Welcome to High Speed Low Drag, the podcast for veterans and soldiers transitioning into the civilian world. War veteran John Lee Dumas interviews other veterans who are crushing both business and life, revealing the path they took to achieve outstanding success. Veterans, are you prepared to ignite?
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What’s shaking, High Speed Nation? John Lee Dumas here, and I am fired up to bring you our featured guest today, Eric Greitens. Eric, are you prepared to ignite?
Eric: Absolutely, buddy. Glad to be on with you. Been looking forward to this.
John: Yes. Eric is a Navy Seal, award-winning author, Rose Scholar, and founder of The Mission Continues. He speaks and writes on living with resilience and leading with strength and compassion through adverse circumstances. Eric was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
All right, Eric. Take a minute. Fill in a few blanks from that intro. Then give us a glimpse of your personal life.
Eric: Yeah, John, you know, I am right now living here in St Louis, Missouri, talking to you from St Louis, Missouri, where I live with my wife Sheena and a beautiful young son, Joshua, who’s nine months old – or call him The Torpedo right now, because you set him down and he immediately starts cruising and crawling across the room.
I had a military career served in the United States Navy. I was a Navy Seal. I did four deployments in the Global War on Terrorism: Afghanistan in ’03, Southeast Asia ’04, Horn of Africa ’05, and then Iraq in ’06-’07. Been really great being back home. Started a group called The Mission Continues, ran The Mission Continues for the last seven years.
Now, most excitingly, just launched this new book on how people could actually move through pain and build wisdom, how people deal with fear and build courage, how people move through the suffering and get stronger. It’s been a lot of fun having it out in the world.
John: Well, Eric, it’s an honor to have you on, my friend. I’m really excited to be sharing today with High Speed Nation just your journey, your story. The reality is I know you have a crap ton of amazing stories, but I know that there’s only a portion of which you can actually share on a public podcast like this. But we are about the stories. Can you kind of just dive into the military archives in your mind and bring out a story or two that the listeners of this podcast, who are veterans, current military transition out-ers, just people who are rock and rolling right now that you know will really resonate with just being in the military itself.
Eric: Yeah, for sure, John. You know, when I look back on my time in the military, one story and one moment that was really powerful for me was when we were in Hell Week. [0:03:32] [Audio Glitch] field team training has a reputation for being some of the hardest military training in the world. The Hell Week is considered the hardest week of Seal team trainings.
It’s a week that you go through and over the course of the average Hell Week, your average class gets a total of only two to five hours of sleep over the course of that whole week. They’ve got you doing things like physical track training on the beach with logs that weight several hundred pounds. You’re running races with your teams up and down at the beach. They’ve got you swimming in the ocean or on the obstacle course. It’s a week of constant physical training.
I remember my hardest moment at what should have been the easiest moment of Hell Week. We’d been up for about 72 hours, John, and after you’ve been up for 72 hours training like that, you get to a place where we’d be running down the beach. People were so exhausted that we’d stop and people would fall over and fall asleep in the sand.
The instructors came to us, and they said “All right. Everybody’s going to get to sleep for the very first time. But before you go to sleep, each boat crew – we’re in these little boat crews of seven – each boat crew has to do a dip contest on the parallel bars to see who’s going to sleep first.
My crew lost, John. I was the very last person to run into the tent. By the time I go into the tent, everybody else was already passed out asleep on these cots. I laid down on the cot, and I could not fall asleep. What happened then was that I started to panic a little bit. I started to think “What’s going to happen if I can’t sleep? You only get two to five hours of sleep over the course in a whole week. What’s going to happen if I can’t sleep?”
The last time I’d been through medical, they’d wrapped my right foot kind of tight, so with every beat of my heart, I could feel that pulse in my right foot. I got up. I took my boot off, ripped the bandage off, took the bandage down, tied the boot back on, laid back down, and I still couldn’t fall asleep.
What started to happen then was that first, I knew I was going a little bit crazy, because I actually thought to myself “Maybe if I can’t sleep right now, maybe they’ll let me take a nap later.” But what also started to happen was in addition to all this fear – “What’s going to happen if I can’t sleep? What’s going to happen?” – then I started to feel a lot of self-pity, John.
I started think like “It’s not fair. It’s not fair that I was the last one who ran into the tent. It’s not fair that I got the worst cot. It’s not fair that they wrapped my foot the wrong way the last time I went through medical.” And as I was thinking to myself all of this fear and “it’s not fair”, all self-pity, I really started feeling myself kind of spiral down psychologically, emotionally, spiritually.
So I got up, I walked out of the tent. We’ve got these faucets that are about shoulder-height. I turned one of them on. I put my head underneath, washed some water over my head, then I turned back and I started walking back to the tent. As I was walking back to the tent, I just said to myself, I said “You know what, Eric? This test is not about you. This test is about your ability to be of service to everybody who’s asleep in that tent right now.”
As soon as I took that focus off of myself, I walked back into the tent, I laid down, and I went to sleep.
I remember later when they came in and they woke us up. Your High Speed Nation listeners will know, it’s not like they come in and gently shake you, right? They’ve got our artillery simulators going off and smoke grenades and all of this stuff, and they’re screaming at us on bullhorns, and these under the water again to get us cold again right away.
I remember as I was running down to the water, I had this huge smile on my face, because I knew that I had just passed my hardest moment. For me, that comes – it always comes – when we are able to take that focus off of ourselves and remember, each one of us, that we are here to serve a purpose that’s larger than ourselves.
John: Man, there are so many both life, business, entrepreneurial takeaways from that story, Eric. Thank you tenfold for sharing that. I feel like I was there when those artillery simulators were going off. Going through my version of the army officer boot camp, which was 1/1,000 of what you went through, but you know, we still had our moments when I was like “Man, this sucks.” It really was that time. You know what? I can let this blister on the back of my heel that’s just ripping raw – I can let this quit. I can let this stop me and allow me to quit, or I can just say “You know what? It’s going to heal. When it heals, it’s actually going to come back even stronger.” That’s the power right there.
Eric, we have a lot of our listeners right now who are currently transitioning from the military into the real world, and I’d love to kind of get your perspective, especially being such a high-level military person that you were, and what that transition looked like for you specifically. Can you take us to that transition? What was going through your head at the time?
Having just watched American Sniper, and having been deployed to Iraq for a 13-month tour of duty myself, really being in those type of situations a lot, then knowing the bonds that I forged and my reliance on the military for self-identity, I know the struggle that I went through transitioning, but I’m sure it was even more so for you because of everything and so much at a higher level than you did. Can you take us through what was going through your head leading up to transition? The current transition, and then the first few experiences you had in the civilian world.
Eric: Yeah, for sure, brother. When I was in Iraq on my last deployment, I was serving with this commander in Al Qaeda targeting the cells. Our unit’s mission was to capture mid- to senior-level Al Qaeda leaders in and around the city of Fallujah, Iraq. In March 28, 2007, my team was hit was hit by a suicide truck bomb.
I was fortunate, John. I was taken to the Fallujah Surgical Hospital. I was treated there. I was able to return to full duty 72 hours later. But a lot of my friends were hurt far worse than I was. Joel Poudrier was a marine who was standing to next to me. Joel was banged up pretty good, so when I came home, I went to see Joel. I also went to Bethesda to the Naval Hospital to visit with some recently returned wounded marines.
I’m sure you know how this goes. You go in, you walk into one of those hospital rooms, and I asked everybody a little bit about their units. I asked them about their deployments. We joked with each other a little bit about our different home towns.
Then I asked everybody who was there, I said “Tell me, what do you guys want to do when you recover?” And every one of them, John, said to me “I want to return to my unit.”
They all said “I want to return to my unit.” The harsh reality was for a lot of those men and women is they were not going to be able to return to their unit. One guy lost both of his legs. Another lost use of his right arm, part of his right lung. Another lost a good part of his hearing.
I said to each one of them “Tell me, if you can’t return to your unit right away, tell me what else you’d like to do.” Every one of them told me that they wanted to find a way to continue to serve. They wanted to find a way to live a purposeful, productive life. They think just the word “service” or “purposeful” or “productive” – one guy said “I had a really rough childhood growing up before I joined the Marine Corps. Maybe there’s some way I could go home, become a football coach or a mentor.”
The other one said “You know, my dad and I’ve been talking. I’ve been thinking that maybe I could go back to college, find a way to become a teacher.” Another one wanted to go home, get involved in law enforcement.
What I realized that day was that I was just one of a long string of visitors all coming in to see these men and women to say to them “Thank you”. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. It was clear to me, John, that they appreciated that. That meant a lot to them when somebody came in to say thank you.
But it was also clear to me that in addition [0:11:28] [Audio Glitch] also had to hear was “We still need you.” They had to know that when they came home, people saw them not as problems but as assets.
When I left the hospital that day, I called a couple of my buddies who I served with, and we decided to do something about it. They put in the money from their disability checks. I contributed my combat pay from Iraq. And we used that to start the organization The Mission Continues.
What we do at The Mission Continues, what we stared doing was working with returning veterans, helping them find ways to come back home, start to continue their mission of service in the community. We put them through an intensive fellowship where they’d come back home and they work at Habitat for Humanity or Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Club.
They serve again in the community, and at the end of those six months, they then transition to businesses, they do and get private-sector employment, some of them go back to school. But for me, my transition was, in some ways, aided for me, because that became my mission when I came home. What I’ve seen for so many veterans is that what’s tough – and I’m sure you’ve seen and talked with a lot of guys about this yourself, John – when people come back, you’re leaving the military environment where every day, you’re waking up with a team. Every day, you have a mission in front of you. You’ve got a purpose.
Then all of a sudden, you’re out, and none of that is there. What I always encourage people to do is to find a way to come back home and get engaged and to start serving right away. Find a way to get engaged in the community. We found it has tremendous effects on post-traumatic stress disorder. It helps people to build social networks. They find private-sector mentors to good internship and job experiences. They can go on to start their own businesses. I’ve found that’s been really key to helping people through those transitions.
John: “Relevant” is a word that I always keep coming back to when I’m talking to military veterans. We’re so relevant for so long. When I first deployed to Iraq, it was the only thing that was in the news back home, because we were the first soldiers that pushed west of Baghdad. It was a gripping the nation.
I felt so relevant. Everybody was seeing and reading all about it. Of course, unfortunately, that faded in the years that followed, but it was so powerful to be so relevant, and to know that you were on a mission, that you had a goal, you had a point, you had something to accomplish.
Then to come back, even though I still had a year and a half left on my four-year after-duty commitment, I still lost that feeling of relevancy. I was just struggling with myself, saying it’s just not the same level. Unless you play at one level, how do you step back and play the different level where the stakes aren’t so high?
I was an armor officer, in charge of four tanks, 16 men, ripping through Fallujah, Armani, Ramadi, Habbaniyah – all the hotspots. This is a really weird analogy, but maybe something that non-military people can understand. But these are playing Blackjack hands for a hundred dollars. You can’t go back a dollar at Blackjack hands. This is just not fun anymore, because you’re like “I don’t care if I win or lose. Nothing’s on the line.”
How can you really share with our listeners right now – how can we deal with that? With being such of service in the military and looked and respected at by almost every single person, and then now we’re out, and they are thankful for our service, and now they’re like “Okay, what are you doing now?” How do you cope with that?
Eric: It’s one of the things that I actually am writing about in this resilience book is about how you actually create purpose and create meaning. The first thing that I think we have to recognize is that we live in a culture where everybody often talks about finding your purpose. How do you find your purpose? I always tell people “You will never find your purpose.” I say “You will never find your purpose for the very simple reason that your purpose is not lost.”
It’s not out there somewhere waiting for you to find it. Your purpose is something that you don’t find. It’s something that you forge. It’s something that you create through the actions that you take. The great guy, Viktor Frankl, he wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote about how people actually create meaning in their lives. He talked about three key things that people do.
He said number one, you create meaning in your life through the work that you do.
He also said, number two, you create meaning through your relationships, through the people that you love, the people who are your friends, people who are your family. You create meaning that way.
He said the third thing that you do is that people create meaning through the way that they deal with unavoidable suffering.
The fact is that everybody has to deal with pain. Everybody has to deal with suffering. Everybody has to deal with fear. But if you have resilience, there’s a way through pain to wisdom. There’s a way through suffering such that you become stronger. You confront fear and you build more courage.
One of the things that we have to do as veterans who are coming home is to recognize that we can build our own and forge our own purpose, and we can do that through the works that we do, through the relations that we have. We can also do it oftentimes when we have to deal with hardship. We’ve got to deal with pain and difficulty, but there’s actually a way to create meaning out of that if we engage in the right way.
John: I’m loving all this, Eric. What I really think is important for our listeners to realize is that they have skill they’ve acquired from their time in service. They have an understanding in the way that they’ve looked at the world and the training that they’ve had that can be a big benefit. Can you speak to that? Can you speak to our listeners right now who are maybe wondering “How can I be relevant in this world?” What do you think specifically that military veterans have that they may not even realize skillset-wise that we can apply to rise above the rest?
Eric: It’s a great point. What I’d say is I’d actually ask everybody – and I talk to a lot of veterans about this – that they actually step back just one bit, because what happens is a lot of times, veterans think to themselves “Well, I have this particular skill. I learned land navigation, or I learned how to use a wet pan, or I learned how to lead four tanks through Fallujah and Armani like you did.”
We think to ourselves “We’ve got this set of skills,” and then you come back like “Where are the tanks? I don’t see any tanks here in St Louis or in Oklahoma City.” And you think to yourself “How do I actually apply these skillsets?”
What I would say is really the most important thing to recognize is that what you learned how to do in the military – one of the key skills that you learn how to do – is that you learned how to shape your own character. You also learned how to learn. You learned how to practice things. Think about all of the time that you had where you went through training. That was basic training or jump school or a particular kind of school, but what you learned was you learned how to learn.
For too many veterans, they come home, and they feel like “Well, I’m sort of the finished product now. I’m a veteran who came out of the military.” Well, yes. You learned some fantastic skills in the military. But what you also learned was how to build your character. You learned how to learn new skills. You learned how to lead people through in difficult circumstances. You learned how to inspire people when things were tough and things were hard.
All of those things should suggest to you that when you come back, you have this big, broad, beautiful horizon in front of you, and so many things are possible not just because of the specific hard skills that you have, but also because you learned you could actually train yourself, how you can take on new missions and challenge yourself.
I encourage people when they come back to really think big. I know this is something that you push all the time, John, and I think it’s so, so fantastic about the work that you do, brother, is that you’re telling veterans you come back, think big. There’s a lot that you can do out there.
Remember how much you changed in the military, that you’re not done changing. You can continue to build your character and to shape yourself. In order to do that, some specific things people need, you need to figure out how you’re going to use models in your life. You’re going to need to figure out how to use mentors in your life. It’s of interest. We can talk about those things. But the big picture point is you’ve got a big, broad horizon, and you’re not done growing and changing by far.
John: I’m loving all this since High Speed Nation, this is a master class. I hope it’s one of these that you go back and listen to a few times to really absorb everything that Eric is saying, because he did it at such a high level while he was in, and now he’s going it at such a high level now that he’s out. What we can learn from that is just unbelievable amounts of knowledge.
Eric, I’d love to just wrap up right now with you sharing a parting piece of guidance, an overall guiding idea that you really want to make sure that our listeners, the veterans, the current military that’s listening right now, that you really want to make sure that they walk away with in a powerful way. Then of course, share the best way that we can connect with you and all the great things that you have going on, then we’ll say good bye.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely, brother. One final thought that I would leave everybody with is Aristotle said “You know what the good thing is by seeing what the good person does.” The idea is you don’t have to make this business of living too complicated. If you want to know how to live a good life, look at somebody who’s living one.
When I was learning how to box, I remember when I first went down to the gym, I had all these questions. I asked my boxing trainer, I said “How do I throw a jab? How do I throw an uppercut? How do I do these combinations?”
All Earl would say to me all the time was “Watch Dereck.” Dereck was my training partner. He was a professional fighter. He’d say “Watch Dereck. Do as he does.”
Too many times in our culture today, when we think about role models and heroes, we think about these are things that only kids need. We ask kids “Who is your hero? Who is your role model?” The fact is what Aristotle was saying with the [0:22:04] [Indiscernible] recognized over 2,000 years ago is that in your life – and the analogy I make, John, is that if I gave you a giant bag full of jigsaw puzzle pieces, I said you had to put the puzzle together, I said “What would you ask for?” Every veteran says “I’d ask for the picture. I’d want to know what I’m trying to make.”
The point is, I say, is life hands you pieces. You have to choose the picture that you’re going to create. The way that you create a picture of your life is by looking for a model.
For every veteran who comes home, one of the things that I think is a really powerful question to ask yourself is “Who are my models right now? Who are my models as an entrepreneur? Who are my models as a father or a mother? Who are my models as a husband, as a wife?”
When you start to think about who these models are, it helps you to figure out how you can put all of these pieces together. I just encourage everybody, I so admire what you do and what everybody at High Speed Nation does, John. I think it’s really important for everybody to come back home, find those models, and then take action.
It might be hard. It might be difficult. You might get knocked down. But if there’s one thing that you learned in the military is that you can be resilient. You can push through. You can get stronger. You take action, and eventually, you’ll find that you’re starting to put all of these pieces together in your life in a way that’s working for you.
John: Eric, I love this specificity that you’re talking about when it comes to mentors and people whom you admire. So many times, we just have this mentor that they are a great person, but they’re not necessarily the person that we want to be. I’m a huge believer in saying “Who is that person right now that I actually want to become? Who is where I want to be?” That’s the role model. That’s the focal point that you can say “You know what? I can now deconstruct their success.”
I love all of this stuff. Eric, what’s the best way that we can just find more out about what you have going on at The Mission Continues and beyond?
Eric: You know, John, I’d encourage everybody, welcome everyone to come out to EricGreitens.com. Come on out, and I would love to connect with you there at EricGreitens.com. You can also follow me at Eric Greitens on Facebook.
John: Love that. Well, High Speed Nation, you know you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You’ve been hanging out with Eric G and JLD today, so keep up that heat and head over to HighSpeedLowDrag.org. Check out the [0:24:45] [Indiscernible] page. We’ll have links to everything that Eric has going on. Of course, go directly to his site, EricGreitens.com.
Eric, I just want to thank you, my brother-in-arms, for sharing your journey today with High Speed Nation. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Eric: All right, brother. Great to be on with you.
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