Ringing the Bell
With war comes the stories of war.
My oldest son has been captivated by the stories of the U.S. Navy Seals. Together we have read three different books detailing just a few of the events surrounding the Navy’s special forces unit.
American Sniper is the story of America’s most decorated sniper in history, Chris Kyle. No Easy Day is the first hand account of “Mark Owen” who was one of the team members that captured and killed Osama Bin laden. And Lone Survivor is the story of Marcus Luttrell, who survived alone in Afghanistan for 8 days. (All three book links are affiliate links.)
A key component to each story is the training these men went through. The Seals training is notorious for its difficulty. There are stories of individuals being asked to go beyond what seems to be humanly possible. Stories of endurance. Stories of lengthy swims in freezing temperatures. Stories of long runs followed by countless pushups.
And I am certain there are more. But these have never been told because we would never believe them.
When I have heard about the training in the past, I believed it to be cruel. I didn’t believe any sane human being would treat another human being in such a way, even if they asked for it. It sounded like torture to me, and a way to force young men to comply to a philosophy and way of viewing life.
But reading the books helped me to see that the training is meant to be something more.
An Invitation to Quit
Not only do they make it hard to do what they ask, but the instructors also make it easy to quit.
At the main office sits a bell. If the pain and misery and coldness and fatigue become too much, all you need to do is ring the bell. No questions asked. Nobody gets upset. No judgments.
Once you choose to opt out by ringing the bell, you get a warm blanket, a cup of coffee, and a donut.
Each class starts with 200 extremely good sailors. The issue isn’t whether or not these men are capable. They all are. The Seals aren’t worried about how good the men are. The training is only partly focused on making them better than they are. Yes, that is part of it, but not all of it.
The goal of the training is to find the sailors who won’t quit. Those with enough mental toughness to get through the impossible.
Physical capability isn’t enough. All the men are can do it, but in a typical class of 200, only 20 graduate.
The Dream and the Reality
When every one of these men show up, they have a dream. They want to tell a story about being the best of the best. They want to tell stories of courage and valor and extreme accomplishments.
But the Navy Seals aren’t necessarily looking for dreamers. They are looking for the people who will do. Because in war, dreams won’t take you very far.
The Navy Seals are sent in when nobody else can do the job. When the odds of success are not 100%. When the risk levels are high. When things could go wrong.
What the Seals need are men who won’t quit. Men who will keep fighting. Men who will keep calm and focus on what they have to do.
If you are the type of person that will quit, they want to find before they ask you to be a Navy Seal and do the kind of stuff they need you to do.
Your Story and Your Reality and Ringing the Bell
When it comes to living a better story, the problem isn’t that people don’t dream. The problem isn’t that people don’t understand what leads to a better story. The problem isn’t talking about and discussing what a better story looks like.
The problem is that most quit. Once the story hits the rough parts, we give up. Once the story hurts, we walk away. Once we realize that it will cost us something to write it, we simply give up on the story.
By definition, a better story will be difficult. Better stories are not about luxury or fame or ease. Living a better story isn’t about being a hero.
Better stories are the ones in which we make personal sacrifices for the good of others. They are the stories in which we offer our love without the expectation of receiving anything in return. A better story will cost you something.
And like the Navy Seals, the issue isn’t whether or not you are capable of living such a story.
The issue is whether or not you will ring the bell and eat your donut.
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P.S. On Thursday I plan on telling you the secret most of these men use to survive the training. Stay tuned.