No. Not that furry animal at one of California’s beaches. I’m talking about one of the closest things we have to superheroes. Regardless. These are three reasons why I want to be a Navy SEAL.
You don’t have to know me to know that this statement is a balance between ludicrous and hilarious, especially if you have an inkling as to what it takes to pass BUD/S…but knowing me does make it more hilarious. For, example, the sight of me doing (attempting) push-ups sends my mother into full blown hysterics. I don’t even try when my brother is around, because he might faint from laughing and hit his head, making it a legitimate health risk (updated: I can now do 10 solid pushups). My arms tremble, my back sways like a donkey’s and my head juts downward, as if to close the distance and save me the trouble. I look like a refugee, dragging herself out of the desert, in search of an oasis…by push-up numero 1. So there’s a no-go.
Now, regardless of the title, I am a sane individual and know it’s not practically possible. I certainly didn’t have this desire because I want to shoot guns, go ‘downrange’ or neutralize very scary situations. Bravery, grit and gumption have always inspired me. Thanks to the book/movie ‘Lone Survivor’ and many hours of research, I can now articulate the nature of my interest: They, and other branches of the special forces, practice three golden habits that are deeply relevant to daily life, even if you’re not packing heat.
1. They believe they can overcome obstacles and habitually do. Period.
One week of the training is aptly titled “Hell Week” and one of its main goals is to ruthlessly root out quitters. There is a team of medical staff on the scene at all times, as the applicants crunch, flutter-kick and push-up their way through near-hypothermia, forced insomnia and resulting hallucinations. After that, if they pass (survive) this mental and physical Armageddon, they are trained to be military chameleons, adaptable and adept in every possible scenario. Only then are these guys sent into the most deadly combat situations, where they succeed under unspeakable stress and defend each other with their lives, carrying out duties that we like to pretend don’t exist. And their pay is comparatively abysmal.
Author Marcus Luttrell says that, though a SEAL may be very aware of obstacles, he believes to his core that he will conquer them. To them, victory is the future, rather than one of two options. And, when you think about it, there is no other way to approach situations they face. They breathe victory–it’s a part of them.
Imagine if we had that same attitude in our lives! How many daily obstacles would simply evaporate, their covers blown and their navigable, temporary natures revealed? They would become hiccups, rather than cancerous roadblocks that rob us of effectual living. What a thought.
2. They see challenges as part of meaningful living.
Theodore Isaac Rubin said: “Happiness does not come from doing easy work, but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.”
I just ran the SoCal RAGNAR from Huntington Beach to San Diego, and can say with certainty that this is true, though my challenge was paltry in comparison to what many people face. Rubin’s immortal words are magnified by Luttrell, as he writes about the intense pride of having passed BUD/S training. The accomplishment allows for a private sort of dignity that few will ever earn–paid for in blood, sweat, some tears and many hours of being “wet and sandy.” That rare brand of commitment makes life absolutely worth living.
Now, ask yourself: What moments in your memory stand out? When did you feel the most purposeful? Chances are they fit under the elusive category of ‘Demanded My Best.’ As we get older, it gets harder and harder to find the things that draw greatness out of us. We no longer have teachers urging us to go for that scholarship, professors raking us across the coals for good grades, parents pushing us to shoot for that golden job. We let time steal away, without doing what really make us glow with accomplishment. We settle for who we are and where we’ve gotten, rather than seeking out the heights. But the opportunities to be great are there. We just have to find them.
3. They will give it all for, and know they are best with, their team.
It may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, that the primary purpose of BUD/S training is not just developing individual physical strength. It is the strength of many becoming one. Like the Romans and the Spartans, they are only as strong as their weakest link because, no matter one man’s strength, he is best with a team. As attractive as lone rangers like Jason Bourne, James Bond and others may be, in BUD/S and in life there is no room for the One Man Show. BUD/S brings a man to that moment where he will either snap under the pain, fear or confusion, or dig deep and find a way to pull through for those around him.
In a brief clip, on set for the movie adaptation of his book, Luttrell says with simple poignancy, “I’m not shooting to protect me. I’m shooting to protect you.” The profundity behind this mindset is one reason why, I believe, people watch superhero, war and historical dramas. Often one and sometimes several characters give the ultimate sacrifice for their friends. Pearl Harbor, Saving Private Ryan, 300, The Last Battalion, Gladiator. They are all steeped in self-sacrifice. There is something magnificent about being part of something bigger than yourself, something beautiful in seeing beyond your immediate circumstances to the big picture.
In conclusion, I know will never be a SEAL and am quite comfortable with that (good, you say), but I think it might be possible to have the heart of one, insofar as we are tested. We can surmount the challenges we face and push past the inanities in life that crowd out true meaning. We can grow in our ability to overcome, take injustice in stride, push ourselves harder, achieve our dreams and have the presence of mind to put others in front of ourselves, even when the world tells us that we are Number 1. We can give life our all and seek out the highest places of human capacity, refusing to back down in the face of trials. I think Theodore Roosevelt would agree:
“Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”