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Gamer: CEO John Allen’s rise from elite basement gamer to Navy SEAL

Ok, so first off John Allen’s  got a unique story, even for a former Navy SEAL, which is saying alot. 

The dude was a video gaming college drop-out living in his parent’s basement before he became a Navy SEAL. So there’s that to start with. 

I’ve been considering a couple of different story arcs for this interesting life story, ’cause that’s what I do. *Spoiler alert- if you you intend to listen and don’t want to ruin it for yourself, you may want to postpone reading this until later. 

Ok.

So perhaps John’s story is that of the underdog; here an unlikely hero becomes the hero in a typical way. In this version a frustrated middle class kid sets out to become a man, discover his purpose as a warrior, and then earns his manhood and more on the battlefield. Now a man he returns home only to re-experience frustration; he’s got to pretend to be something he’s not. So he wages war, but this time not as a frustrated kid, but as a war-tested leader. Man goes back into battle as a CEO fighting for the futures of the elite brotherhood he left behind. 

That sounds pretty tight. 

The alternative arc is that of the typical hero who plays hero in atypical way. Here an eager young man leaves home for adventure, takes up the sword, but only after a brush with death does he discover his true identify and purpose. He then gives himself permission to return home as the man he’d always intended to be. A man who leads a little differently.  

You know how the saying goes, perhaps the truth lies somewhere inbetween.

So “Gamer.” As said, this episode takes you into the life of a frustrated college kid who became the world’s top ranked gamer in a video game called Skate. I’m a 90’s dude, so I remember this. It’s the game that basically killed Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in 1999, which was a billion dollar + franchise. We’re talking millions of users and an empire turned to dust by this release by EA Sports. Kinda a big deal in the gaming world.

So, yeah, John ruled that. Which if you think about it, is a cool story by itself, but the story gets better.

John is frustrated. So he gets an itch to become a Navy SEAL. But he doesn’t see himself as the typical Navy SEAL candidate. He’s not a “strapping jock,” as he states in the interview. But John defies the odds and does it anyhow.

 So now it’s a very cool story, but still it gets better.

Once on the teams, John’s plans change after a close call in combat and some unfortunate bureaucratic bugaboos. With little time to prepare, he gets hit with a sad reality. Transitioning from the service ain’t easy, and perhaps it’s even worse for former operators. Of course this struggle to shift from combat to domestic life complicates everything, including his marriage. Eventually he gets fed up as a civilian and decides, “hey I’m going fix this shit so my brothers and sisters in arms don’t have to deal with it.” And so he does! John founds a company which places elite vets and fighter pilots into good jobs. 

So now it’s a very, very cool story. But still it gets better!

John gets a visit from the ghost of combat past. He’s forgotten about “The Warrior’s Code.” Operators don’t talk.  So his special forces brothers remind him.  The community brings the heat.  John finds himself in a quandary. He believes if he’s going do any good as a CEO he needs to own his past as a Navy SEAL. Even more conflicting, he doesn’t want to let his identity as a warrior go! Striken with guilt,  he unsure whether he’s doing this for himself or others. And here comes the soul searching.  

Curtain.

So yeah, you get it. John’s story is an exceptional story. It’s paints a powerful portrait of the dilemma our elite solider’s face transitioning back into society and our working cultures. 

John talks openly about the pain of having to surrender his identity as a SEAL when returning home. And he talks openly about the fear of of losing the community he values most – this being his connection to an elite brotherhood. There’s also the added irony of John’s taking on the challenge of making transition easier for future warriors. 

As for me. Well, personally, I think this is a great episode so listen.  But really, as an interviewer I don’t always have the luxury of clicking with everyone. And I did with John. We had some funny similarities, gaming, philosophy majors, BUDs. But John’s objectivity, humor and humility really endeared me to him. He’s capable of talking to both the foibles and nobility of the warrior’s job and journey. I think you’ll hear what I’m referring to if you choose to tap in. 

Highlights of this episode include insights into; 

  • how a gamer becomes the best in the world without actually knowing it 
  • how a pair of swim trunks can become a weapon to inspire powerful change 
  • why luck matters in Navy SEALs training
  • How a near-death experience can rewire a person’s priorities
  • what many military spouses of Special Forces operators fear most
  • what motivates an operator to break age old unwritten warrior’s code
  • what some elite warriors fear about transitioning back into civilian life, i.e. what it means to “come down the mountain”

Watch the Story Trailer for this episode below:

 

Listen:

Listen to “Episode 19 – Gamer” on Spreaker.

 

Three Bullets in Buffalo: When Miracles Aren’t Enough

So this episode titled ‘Three Bullets In Buffalo’ features the life story of Rob Howze, a man who left the ministry for business -at least that’s one byline.

But the story’s bigger than the byline, in this case. Rob’s on a mission, and there’s some big whopper issues attached to where that all started for him. Stuff like what’s good and bad about religion? Is there a God? And where do we go to find meaning in our lives? The kind of stuff that many like to file in the “don’t touch” drawer for entire lifetimes. 

Rob’s also pulls back the curtains on some of the underlying emotional dynamics that drive addictions. He paints a wickedly crisp portrayal of the hidden struggles that can light the fuse on depression and problem drinking. I could’ve called this episode “Church & Booze,” because both were at the root of his low points.  I happened to relate to alot in Rob’s story. Not only did I work in the addiction industry for 8 years, but both booze and religious zealotry made the highlight reels in my own upbringing. I actually think that helped us make a good on-air connection-but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

What really got my attention, however, was Rob’s portrayal of a compelling personal miracle. The guy was held hostage and shot at point blank range – and he survived. Somehow.

So, you get to hear how Rob made sense of all that. You also get to glimpse why moments like these turn lives around. They shake the very foundation of a person, beliefs, outlooks, hopes, dreams, and perspectives -everything can change in an instant. We’ve showcased a few of these “wake up calls” on the show.  But man… Rob’s got one super legit wakeup call. It’s terrifying and mystifying and perhaps worth chewing on. It’s something he still draws on as a leader and family man to this day.

One final random thought this episode sparked in my head. 

Rob’s story reminded me how important change is. Everyone is carrying around an agenda -until we’re not. 

What I mean is we all have beliefs we like to imagine are serving us in the best possible ways. …Until that moment an event comes screaming out the blue to completely reset our story and perspectives. Once humbled, we can see how life forces our hand to inspire changes we might not otherwise be compelled to make. There seems a truth here. As an interviewer I feel privileged to get close to moments that after decades are still reverberating in people’s hearts. It’s awesome.

The Greeks liked to riff on what they saw as the divine origin of life struggles. Tragedies weren’t just tragedies, they were ‘Divine Tragedies.’ They framed the worst as purposeful acts, even if often perpetrated by hungry and capricious Gods. Many religions continue this tradition to this day.

My interview with Rob got me thinking that perhaps our ancestors were just pointing out the ancillary benefits of radical discomfort. Struggle inspires change. Life encourages us to grow in this way. More broadly I see this as a commentary on the nature of freedom. We desire it, dream, plan, and scheme for it but aren’t so great at achieving it. And if we do achieve it, it’s typically fleeting as freedom by nature can’t be captured.

More often then not we get stuck in the lives we create to secure our freedoms. They become our cages, because we can’t help but fall short of lives that only exist in our dreams. So life helps out and knocks us on our ass from time to time. The unexpected difficulties knock us out of our spells. And in those brief moments we taste freedom. Freedom, in other words, is often felt on our knees.

Can’t we all relate to this idea in some simple way? Haven’t we all come through some screwed up event feeling better off? More prepared for life, or more grateful? We may not have expected it, but there it is anyway-a better life resulting. Rob’s story reminded me just how important it is to stay open to change -at least as best we can. I say open rather than “prepared” here, because change ain’t predictable. It’s not on anyone’s calendar and rarely welcome when it stops by. But if we can see the process of change as healthy, perhaps we won’t add struggle to our lives by trying to avoid it. Perhaps then won’t need a great flood or to be held at gunpoint to inspire growth. Maybe if we simply make the room to get uncomfortable in some tiny way each day we’ll remain flexible enough for life to flow through us as opposed to cutting us off at the knees. 

 

 

Listen here ->>> http://bit.ly/ep-18-3bulletsinbuffalo

We Happy Few: Why some choose to suffer for happiness

Why suffer, willingly?… 

I didn’t expect this question to be at the heart of my interview with Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson, but that’s kind of where it went. We titled it “We Happy Few,” which is a line from Shakespear’s Henry V. (Brent actually gave a heart-wrenching rendition of the speech during the interview.) Overall this title seemed a good fit to address the complexity of the warrior’s journey and the seeming contradiction of choosing suffering and service over happiness, and also for it. Brent’s story seemed a good starting point to help listens address any assumptions they might have about the people who take arms in the name of service.

Here’s  why I  interview warriors like Brent. 

Brent made a point of talking about making a choice out of suffering. Because that’s what warriors do. Think about that. These people choose what they will suffer for. While many of us are complaining about the download speeds on our Smartphones, or the preservatives baked into dog food, these folks are breaking themselves into pieces for the right to serve. For others this may seems crazy or pathological. But I don’t think so – and it’s not because I’m a vet. No, I think warriors stand as beacons to those who’ve become victims to life. Alot of us have surrendered our power to the outside world. And this isn’t a judgement on my part, it just happens. Life can be f’ing tough. Everyone suffers. But choosing how we suffer is exactly the point-and elite warriors are masters at changing that game. 

 

So what’s the Warrior’s Way?…

If you choose to listen to Brent’s story you’ll likely hear he’s just good folk. He’s respects the path and doesn’t take it lightly. Warriors like him have earned humility, and they do so by walking a path filled with big hairy obstacles. For SEALs like Brent that amounts to the brutal crucible called Hell’s Week. We peel back the curtain on BUDs a bit in this interview.

The truth is right-minded warriors like Brent, and others in the special forces community, are just people. They have all the feels, but do different things with them. Often extraordinary things. I think there’s a cultural misconception, especially among the disappointed and comfortable, that the people who slay monsters become the monsters. While some may be, I think this is mostly crap. The monsters are exceptions and you’ll find them everywhere in life- fruit stands, Macy’s, sometimes in your home, and The White House. The military doesn’t earn special privileges in this regard.

But if you’re interested in exploring the thin red line, so to speak….

Former Navy SEAL David Goggins talked about his journey to overcome darkness in a talk with David Rutherford and Marcus Lutrell on the Team Never Quit Podcast recently.  Both David and Marcus are retired SEALs, so it got juicy quick. (Listen to this show, by the way! These are lucid and exceptionally vulnerable people talking about the ins and outs of the warrior’s path.) David admits to having to burn through darkness, as he started with bad intentions. He called himself a “soul snatcher.” But to me this isn’t a commentary on David or the warrior’s path. I see it as more of a truth of the shadow, which is particularly alive in young men. But darkness is alive in every person on Earth. Warriors, however, get to address it with radical honesty. It’s life and death for them, and so while some may wander into the wilderness of darkness, most eventually grow and find their way out of it. Of course the consequences are higher for mistakes in this role, but that’s another conversation.

More warriors simply choose to fill themselves to the brim with suffering so they can master it – and that’s what all the miserable training is about. The mastery of suffering grants warriors more choices in life. They earn them. By overcoming and befriending pain, they understand it better. Warriors can then make the hard decisions required of them. They’re saddles with responsibilities and choices  the average Joe and Jane just doesn’t want to face. 

So what’s the benefits of the warrior mindset?

The warrior mind and path really stands out in a few ways. It forces you to become aware and own your true power. What’s the Marrianne Williamson quote,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Warriors get this deal about power. There’s probably no clearer delineation of power, choices and consequences than what gets exposed on the battlefield. Life and death decisions are everywhere. But there is the sacred too, as warriors get the chance to transform suffering through brotherhood and service. With each day they survive, they become creators and guardians of their own freedom.

What’s different?…

So perhaps I’ll leave you with a questions to explore in this episode. Ask yourself, what makes the choice to serve and take life attractive?

Here’s my two cents.

Honestly I don’t think it matters. Why? Because once a person chooses to serve they land on a something so much bigger then themselves. They get put on a path of service, and from there the lessons of service do the rest. Some warriors believe it’s a path of destiny. I actually heard David Goggins, the former SEAL turned Ultramarathoner, make this statement on the TEAM Never Quit Podcast, which was amazing so check it out. He said, ‘Navy SEALs are SEALs before they ever show up.’ What David is referring to is that nobody can be taught how to endure the level of suffering that Navy SEALs (and other elite warriors) are required to endure. Suffering, from this perspective, is not pain. Biologically pain is just the mind bitching about the body getting beat. But awareness of what to do with suffering… That is enlightenment. You can’t study or prepare for that. So it’s a predisposition that seems beyond nature so to speak. So David’s point is true warriors hear the call and and endure. They were made for it. 

The Big Picture 

So, part of the reason I’m doing this series on elite warriors is to promote tolerance and respect of different ways of being. Violence, of course, isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t for me, for instance. I rang out of Navy SEALs. But we’re all on a path where suffering is involved, and we actually share a single path called life. But there’s many different ways to walk this path, of course. Personally, I respect the warrior’s way because it’s not fancy. Warriors deal with life head on. And they understand their journey isn’t something everyone will understand. In fact many believe others can’t understand. They see that understanding comes from enduring the path itself. So in this way the warrior’s path can be considered sacred, much like that of priests and monks. The only way to understand a warrior is to suffer like them, and not many are willing to endure the pain it takes to earn the powerful title. 

Warriors prepare for a horrible and special task. They take life. And they take it back from the monsters who steal it. Elite warriors, people like Navy SEALs, Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force, PJ’s, etc. have endured magnificent pain. The kind of pain that creates monsters actually. But the point on this kind of intensity is to give people insight into the level of suffering that people toxic. Through training they become masters of pain, and they walk a very fine line because so. They now get that monsters are people just like them, but whom have become victims to life and their own suffering. They see how it’s easier to choose to ease pain by taking the power and peace of others by force. So they earn the right to stop monsters. When put into perspective, it’s likely warriors will forever be required to forge their will through this brutal path of ritualistic suffering. The clarity required to walk such a thin line and make such choices is so damned high. 

Brent summed it up pretty soundly with this statement, “This may be hard for some people to relate to, but suffering can make your life full. Because it’s not about you.”

This is the difference between a warrior and a victim. They use their suffering to serve. 

Watch the episode trailer below:

 

Listen:

Listen to “Episode 18 – We Happy Few” on Spreaker.

 

 

Warrior Monk.

ep17-warriormonk-v1 copy So I interviewed the Warrior Monk. What may be interesting to you is that Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine and I actually have a past. A flash in the pan, so to speak. We were BUD/s class 170 together, which is Navy SEALs training for those of you who don’t know. Good god, was that really some 20 odd years ago! How does this happen?!

Honestly I don’t remember much about the folks I trained with. I can recall stupid shit like my instructors tossing my surfboard out my 2nd story barracks window, and being nicknamed “Sharkbait.” And being terrorized by an instructor nicknamed “The Antichrist” on a beach one  late night. Large patches of my memory of training is gone. I think that’s because BUD/s is one long anxiety and pain dream. As a therapist now, I’m well aware of how stress impacts memory. Recall goes kaput. So I don’t have an inspiring tale of comradery to spin with Mark.

But I do recall one conversation.

I was a wreck when I checked into BUD/S. Most of us were. Stepping foot on base with some of the worlds most skilled and arguably dangerous people on earth will do that. Nothing you do is right, everything is wrong. You are perpetually playing catch up with operators who are masters at their games. It’s serious brain-busting stress. You’re also far away from home and missing your mother and girlfriend. At least I was.

Mark seemed different, however. He had a steadiness. The first week or two everybody sizes each other up. You’re wondering “who’s going to survive this mess?” I had a bead on Mark. He had a calm about him, something more than the act of playing it cool, which we all worked hard at. Not artifice. Imagine a group of scared mutts all lined up next to a Wolfhound. Mark was the Wolfhound. He had an “It quality” and I wanted to know what it was about.  I made it a point to corner him and pick his brain. One day before breakfast I asked him about his life before SEALs. I went searching into him. He didn’t give too much away, except he was older and had real world experience. What struck me was his humility. He didn’t share much but he was gracious. 

So here I am nearly two decades later interviewing the guy. Funny how that works. It feels like a Back To Future Episode. Mark and I went our separate ways. Mark graduated as the top student in our BUD/S class – a mere 13 of the original 86 or so original class members crossing the finish line I believe. I on the other hand rang the bell and ended up cleaning dolphin crap at Sea World a few years later. Mark went on to become a decorated Navy SEAL Commander before retiring to pursue a business career. 

No regrets.

I recorded a story about the craziness that ensued after BUD/s and my military career. You can listen to that here ->>> Failing On Purpose 

The Interview

Mark’s whip smart and intuitive which means he was always  two steps ahead. Mark understands change, so he could talk to his own process.  Having tasted the challenges he’s endured, I know it’s not an act. He’s got a wisdom born from epic challenge-and I personally think that means something in today’s story-selling world. He’s a devoted learner, so his passion surrounding his personal evolution is evident too. He opened up about some of the family challenges connected with his first entrepreneurial venture out of SEALs, a brewing business. There was emotion there, which Mark suggested was indicative of the damage caused. He talked about extricating himself from the fallout that mess, so that could be valuable for you folks. As far as my take home. Well, I confirmed what I sensed nearly two decades ago. Mark’s the real deal  I got a bonus with the chance to mix a meditation on the battlefield scene. Stay tuned for that tasty bit. 

Warrior Series

After publishing, I decided I’m going to produce a few more Warrior Stories. We’ve going to do series on elite warriors who went from the battlefield to CEO. The lives of warriors offer a glimpse of wisdom forged in the fires of life and death challenges. And also insight into the mindsets needed to rise to that level of service. I think it’s compelling material. But then there’s the also fact that I also like mixing war scenes.

Next Up is Brent Gleeson, another Navy SEAL turned CEO and author of Taking Point.

We’re got a bead on two more Navy SEALs- Jocko Willink and David Groggins. But they are both Hail Mary’s. It’s a wait and see.  If you have suggestions for elite warrior guests, shoot me an email at [email protected]

Props to our Video Director Dan for this epic spin. It’s quite the video trailer. Why’s it seem the trailers are so much better since I put him in charge?… 

Strap in folks.

https://youtu.be/Sz6zvCljp_E

 

 

Bad Mojo – a podcast, plane crash, and two murders within weeks

 

Untitled

Some strange shit had been going down in my office building. A handyman who ran a wood-working shop below my office got arrested for killing a cult leader. No you did not read that wrong. It’s a weird sentence to write. The dude’s name was Sorek Minery. And he was a dude, a seemingly laid back dead head type. Seems he was caught up in a cult called The Work started by a scary fella his followers called Julius Christ. He thought he was God proper. That was crazy enough, but then some weeks later a clerk at a local grocer was arrested for murder too. He reportedly raped and killed a woman on the bike path that ran just past our office. I talked to this oddly friendly fella daily, so that hit home too. So two big wtf moments. I called up my buddy Shannon Cason to get his take on this weirdness. He hosts and produces Homemade Stories and The Trouble for Chicago’s WBEZ radio.  Both are killer shows. Anyway, at that point I was considering making it the subject of a podcast series called Bad Mojo.

He liked it the idea of talking to the phenomenon of bad shit glomming together. He’d run into bad mojo. He’d lived on hairy edge as a gambler. He knew there was something real there. I told him about some of the other strange shit that’d been going on, like our office manager had lost her partner in a local plane crash a few days before Sorek’s arrest went down. My life had also been going sideways too. So bad mojo was in the air it seemed. “Could this stuff came as a package deal,” I wondered? Seemed like a good question to ask, although not an original one. Shannon agreed.

After our chat, I realized this idea of bad mojo is pretty complicated. When bad shit happens nobody really wants to deal with it. People prefer to avoid anything bad. It’s easy to see this because people start asking weird shit around difficult stuff like “why is this happening to me?” This is silly, because it’s really just life they’re talking about.  It’s like a spell. The truth is everybody knows there’s up and downs, good and bad in life. If you’re human you know there’s going to be shitstorms. But the moment a person is confronted by the darker side of life a different version of the person comes out. This version acts as though bad shit was never supposed to happen. It’s like a prejudice for the good stuff gets unleashed, or perhaps it’s more a delusion. The person is saying “it’s ok if bad shit happens to other people, but not me.” Perhaps this is the Maya the Buddhist’s are referring to. Most of us prefer to let our mind’s determine what’s real, and it does. Reality’s too painful. 

I’m not going to lie, this bad mojo shit took me for a spin. I was looking at this phenomenon from the eye of the hurricane to speak. But bad mojo is really just the unexpected. But the darker side of it, the stuff that amplifies our uncertainty and pain. The truth is life is mostly good stuff. More days than not the fucking sky’s not falling, so that’s easy enough to see. So the phenomenon of bad mojo is a situation where the script gets flipped. Suddenly we’re knocked out of comfort zone. We live on our assumptions that the good stuff will just keep going forever.  But it won’t, and when gone we’re exposed to the stinky underbelly of life. Bad shit is real. And worse, when it’s bad mojo, it’s like a hose gets turned on the bad keeps coming.  It’s jarring when you see it happening, and way worse when it’s happening too you. Perhaps a good analogy is like you head to a church for a church breakfast but when you open the door you get punched in the face. Nobody expects bad when you assume the good. Bad luck, hard luck, or whatever you want to call it, when bad clumps together it creates a whiplash effect. The weirdness pumps a disquieting fear into our suffering. It inspires a sort of disturbance. You can watch it happening. People start asking questions they might have preferred ignore their entire lives. Like “why do some people get more good in life than bad,” and “why’s all this shit happening too me or them?” Those are examples of people assuming prejudice. It’s like bad is unreal.  

What’s bad about bad mojo is you quickly realize the stories you’ve clung onto in life may not be enough. Beliefs about about reality, free will, faith, fairness, and destiny, may fall short. We may turn to science, psychology, religion, family, or wisdom stories. But the experience of bad mojo is high strangeness. It’s so jolting it asks more than our stories can offer. When it persists around people caught in tragic incidents like wars, epic illness, or in cases like the holocaust, the misery can twist humans into something no longer recognizably human. It takes humans beyond human. Perhaps that’s why people like Victor Frankl are true studies in miracles. We want life to make sense, and when it doesn’t, we are forced to make sense of ourselves. It’s a rare person who can survive life truly turning upside down.  

I wondered if that’s what happened to the guy below me, Sorek. Had misery twisted him into something beyond human? The day I gotten the news I went down to his workspace to poke around abit- you know research. And damned if I didn’t run into the guy’s wife! She was getting his equipment appraised. Her husband was the bread winner apparently and she had kids to feed. It was a sad and awkward moment. We’d locked eyes, and I was frozen for a brief moment. I felt for her. I was struck by how seemingly normal and pretty she was. I then felt silly that somewhere I was carrying an expectation that I’d be able to see why she’d married a monster. I’d apparently also already judged this guy as a monster too. Perhaps this guy wasn’t a monster at all, but just another confused man that fucked up big time. Is every murderer a monster? Maybe bad mojo had run loose in his life for god knows how long. Who knows? 

I’d been caught in bad mojo. My life had gone sideways before, and recently even. So I wondered why him and not me?… Why I am the guy mixing podcasts up stairs and he’s the guy who got caught up in a cult and murder? 

This is a creepy question. We’ve grappled with the notions of good and evil probably since we popped out of the ether. And it’s unsettling. We all like to believe we know we’re capable of.  And more, who we are. But what if bad mojo took up roost in your life?… Like it not just visiting, but rented a room in your home and stayed just screwing up your life daily? Like Job in the bible. It’s a impossible question to answer until you’ve experienced bad mojo yourself. It’s a perspective that can only be earned the hard way. When life turns upside down, who will you be?…