He was a bit weird, but quick to befriend me. And since I didn’t know anyone, and I’m a bit shy by nature, I was quick to welcome any friend I could get. However, as soon as he started talking about how to hack SEAL training (you know, get away with not doing the work), I knew I had to distance myself from him immediately.
“Try not to get your greens issued to you,” he told me within minutes of our first meeting. “Greens” are the old Vietnam-style uniforms that SEAL trainees wore.
“Why not?” I replied with honest curiosity.
“Because once you have them, they’ll make you start PT-ing every day.” PT is military talk for physical training.
“Um, dude, that’s why I’m here,” I said, walking away.
I think that guy made it all of a week before he, like many others, quit SEAL training.
Not my first rodeo
Going to BUD/S wasn’t my first experience in special operations training, and I had already learned to spot the posers and those who’d soon quit. This guy was one of them. I knew I needed to separate myself from him. No doubt this sounds a bit harsh, even a bit unfriendly and selfish, but I’ve learned that I—by myself—am not sufficient to achieve any level of greatness without having great people around me. And this guy wasn’t the kind of guy I needed around me.
We all form and maintain relationships in our lives for a variety of reasons: They make us feel comfortable, complacent, competitive, strong. For Navy SEALs, at the top of the list is the desire to grow and excel. That’s why elite units and high performers tend to stick together. And that’s why the answer to that age-old mom question, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” is yes.
We human beings tend to couple with our environment. Over time, others’ beliefs and actions naturally drift toward us. We begin to think as others think and do as others do. It is for this reason that, in SEAL training, when someone quits, they are immediately removed from all contact with the other students.
The real way the truth works
It has been said that all truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. I’ve seen this firsthand as a SEAL and sniper instructor:
1. A dude arrives at BUD/S: “Hell no, I’ll never quit. That’s ridiculous.”
2. His buddy quits after the first week: “Man, I hope I don’t do that.”
3. He grabs dinner with the quitter, who launches into a rant about how he wants to get out of the Navy and go into some different career: “Yeah, that totally makes sense. What in the hell was I thinking being a SEAL? I’ve got a family to take care of.”
Truth be told, this happened to me the first time I went to SEAL training. Because of the “swim buddies” around me, I went from “I’d never quit” to “What in the hell am I doing here?” in a matter of weeks.
Choose your swim buddies: You are who you hang out with
The people you spend time with—your friends, family, and coworkers—all form a current around you, and if that current isn’t heading in the direction you want to go, you’re going to find yourself stagnant or floating in the wrong direction. That’s why it’s so important to choose swim buddies who share your goals and watch your back.
“Hey,” a fellow student said to me one day after PT, “I noticed that you were resting your legs on the ground when we were doing flutter kicks.”
“Yeah, I guess I was. I think I was just trying to catch a break every chance I had.”
“You don’t want to do that,” he said. “You’re going to need those hip-flexors strong for our ocean swim tests, and this is the best way to do that.”
Turns out, that guy was a competitive swimmer from Stanford University who knew how to move in the water. His advice raised my game rather than dragging it down, and was clearly different from the guy who tried to teach me how to avoid PT altogether. The reason this story has stuck with me for so long is because, in training, I once had a “do or die” swim test that I passed by mere seconds. It’s all about having good people around you!
When you have solid people around, they help you to grow and to see that which you were blind to so that you can adjust your actions to better suit your ambitions. It’s not just about having people who can hold us accountable for what we do and don’t do, but people who stick with us while we’re figuring shit out. Good people keep us tenacious, and tenacity is what allows you to produce amazing results for yourself and others.
As a father, a businessman, and a former Navy SEAL, I’m adamant that I must have good people around me who provide solid and exceptional examples, and who don’t take any of my shit or else I’ll float off into some weird space that would, no doubt, land me homeless on a beach somewhere instead of where I should be—riding the current of my life.
With my swim buddies at my side.
- Do you have an example of hanging out with the WRONG person in life?
- How about an example of hanging out with the RIGHT person in life?
Eric’s new book, “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned From their Training and Taught to their Sons” (St. Martin’s Press), will be available on May 3, 2016. To pre-order a copy, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble.