As a kid, my parents often told me, "fair is a place you go in the fall, and a way you describe the weather," there is no such thing as fair. If there is one thing I know for sure throughout all my experiences, it is that life is not fair, and it is not sorry about it either. But there is so much more to life when you can get past this point. What's the alternative? Quit? Even worse, make excuses for failures?
When you go through trials, it puts things in perspective. It's hard to see it while you are in the test, but when you get on the other side of it, you find terrific clarity.
In BUD/s, the first 6 months of the path to become a Navy SEAL, nothing is fair there either. In fact, I would say its dialed up a few extra notches. Why? Because it is essential that anyone who makes it through the process understands that, as they go out to face the highest levels of uncertainty, that there will be no amount of fairness to protect them.
It's really easy to fall into the trap of fairness. When things are going well, we believe that's how they "should" be going. And as soon as they start to turn south, our response is often, "hey that's not fair!" The misperception of fairness isn't just that of equal opportunity, but even deeper, the thought that we deserve an opportunity in the first place.
I remember our very first 4 mile timed run in BUD/s. We had all prepared greatly at this point. 100's of practice 4 mile runs. To ensure that we would not fail to meet the passing time of 32 minutes. It's an excellent place to be to be able to run about a 27 minute 4 mile on the track. Because in BUD/s you are not on track, you are on the beach in pants and boots, slightly more difficult than the track. Also, for extra difficulty, at the start of BUD/s, like we were, there are about 180 other guys on the beach with you. So we muster out on the beach before 5am, standing around waiting, while it's still dark, for the 4 mile timed run to begin.
Before we had even begun, my eyes got a little big looking at the beach. Sometimes in BUD/s, you feel like the instructors have power over nature and weather because of how often it feels like nature and weather are against you. Not only was it extremely high tide, which increases the difficulty much further because there is hardly any hard pack sand to run on, but somehow, overnight, since I had seen the beach the day before, all the kelp had started dying and washing up on shore. I'm not talking about some leaves on the beach. Picture giant bushels of kelp that used to stand 20 ft tall all bunched up on the beach in mounds, some over 2 feet high. We had all prepared to run on hard pack sand, not soft sand. But we only had two options today, a 4mile version of the 110m hurdles down a narrow sliver of hard pack sand, or a straight soft sand run.
"Runners Standby… Bust 'Em"
The race started while I was still daydreaming about what lay ahead. The whole time I was running, I was thinking, this is ludicrous. How could they expect us to run in these conditions? Surely they will adjust the passing time.
When you cross the finish line for the 4 mile timed run, if you pass, they send you a few hundred yards down the beach to jog in a large circle and occasionally pause for stretches. Once it goes over the passing time, they send everyone into the surf to get wet, and then come back and "drop-down" in the push-up position to wait for all the other failures.
I'd made the turn (2-mile turnaround), and I'm running back down the beach with all I got towards the truck headlights (the finish line) I can see the guys about 800m ahead jogging in a circle. I try to reach for any extra energy and speed, but there is not really anything there. As I get closer, I realize there is really only about 20 guys jogging. I'm immediately confused. I snap a glance over my shoulder hoping for an answer. I see exactly what I knew I would see, and what my heart hoped was wrong, 30 or 40 guys stretched out behind me over about 400 meters. For a brief second, I was hoping I had zoned out and somehow pushed my way up to the very front of the pack. My brain knew that was a lie.
Getting closer to the trucks I could see the truth. Hiding in the brightness of all the truck headlights, about 100 guys in the push-up position. "Whaaaat" was all I could think. In extreme clarity, about 400m from the finish line I realized the truth. I had failed, and not only had I failed, but only about 20 people out of the entire class had passed. I hit the surf and fell into one of the rows of all the men in push-up position. I was near the beginning of the 2nd row, right behind some of the first guys to fail. I looked up to see who was in front of me, Doug. Back in Chicago where we had spent a lot of time running on the track, my brain quickly indexed Dougs times on the track. Doug's 4mile was usually around 24 minutes. My heart sank. Doug was often 3 or 4 minutes faster than me on the track, and he failed? How am I supposed to do this?
What came next was even more shocking. The students who passed the run were told to leave the beach and go to the waiting area. For the next 45 minutes, the instructors berated us. "It's the first day! You're not even tired. How could you fail the first run?" (Backstory, before the run we did an hour of Grinder PT doing nonstop jumping jacks which absolutely destroys your shin and ankle strength). They berated us, and we paid for it. Berm Sprints, Buddy Carries, Wet & Sandy, the works, etc.
You know at first, I can say, I wasn't really receptive to what they had to say haha. But after a few minutes, I remembered what my father had told me about fairness. Then one of the instructors said for the first time that day a line that I would hear many 100s of times again before BUD/s was over. "It's very simple gentlemen, you will meet the standard, or you will go away."
The standard was clear. It is a pass/fail evolution and the time is 32 minutes. If you're thinking "wow, that's not very fair" or "that's kinda harsh" you nailed it. And you know what? This is precisely how life is sometimes. You thought you understood what you had set out to do.
When you proclaim your abilities, there should be no "buts" or qualifying statements. Either you can, or you cannot run 4 miles in 32 minutes. "I can run it in 32 minutes if we don't have an hour long beat down before the run." Sure that statement seems sensible. But unfortunately, life is a lot more like a run in BUD's than a run at a track meet, where everything is in your control, where you show up fresh, and referees are making sure no one cheats or has an unfair advantage.
I almost forgot. You know what else isn't "fair" about runs in BUD/s? You don't get a watch. Nobody tells you your time as you're running. You don't find out your time until you finish. My time was 38 minutes that day, and I thought I gave it my all.
So there were only 2 possible outcomes for me.
1 - There was more in me. As much pain as I was in I would have to find a way to dig deeper.
2 - I was not capable of meeting the standard, and I would go home.
For me, I knew the first option hurt a lot less than the second option. I would have to dig deeper.
That is a lot to realize in a day, all before you've even had breakfast.
Like they said. It's simple. I'd either meet the standard, or I would go away.
Heres what you should take away from today:
No excuse is good enough. Whatever situation you are in, it's not fair. Stop trying to explain all the ways it is not fair and start figuring out how YOU are going to overcome the challenges.
YOU will either rise to the occasion, or you will not.
It's up to YOU!
"Standby… Bust 'Em!"