catherine Hoke (@catherine_hoke) is the founder of the non-profit Defy Ventures. Defy’s vision is to end mass incarceration by using entrepreneurship as a tool to transform legacies and human potential.

Cat was named a #MakeTechHuman Agent of Change by WIRED and Nokia for being one of 17 Global Influencers Expanding Human Possibility Through Technology. She has received the MDC Partners Humanitarian Award on behalf of Defy Ventures, and was included in Forbes’ 40 Women to Watch over 40. She was also named by Fast Company as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business and is an Ashoka Fellow.

Cat is the author of the new book, A Second Chance: For You, For Me, and For the Rest of Us, which the Seth Godin encouraged her to write after hearing her amazing story.  I highly encourage you to check it out.

Enjoy this incredible roller coaster of a conversation! It was very moving and emotional for me.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Catherine Hoke — The Master of Second Chances

Want to hear another amazing conversation that will inspire you? Listen to this episode with Terry Crews, in which we discuss his workout and diet routine, overcoming failure, discovering happiness, and much much more. Listen to it here (stream below or right-click to download):

Terry Crews — How to Have, Do, and Be All You Want

This episode is brought to you by Four Sigmatic. You might remember Four Sigmatic for their mushroom coffee, which was created by their clever Finnish founders. Recently, I’ve been testing a new product — their reishi mushroom elixir — to help me get to sleep.

As you might know, I struggled with insomnia for years. So, I asked the guys at Four Sigmatic to make a special, custom version of their reishi product. They did, and now it’s become a part of my nightly routine. If you’d like to naturally improve sleep quality naturally, I think you’ll enjoy the reishi elixir.

Go to and get 20% off just for listeners of the podcast. Just use the code “FERRISS” to receive your discount. 

This podcast is also brought to you by Athletic Greens. I get asked all the time, “If you could only use one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is, inevitably, Athletic Greens. It is my all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in The 4-Hour Body and did not get paid to do so. As a listener of The Tim Ferriss Show, you’ll get 30 percent off your first order at

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Catherine Hoke:

Defy Ventures | Twitter | Facebook | Email

Show Notes

  • How Catherine met our mutual friend Seth Godin. [02:27]
  • Catherine talks about her cold email strategy that gets the attention of hard-to-reach people. [04:07]
  • Catherine’s persuasion tactics were forged in a hamster sales empire at age seven, golf ball retrieval, and selling knives door-to-door. [06:48]
  • How Catherine applied her hustle to attend her school of choice. [10:46]
  • Where does Catherine’s aggressive drive originate? [12:23]
  • On being raised in a “super weird” (but super supportive) immigrant home in Canada. [14:22]
  • What brought Catherine’s family from Canada to the United States? [16:16]
  • How Catherine developed compassion from her mother. [17:09]
  • How did Catherine go from thinking poorly of the incarcerated to trying to help them? [20:58]
  • Understanding the power of language and how it serves to label us and others. [22:46]
  • Why did Catherine’s passion for helping society’s underdogs — and giving them the right to a second chance — stick? [23:57]
  • Catherine empathizes with the people she serves because she understands how different circumstances could have easily put her in their position. [27:29]
  • Who is Coss Marte and why should he inspire us? [28:58]
  • How does Catherine vet the incarcerated who should be given a second chance vs. those who should remain behind bars because they’re a threat to society? [34:02]
  • What if you were only known for the worst thing you’ve ever done? [45:08]
  • Catherine talks honestly about her own second chance. [46:55]
  • What recommendations does Catherine have for people who are unforgiving of themselves? [1:00:19]
  • How to get stubborn about forgiveness. [1:07:38]
  • The power of affirmations. [1:10:19]
  • “You can’t be angry and curious at the same time.” [1:12:09]
  • How are Entrepreneurs in Training (EIT) taught to meditate on ways to replace self-limiting beliefs? [1:14:36]
  • What form does this meditation take? [1:21:07]
  • What are the ingredients that make Defy effective? [1:22:21]
  • How does competition-based entrepreneur training work? [1:29:31]
  • Where can people learn more about Defy’s curriculum? [1:37:11]
  • What books does Catherine gift most often? [1:42:48]
  • As we forgive ourselves, remember to forgive others. [1:44:26]
  • What would Catherine’s billboard say? [1:46:35]
  • What does Catherine do to overcome feeling unfocused or overwhelmed? [1:48:22]
  • What’s are Catherine’s favorite foods? [1:52:16]
  • What does Catherine hope to do by her 53rd birthday? [1:57:57]
  • In Catherine’s estimation, what would be the defining factors of doing away with mass incarceration? [1:59:52]
  • What questions does Catherine ask herself to get centered? [2:03:55]
  • What would your own eulogies say? [2:07:27]
  • Parting thoughts. [2:09:00]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

37 Replies to “Catherine Hoke — The Master of Second Chances (#293)”

  1. Oh gosh – I loved the sentiment – but as a white conservative puritanical Catholic I heard this as a tone deaf and Anglo-centric, Jesus is my boyfriend, 4 hour woo misfire.

    We aren’t our past – we aren’t the sum of our lesser parts ( usually) – and don’t get me started on our ridiculous ‘merica incarceration obsession – “whiting” out the issues that drive minority crime, though? – both the committing and the prosecution- a work out program is certainly an element of improvement but isn’t going to fix it. Cheerleading isn’t a panacea.

    I love Seth – this has “its always your turn” written all over it. I love Tim – this has optimization written all over it. I’m just not buying this particular sermon from this particular preacher. I for incomplete

  2. Tim thanks for this. This was an important conversatikn and everyone has a second chance to take. So many people have turned around their lives. I agree with her message for the bill board “Forgive yourself” and I guess that is the starting point of self acceptance. It also leads to happiness. Will surely check out her book.

  3. Hi, is there any group I can join in? The four hour week group? Which has interest to travel abroad for more than one month? BTW, I am chinese, i have my own small company.

  4. you mention reishi elixir for insomnia–i would like to hear your thoughts on tart cherry juice, another highly touted remedy.

  5. Tim, this is a beautiful interview with an important leader. You brought out so many of the key issues, and you opened the door for Cat to share her story so beautifully. Thank you for caring enough… this work matters.

    1. This is an extraordinary interview – my favourite so far. Thank you Seth, for starting the process. Thanks to Tim for a brilliant job. And thanks to Cat for being an inspiration.

  6. Hey Tim, thanks for such an awesome podcast!! And special thanks to Catherine for making the podcast even more encouraging by telling us the stories and experiences as the founder of Defy Ventures. Today I learned even more about compassion and empathy. Thank you so much for such a wonderful experience!!


  7. I’m a huge fan of Cat and Defy Ventures… We’ve supported them a lot over the years and will continue to. It’s such an important initiative, and the no better person to lead it. 🙂

  8. An an incredibly hard hitting segment, the most realistic and balanced approach I have heard in a very long time regarding those that have been incarcerated for what ever reason. To give these folks a path to walk in the light before they are released is beneficial for creating better citizens. The pain of having sacrificed so much on a personal level to the extent of getting to the lowest point was painful to listen to as I have done the same and glad I am not alone in this. It is easy to self destruct when focused on a mission to help others. Thanks Tim and Cat for sharing, it moved me on all levels.

  9. Tim, this is one of the best interviews I’ve ever heard: moving, inspirational, possibly even life-changing. Thank you so, so much.

  10. Great podcast Tim. I’m a felon and can definitely relate to the difficulty of getting work, even 12 years after being released. Cat and Defy Ventures is doing important work and addressing a big problem.

  11. As a two time victim of violent crime, I find it offensive how people like this have so much sympathy for violent offenders but none for the people they harm. The majority of people in low-income, crime-ridden areas do not turn to violent crime and don’t want it around them. Maybe Ms. Hoke and her ilk can rehabilitate them in their neighborhoods instead of making the rest of society suffer for her do-gooder sentiments?

    1. A quote from below: “Through my schooling in philosophy and psychology, I have come to some disturbing truths about our society and how we handle those who “don’t fit in.” One simply needs to read Thomas More’s Utopia to see the problem. “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”

  12. Dear Tim,

    What an incredibly raw, poignant, powerful and emotional episode this is. Tim, thank you for the continuous insights and connections to greatness of the human mind that you expose us to through your podcast.

    But this episode also exposes us also to the power of the soul. Your sighs and pauses throughout your conversation with Catherine resonated deeply… this was the first time your podcast has ever moved me to tears.

    Catherine- you beautiful, mighty person. Your authenticity and depth of character is astounding. In the first 30 mins of the episode, your tenacity alone had me realising that I need to step the hell up and really put myself on the line. To make those calls. To totally forget about being rejected, to reach out and up to people who are well above me and to start playing towards their level, and to find the solutions to life’s challenges (and myself) that stand in my way. Thank you so much for this.

    But it was your stance on forgiveness that struck me so profoundly, at my very core. Thank you for teaching people how to love themselves. Thank you for sharing your personal shame with us- you are so, so brave. Thank you for teaching/ reminding us how to love and accept ourselves, and each other.

    You are raising a plethora of Phoenixes to rise up, start anew, and create an empowering new life. What a gift you are.

    With immense gratitude and respect.

    Love Claudine

    1. What Claudine said.

      This is by far the best podcast you have hosted Tim. I have learned many inspiring ideas and approaches to life listening to your programs, but Kat’s discussion cut right to the core of me. If we could all learn to forgive ourselves and others, what kind of society would we have?

  13. Hands down the best interview I have heard on this podcast or any podcast. A real discussion about real things that matter. Cat is unbelievably articulate and powerful because her message is coming from her heart. Bravo to her and to the brave men and women who support and go through her program. Incredibly inspiring. I’ll have some more of that please, Tim.

  14. Cat is one of the best speakers I’ve been able to recognize after just one podcast, this one. Have and will look into other speaking events because I think we could all learn from her amazing skills, which really started from an early age from what it seems.

    Her dad has definitely gifted the right mindset early as well, and for a second Gary V’s story went through my mind, not sure how much of a coincidence it is, but success is never far away from each other.

    This podcast also reminded me of Seth Godin, who is also doing such a great work in the field of “standing out”, that I had to look over a recent speaking event at which the talk was funnier than expected, but had so much value in it as well.

    As a sidenote, I have to say that this podcast started in a different way than many other and I actually liked it. Everything about this podcast was high-quality and I have to congratulate all 3 of you who made it possible, Tim, Cat and Seth.


  15. Sooooo moved to action by this mind-blowing interview. My father-in-law was a criminal defense attorney and some people judged him harshly for his choice of work but he felt everybody had a right to a proper legal defense. I made a donation to Defy in his memory because I believe he would have supported this cause and because I would not want to be defined by my worst mistake. Thank you Tim for exposing us to beautiful people like Catherine Hoke. And thank you Catherine for your brilliant mind and empathetic heart. I feel really hopeful about the world we live in with individuals like you in it.

  16. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with prison life. When I was three, I stole something from a neighbor and my mom had a cop she was dating pretend to arrest me. For years, I thought I was one more breath away from going to prison because of this early-childhood experience. Now, having made lots of crappy mistakes in my life because of growing up in poverty (and triumphing over them by building a successful business) I have taken a hard look at what we call “a felon.” Through my schooling in philosophy and psychology, I have come to some disturbing truths about our society and how we handle those who “don’t fit in.” One simply needs to read Thomas More’s Utopia to see the problem. “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.” I have watched people I love unfold a life of pure horror because of abuse, trauma and lack of resources. It’s a terrible and ugly fate but if someone has a support group, a single person or a group of people that believe in them, there is hope for a life of abundance. Catherine’s story is wonderful and I believe her work is important. If there was a chance to volunteer in Utah, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

  17. This was such an awesome podcast. A truly inspiring story in so many ways. Thanks for bringing people like Catherine into the spotlight for people like me. It really made me think differently about people who are and have been incarcerated, particularly what those people saw and experienced as kids. Some of us grew up in good environments and have issues, I can’t imagine what it would be like to suffer trauma as an 8 year old to the degree some of these folks have. Thanks again for allowing us to hear these stories.

  18. Very wide and interesting view on to areas of society not always visible. Thanks for the interview – both of you

  19. Wow! This is deep. Tim, you were pretty quiet on this interview. why?

    This was quite a powerful session.

    I had to confront my bias about some kind of crimes and possible rehabilitation for those crimes.

    We all deserve second, third, multiple ….chances.

    We are all human and thus will fall several times over our lives. May we find grace in our own time of need.

    Some people cannot be rehabilitated without serious intervention.

    However, even prisoners with life sentences still need to have hope for the future and can still make contribution even while incarcerated.

    Thank you Catherine for being this vulnerable and Tim for letting her go deeper. I read about Catherine in Option B by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant.

    God bless you both.

  20. Hey Tim, I’m not sure this is relevant at all to this conversation, but I wonder whether you’ve heard the proverb: “Story of the Chinese Farmer”. If not, it seems like something you and your listeners would enjoy unpacking, so I wanted to share. I wanted to post a direct link here, but decided against it, so a quick Google search should get you there.

    Thanks for all you do Tim! Your podcasts and the stories within them have helped me make lots of positive changes in my life in just the past six months.

  21. Hi Tim, this is a general comment, actually a question that is slightly broad(er) than this post. I have been mulling this as I’ve listened to episodes and read 4HWW. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on an unfortunate trend in our society right now – which is to avoid, or even hate on people who are more intelligent than oneself. Interpret this broadly – emotional intelligence, business acumen, intellectual/academic intelligence, etc. Obviously, you buck this trend entirely, as do your follwers/readers/fans. It amazes me that folks can’t grasp that spending time around people smarter/more powerful/wealthier/more successful/see also (all your interviewees) is incredibly beneficial. I’m an educator (#questionablelifechoices) and am simply baffled by this trend (some days it feels more like an epidemic.) Maybe enough fodder for a short episode? Chapter in the next book? I think you’re in a unique position and uniquely qualified to comment on this topic. Keep up the work. I aspire to be a case-study very soon!

    Aaron R.

  22. Hi Tim,

    Reading Isaacson wonderful recollection of Leonardo life, he briefed us on Alberti. Unequivocally, you or rather your work remiscent Alberti. Thank you for all your efforts, “maestro of collaborative practices”.


  23. Love this woman!!! I’m a legal assistant in a Federal prosecutor’s office. What I see time and again are all the similar traits of a past history that builds from minor to major. It seems a lot of these people don’t know how to get out if they don’t have someone who can help them redirect. So glad to know about this program. Going to talk about it with our USA. Maybe we can start a program in our district. Thank you both!

  24. Tim, if you are putting together a group to go into prison to see the work that Defy Ventures is doing — “Tim and his 100 friends” — I’m in. My dream is to get to the point that California changes the name of the department to “California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections”. So little goes into rehabilitation at this point.

  25. Great interview Tim. I appreciate you having guests such as Catherine who are able to shine a spotlight on important underrated issues such as this. I like having people doing great work getting attention to their work. If you can find more people like this who we might not hear on someone else’s podcast that would be great! More episodes like this. Thanks. I really appreciate all the work you do.

  26. This was one of the best episodes to date. I love Cat. And Tim, your questions were spot on. Cat, you are so inspiring; you owned your past and your forgiveness. Thanks for peeling back the curtain and letting us in. First time in a while where i feel like someone’s story shifted how I feel on such a controversial issue.

  27. You know that feeling you get in your chest where you could either burst into tears or run through a brick wall because your heart is filled with so much love and inspiration? I felt that feeling the entire interview.

    This woman is an angel. Best interview so far and I’ve listened to them all. The absolute truest example of service and selflessness.

    I cannot wait to learn more and get involved in any capacity that I can.

  28. As a Peace Corps Economic Development volunteer in West Africa, trying to teach people to defy the odds and risk to make the tough choices about their businesses, this was so frikkin powerful. The part about competition was an aha moment because the lack of it is yet another cultural limitation on entrepreneurs here.

    Also, forgiving yourself- who knew?!

    [Moderator: additional text noted and removed.]

    Also, as a PCV, living on biphasic/agrarian time, I listen to a LOT of podcasts. This was the only one that made me stay awake after another hot, relentless, pendulum of a day swinging from back and forth between hope and bullshit. High Five. Fuck oppression, fuck secrecy. Vulnerability, competition. Those are two things I can do. Intense next steps are the only ones that will take us up.

    [Moderator: additional text removed.]

  29. Just finished reading Bryan Stephenson’s “Just Mercy” and fortuitously came across this podcast. There is so much work to be done in our justice system on the front end as well as the back end. Thrilled Catherine is helping people navigate post-prison in a productive, loving way. It seems she is trying to cover all levels of exit – emotional, psychological, financial…and more! Thank you for this excellent podcast. I found her to be very inspiring.

  30. Thanks you again for having me on your podcast, Tim, for recirculating this, and for continuing to support second chances through my new program, Hustle 2.0! Im amazed by number of people who have gotten involved and forgiven themselves and others because of your influence!!