There is a great line in the movie Act of Valor when the SEALs are being chased by the bad guys and they find out that they are unable to go to any of their back up rally points to meet the rescue boats. One of the SEALs then tells the guys driving the truck that he’s just going to have to figure it out. There is no whining, no complaints about what’s fair, and no one stands around trying to figure out who to blame – you know, kind of like the opposite of politicians.
I love that line and in Rorke Denver’s book, Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior, we find out where that mentality comes from. Fairness is an irrelevant concept in war, says Denver (page 39) and its a concept that also applies to sports, school and the business world. In SEAL training, the cadre purposely screws up the trainees’ expectations, forcing them to deal with failure, irrationality and unpredictability.
“A SEAL who has faced frustration, disappointment, and changed circumstances 1000 times in training and worked around all those impediments to success is primed to face similar challenges in the real world of battle. Call it muscle memory. Call it mental exercise. It works (Denver 39). When I went through the USCG Officer Candidate School program I used to think our instructors just didn’t have their act together either, but then I realized that some of the confusion and constantly changing schedules are sometimes planned – when you’re rescuing people on the high seas, things don’t always go as planned.
Denver also notes:
- Quitting is infectious (Denver 43); Calm is contagious (Denver 187)
- At some point, you have to shoot the ball, someone needs to put the ball in the net (Denver 90)
- “We want to know what all these experts know,” Rorke Denver – Navy SEALs learn from world-class marksman, knife fighting pros, computer hackers, explosive gurus, and linguists who know Farsi, Urdu, and the most obscure dialects of Arabic (Denver 72) – now if that isn’t lifelong learning, I don’t know what is. These guys learn to fight from MMA champions. Imagine if you applied the same philosophy to your field of endeavor
- With any team, you have to establish yourself as leader, as the alpha prepared to make decisions and stick with them (Denver 189)
Oddly enough, through thousands of hours of analysis, psychological tests, physical exams and reams of available data, the Navy still cannot predict who will make it through SEAL training. Something to think about before you get it into your head that only one “type” of person can be successful.
There are a few predictors of failure though and this is true in any endeavor – pursuing something that is not your dream but is your parents’ dream, or your intimate partners or friends’ idea of success, is a sure sign that you’re not going to make it. Oh, and it helps to be in damn good physical shape – don’t strive to meet the minimum standard to get in, strive to exceed it. True in life as well. Figure it out.
Denver, Rorke, and Ellis Henican. Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print.