I was 19 years old, I took an oath to defend my country, signed over the next 6 years and potentially my life to U.S. Government and all I had left my parents was a note. By the time I got home, and my parents knew where I had been, the decision had been made, and the contract had been signed.
Looking back, I’m so glad my parents were not offended by that. I never consulted them. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them or respect their wisdom. It was a decision I just had to make on my own.
My father would tell you, beyond the fear of losing a child, his greatest concern for me was that I would fail at the first real thing in life I had put my hand to. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in me. He had raised me and knew who I was, but I do not think it is for a father to know if his son can pass a test like SEAL training. Nor for any other man in fact. Only yourself. His fear for me was valid, but I knew different.
While I was still on active duty, living in San Diego, I spent quite a bit of my free time helping some young guys prepare for SEAL training. I took that task as seriously as any other. Sometimes they’d ask me after our first workout together (not a good sign haha), sometimes they’d ask after 6 months of training together; eventually, every student would ask me the same question:
“Do you think I’ll make it?” My response to every student was the same. “If my answer has any impact on you then I’m certain you won’t make it.” Their faces all pale reflecting that response, with wide eyes searching for the right response. I would continue, squeezing the most out of the moment, “Selection to the SEAL program is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of choice. Fortunately, it’s up to you.” After a pause for effect, I’d start laughing and say “Because if it were up to me, I wouldn’t let you clean my gun.” They knew I was kidding. I’d let them off the hook of coming up with a response because I didn’t want an answer. I just wanted them to remember what I said.
I was intentionally putting them in the same boat I put myself in when I showed up to training. A boat I had rowed myself. What's the point here? When it got tough, I didn’t want them thinking about what I had said. I wanted them to think about the things they had spoken to themselves. The greater their pain, the weaker my words would become. What they would need was their own voice, telling them to press on.
Despite that truth, there was a powerful reminder I left with every student. It went something like this “In the coming storm, I promise you will look for a way out. When you least expect it, the moment will find you. You’ll hear a voice that says, turn back. But once you're there, once you’re in the Navy, once you’re at BUD/s, you are already in the middle of the storm. Remember this, there is no to turning back. Your departure port is signing the papers, and your arrival port is SEAL graduation. You must sail through the storm. The way out is through.”
Unfortunately, I saw so many students when I was going through training who did not know this. They honestly thought the best way forward was to quit. When they thought the storm was more than they could bare they looked for a way out. Little did they know they were crashing their ship on a deserted island. And the pain they’d find there, along with the price to rebuild, was far higher than weathering the storm.
Somehow, I knew during training that quitting was the worst option. Man, it was unbearably bad at times. But quitting would be worse.
I can’t make you choose not to quit. My voice will never be louder than your voice telling you "anything is better than this pain." But I can tell you a harsh truth, that it's the wrong choice. Whatever way out you are seeking, if you leave the storm, you didn’t conquer the storm. It will still be there, and your fear of it will only make that storm grow in size.
When you are facing life’s storms, don’t quit.
Quitting doesn’t stop the pain, it's just a change of scenery.