Refuse to Contribute Story 4: David Goggins

Although he’s a public person, unless you follow ultramarathoning you’ve probably never heard of him. And even if you do follow ultramarathoning, you may not have heard of him. He is one of those personalities I see from afar, I don’t know him, I don’t know how heavily curated his “story” is nor just how much what he puts into the world is actually his or if it’s what he thinks the world should see.

This matters not one ounce to me. What he puts out to the world is all about striving to be the best you can possibly be. Which is great, but who is he and why should I care?

A quick read of his Wikipedia page answers those questions.  He’s got asthma, has battled obesity, and has had a congenital heart defect repaired. A lot of us have faced these or similar challenges – my weight over the course of my adult life has yo-yoed between 175 and 230.  He tried and failed to get into USAF Pararescue twice before succeeding and eventually becoming a SEAL. The work he’s done since reads like a guidebook of mind over matter.  This is an exceptional person and I want to believe the majority of what he puts out to the world is actually his belief system.  You cannot do what he has done, you cannot overcome what he has overcome without the fortitude and strength of mind he expresses.

His Facebook post of Monday, September 10 struck a nerve for me. It resonates as true and I can see the truth looking back as far as High School: I’ve said for years that I was a mediocre student, but my comparator group was far more high performing than I gave credit for at the time; had I gone to my public high school, I would have been a mediocre student there too…but my comparator group would have been less high performing and I would have set my targets lower.

His message? Be mindful of your comparator group.

If you are always comparing yourself to mediocre people, that’s exactly what you will be! A lot of people think that they are at the top of their game because they are the best amongst a group of people who don’t even [care].

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He goes on, much like Bill from yesterday’s post (“it’s supposed to be hard,”) that “mediocrity feels good.” Lower your expectations. He acknowledges that performing at high levels is uncomfortable, and people shy away from people that make them uncomfortable. Comfort is a drug, it becomes addictive.

A week before he said:

The most important conversations you will ever have are the ones you have with yourself. You wake up with them. You walk around with them. You go to bed with them. Eventually you act on them. Rather it be good or bad.

We live in a world full of haters and jealous people. People so [messed] up in their own lives that they can’t move forward so they put their hate for themselves on you. This world is full of distractions- a lot of them are from other people, social media, some are self-imposed. In a world full of distractions, you must learn to live in it undistracted, unphased.

Never let the weakness of this world infiltrate your mind! To do that you must truly know yourself! Don’t allow people to puppet master you from being [flipping] great!

Here he’s speaking the language of refusing to contribute. You’re in control of your own greatness. THAT is a powerful and scary message: it means that if you fail to be great, it’s on you. How many of us want that much power and control? Control your negative self talk, live your best life, conquer your goals, avoid mediocrity.  Don’t allow anyone elses’ mediocrity, no one else’s reasons for not striving for better be your reasons.

We all have our challenges and opportunities. Accept them, but do not excuse them. Compare yourself, your results to those you wish to emulate. We’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Choose the right 5 people. If you choose to be angry, you will make certain choices. If you choose to make a difference, you will make different choices. But make no mistake, you’re making the choice.

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Refuse to Contribute Story 3: Bill

One of the guys in my running club, someone I consider a friend, is a very good runner.  Earlier this year, he time qualified for the Boston Marathon, demolishing the minimum time by some -minutes or so. Then came out to run 5-miles the following day with the group on our weekly “fun run.”  I’ve seen him decide that he’s going to run home from somewhere, when his home is some 30-miles away, and complete the track with an average mile of 8:18 minutes.

He seems to live his personal life diving into interests and hobbies with more verve than I think most people dive into theirs. He’s into pinball, and computers so of course he’s got a pinball game replicator – load up just about any pinball came onto the console and play it. He bought a 30-year old truck on eBay.

I think it’s good to know and appreciate interesting people, because they’re the people I’ve found enrich my life the most.  And Bill is an interesting guy.

This weekend, he set out the goal of running the length of a local rail trail up and back twice – I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t on a whim, then it wasn’t a long held plan to do so. This is a total of roughly 34 miles, not a short jaunt in the woods.

His commentary?

“I did turn around at mile 29 and started heading back to the start, but I said “NO. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE HARD.” and I turned around and headed to Glenwood. Let things be hard. No matter what happens this week, I can always reflect that I ran 34 miles on Sunday.”

“This is supposed to be hard.” Pushing himself to run another 5 miles AFTER 29 MILES. It’s supposed to be hard to run 20 miles, 26.2 miles. After 29 miles and several hours (this took him 5 hours to complete by the way), he was willing himself to finish another 5-miles because it was hard.  I wasn’t going to run until I read that; afterward I got up and ran 13 miles BECAUSE I didn’t want to.

“Let things be hard.” Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t about taking the easy way to get things done. Life is about adventure, and growth, and pushing the boundaries of what you think you can do.  Let things be hard. If they’re hard, you’re growing. If they’re hard, you’re expanding your horizons. If things are hard, you are becoming your best you.

I spoke with him at one point in the past week and he was reflecting on a recent run. He couldn’t understand why people would run a hill, stop and walk for a half-minute and then run again. “Just keep pushing,” or something to that effect. “I run behind them and keep pushing silently.” I know why they do that, I *DO* that. Or I did. Since that conversation, I’ve had his words in the back of my head at each point I encounter a hill and I imagine him sidling up behind me, staying there, willing me to keep going.  I’ve not stopped since.

Bill is an interesting guy. I’ve never once had a negative conversation with him. He’s a survivor, and he is one of the few people I know who consistently pushes those around him to be better, through both example and word.

Do something today BECAUSE it’s hard. Not EVEN THOUGH it’s hard. BECAUSE it’s hard. Don’t give yourself an excuse not to do it, because it’s supposed to be hard. When it’s done, no matter what else happens, you’ll be able to look back and know you’ve accomplished it.

Quite the Compliment

A friend of mine ran a Boston Qualifying time of just about 3:17:00 at the Providence Marathon on Sunday.  On Monday before our group run my buddy Duke and I had done a bit of a warm up, and when we arrived back to catch up with the larger group, Bill was there, ready to run. To highlight his stellar achievement, I mentioned that he had just the previous day run a marathon in the time it took us to do our warm-up run. Let’s not pay attention to the fact that here was a guy who had just run a 7:30 min/mile marathon the day before and he was out for a 5-mile run the next day. This guy is pure animal.

On our way home, my boy – he’s 12, mind you – asked me why I always seem to denigrate myself in complimenting others. Obviously, I protested – c’mon, boy, what are you talking about?  I suggested that he was fast running the marathon, not that we were slow running our 5k, but he came right back with the devastating question, “why couldn’t you have just said he was fast?”

And that just kind of hung out there for a while.

What am I going to do? Deny he was right? My 12-year old is a sophisticated enough speaker of English that he recognizes that linguistic habit. He gets the idea that the net effect of doing that is lowering my own standing with other people. In some cultures, that’s not necessarily the case, but in Twenty-first Century America, it certainly is.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but now that its been pointed out to me I can think back as far as high school and see that pattern. To show people how good they are, I have to be less.

That’s not normal.

I think it is a competitive thing for me. I strive to be better, I want to be better, and somehow someone performing at a higher level diminishes my performance. Its a ranking. While most 12-year olds don’t understand linguistics quite to the same level – or perhaps they do, they just don’t articulate themselves that way…or perhaps we just have a relationship that allows him to speak honestly to me – he nailed it. In taking control of the conversation in the way he did by just making an observation, he demonstrated a skill I didn’t know he had and demonstrated an aspect of our relationship I am proud of.

Either way, he not only went straight for the unvarnished truth, he reframed my experience, just. like. that. He listens. He processes.  He knows. We all know kids are sophisticated processors of information – as a parent, I’ve wondered and worried for years just what my kids would say about me to each other many years hence. What they’d each remember of their childhoods with me. What sort of counseling they’d need because of me, or perhaps more specifically what maladaptions would they take with them that work to a certain point and then doesn’t?

I feel a lot better knowing that, while he has definite expressions of a strong personality that will both be a great attribute for him and will also get in his way, he knows enough to be able to process these traits. I listen to him and wonder where he picks certain things up…only to hear myself utter similar things hours or even minutes later, so I know I have to show him the same skill he’s shown me. I also know that I should expect a similar response, “c’mon Dad, that’s not what I’m doing…”

He demonstrated he trusted me to listen to him and respect his point.  We have some tough conversations and yet at the end of the day, he always wants to check in with me and at the start of the day, he always wants me to walk with him to the school bus. He knows me pretty well and he’s comfortable asking me questions like “why do you denigrate yourself?”

So, it was important that I follow up with him, and thus I did. I told him that I thought about what he said, and despite my protestations I thought he was right and would seek to change my linguistic habits. “Great job” is a lot more positive than “That’s so much better than what I could do.” Positive for the recipient, and without denigrating anyone.  Lifting someone up without cutting anyone down. My boy has helped me be a better friend and person.  And, I hope, a better father.

Preventable Failure: The Cycle of Self Recrimination

Over the last we’ll say 30 some odd hours, I’ve been cycling through various stages of self-recrimination.  At first I was angry that some volunteer could have made a determination that I didn’t have correct push up form or raise my arms over my head doing burpees. Then when I saw not only was I not counted for having done the correct number of burpees at one station, but at each one I attempted, I was upset with myself. Then I spent some time with the rule book and found that even shorting myself 10 burpees wouldn’t have disqualified me, just added some time to my score. Less than 20 does.  And on the second to last obstacle I failed to do even that.

And the recriminations cycle again.

Worst? This is a stupid race. A race.  It means nothing in the greater scheme of things.  I did it. I have the GPX file to prove it. I have a finishers medal and t-shirt and anyone whose ever volunteered at a Spartan races knows how closely those things are guarded. But, I just don’t have an official time.  5 burpees. 100 yards from the finish line.  It’s all I have been able to think about.

I went out for a run with my running group tonight and the topic of conversation? “How was it?” Ugh. So don’t want to talk about it. I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous – that I’m that hung up about it, or that I have something to be hung up on.  It’s a spiral and I can’t seem to find a way off of it. Even my run tonight sucked which gave me plenty of time to perseverate. I’m mentally ill. I have to be. That’s the only explanation.  Either that, or I’ve just placed too high an importance to these things.

The important thing is getting out there and getting it done. I failed. I goofed, didn’t do what I should have and as a result, I failed. It’s really that simple. People fail all the time – often in far more catastrophic ways: they kill a pedestrian after driving while impaired; they come a point shy of passing their bar exam; they make split second decisions that play out in the worst consequences.  There are a lot of worse things than spending 4.5 hours on a mountain, testing your limits, and coming up short.  No one died, thousands of dollars weren’t lost, no one’s life is worst for me having failed. Its one of those things that happens. Google “race DNF” and find stories of just crushing proportion.  I found THIS article on actually DNF-ing a Spartan. I didn’t DNF, and that cat actually did the burpees, but I guess in reading other people’s stories of failure it helps me to process my own.

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This is from a remarkable blog entry on just this very topic from a slightly different view. She’s talking about dancing competitions, I’m talking about a Spartan Beast, but the lesson is the same: control your inner dialog, your definitions of success.  

No one wants to fail. No one expects to fail. My inner dialogue during the race was all about knowing I was going to finish. Never once did I think I would screw it up. But I did. I’ve screwed up plenty of things of greater importance in my life and screwed up things I’ve worked harder on and things that were far less gratifying to undertake. There are far worse things in life.

And there we are, on the other side of the cycle. At one point I wrote about the implications of negative internal dialog – your beliefs become destiny.   I need to remember these lessons. There’s two ways you can travel on a spiral: you can either slide downward or you can take the long way and crawl back up.  Sliding down is easy, its hard work going up. Just as hard as the combined 10,000′ of elevation 2 Spartan Beasts over the weekend were.