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.
That sounds pretty tight.
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.
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;
Watch the Story Trailer for this episode below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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: