When I entered the military I didn’t know how to swim. As a matter of fact, I was terrified of the water. I was 25 years old. It was August of 2007 when I signed up. At the time, there was a significant need for combat soldiers. I don’t know this to be a fact, but I suspect recruiters got a little extra pay when they signed up a soldier under a combat military specialty.
I signed up for special operations (Green Beret’s, Navy SEAL’s, Para Rescue etc.). You have to know how to swim in order to do these jobs in the military. When I was completing paperwork for the enlistment process one of the recruiters told me that my lack of swimming ability was fine because I would be taught how to swim in Infantry School at Fort Benning Georgia. Whenever I tell this story to other military personnel it always gets a good laugh when I mention that part. I knew nothing of the military except what I had seen on TV. I knew that the television depiction wasn’t 100% accurate, but I didn’t have any reason to think this guy would flat out lie to me. Well, he did. You see, if I washed out of Special Forces Training I would still end up in a Regular Infantry Unit (which isn’t so “regular” actually, but that’s a different story). I would still be a combat soldier and he would still get his bonus.
“Oh don’t worry about it! They’ll teach you how to swim!”
Eventually, I did figure out how to swim. I almost drowned a few times in the process. It wasn’t pretty, but the confidence that came out of that process was huge. Ironically, I may not have ever tried out for Special Forces if this man hadn’t lied and put me in a position where I had to, ‘Sink or Swim’. Remember, I was terrified of the water and I was 25 years old. The fear of the water was a huge barrier in my own mind and I had to overcome it. No one could do that for me. I had to learn how to dance with my fear and make it work for me. To quote one of my instructors from Airborne School in regards to jumping out of planes, “I’m not asking you to not be afraid. It’s perfectly normal to be afraid of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. I’m asking you to control your fear and not let it control you.”
I’m so glad that guy lied to me because it put me in a position to do something uncommon and against the odds. More specifically, it gave me the chance to gather and channel my fear. Signing up for the service was scary in general. As I’ve said before, I knew I was going to war no matter what. I let my fears be the catalyst for execution on a daily basis. My level of urgency around training, exercise, and lifestyle were heightened because I wanted to live and not die. In a more nuanced sense, my fear of regret around not completing Special Forces Training because I let my fear of the water push me out, caused me to attack that fear all out. My fear of regret outweighed my fear of the water. Again, this is why vision is so important. The vision that you create of a compelling future can give you the strength to face your greatest fears and darkest demons. Have you done that work? Are you doing the work?
More in Episode 37 of the Podcast.