The Ideal Insult – Feb 2020

David Goggins is a man whose exploits have, as the young ones like to say, “blown up the internet” in the past year or so. He has accomplished a feat apparently no one else has in terms of successfully becoming all of a Navy Seal, an Army Ranger, and an Air Force Tactical Air Controller. Each of these alone puts one in rare air as “one of the few”. However, accomplishing this in all three of these arenas is truly unique. After achieving merit serving in combat, he didn’t stop and take up a comfy desk job. He has continued achieving. Some of the physical feats he has accomplished are simply difficult to comprehend. He has explored the endurance sports of ultramarathons and triathlons with, effectively, zero experience and has succeeded at some pretty high levels. He ran his first 100 mile race before he ran a marathon. Who does that? During a time where he had sought to recover from some overuse injuries related to trail running, he focused on some upper body exercises. He then attempted to conquer the world record for pull ups in a 24 hour period which he set with over 4,000 reps. Many of these accomplishments may be found by Googling David Goggins. You can also pick up his book, “Can’t Hurt Me”. Caution, if you read his books or watch him speak online, he is quick with some colorful language.

As we hear, read, and watch his efforts, it is easy to appreciate his accomplishments as superhuman power. There must be something unique or special about him such that he has a natural born inclination to achieve in these arenas. It can’t possibly be reasonable for us mere mortals to even consider these kinds of activities. We are willing to watch and grudgingly acknowledge that what we’re seeing is remarkable, but it’s a standard so far beyond normal, that we can’t conceivably be held to anything like this. His accomplishments are viewed as those of a comic book character. Pretty cool and entertaining, but not something that’s serious for the rest of us to consider.

If we then dive into his past to see how he became who he is, things become a bit tougher for us. If anyone ever has had an excuse to not try, to give up, to just take what life has given them and be a victim left to complain about their circumstances and the myriad of reasons why they can’t do anything remarkable, it would seem that David Goggins’ past would offer this excuse. His childhood was littered with struggle and sadness. Goggins suffered extensive and repeated mental and physical abuse from his father. He was bullied at school and had difficulties making friends. Furthermore, Goggins stuttered and learning did not come easily. Virtually every difficulty we can conceive of, he had experienced. His formative years were filled with struggles that fed fears and frustrations. These would conspire to cripple the confidence and commitment of any reasonable person.

His early adulthood was not much easier. He was mired in misery and stuck in a soul sucking job that left him with an appetite only for fast food which left him apathetic and out of shape until he somehow made a single decision to look at himself in the mirror one day and decide to change. He was hit with no magic burst of inspiration, no sudden secret or epiphany presented itself that showed him a way forward. He simply decided he was responsible for where he was and he didn’t want to be there anymore. He didn’t say he was going to change tomorrow. He decided right then and there, no more. He then followed this feeling with taking some action immediately and each day subsequently to improve himself. The way forward wasn’t easy, wasn’t linear, and wasn’t even supported with people offering help, guidance, or assistance.

The fact that in spite of his incredibly difficult past, he still found a way forward makes his story that much more powerful. However, it also makes his story a bit harder for us to watch. It is like staring directly at the sun. The brightness hurts us and it’s difficult for us to look too directly.

As admirable as Goggins’ achievements are, when we see him as a superhero, we can smile, applaud politely, and carry on about our day. But when we see that whatever he has done followed a path far more difficult than anything we’ve endured, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it hurts a little. We don’t have any excuses to not be striving to a much higher level than where we are. His efforts and accomplishments now represent an image of what we could be or do and set against where we are stings us. The ideal he represents insults us. Our tendencies sadly become to either discount accomplishments as silly, not meaningful, or attributable to some superhero power that makes the person different from us.

Crabs offer us another example of this idea.. We see a similar behavior exhibited by crabs when in a group. A crab by itself in a container will try to get out. However, when in the same container with other crabs, if one tries to “escape”, other crabs will ruthlessly and mercilessly bring it back down into the crowd. This is done to the detriment of the group and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious or constructive explanation for the behavior.

This is natural and normal. We shouldn’t seek to separate ourselves from this feeling or tear down Goggins or others who are doing great works. Our mind is trying to protect our image and understanding of ourselves from disappointment and to shield ourselves from the effort of improvement. If we know this is natural, the hope is we can develop awareness of these feelings, then seek to set them aside and reframe our view of intense individuals as inspiring. How can we use the stories amazing achievers like Goggins offer to help inspire ourselves? Maybe we can even seek to find some superheroes closer to home that we can relate to. There are likely people, colleagues working right beside you every day, who are doing things that are remarkable and set a standard we can seek to live up to. Looking closer at those that are successful shouldn’t hurt us, it should help us try to figure out in what small way can I try to model what they have done or are doing so that I, too, can make progress.

Author Laura Vanderkam, in her book 168 Hours, recounts the background of,Theresa Daytner, a US Businesswoman and mother who somehow seems to “have it all”. She is the principal of a construction business generating close to $10,000,000 in revenues annually while being a mother of six young children including two eight year old twins. She finds time to take full days off from work to enjoy walks in the wilderness while watching the spring flowers bloom as well as being part of a book club, lifting weights with a trainer twice a week, getting her hair done, and attending her multiple childrens’ activities. She does all of these while enjoying herself and not foregoing a good night’s sleep. She consistently sleeps seven plus hours a night.

“The point of these stories is not to make anyone feel bad or lazy. Rather, I view these stories as liberating…” Laura Vanderkam writes in 168 Hours.

Another expression of this same idea occurs when you tell someone about something that you’re proud of or that you’re doing to try to better yourself. Perhaps, it is something as simple as I’m doing the Whole 30 program and trying to eat better for the month of February just to be met with either criticism of the program or temptation from a box of Timbits. People (us) are scared of others efforts at progress as it shines a light on our own gaps.

Perhaps, consider taking a moment to congratulate yourself on any New Year’s resolutions you’re pursuing. Then take another moment to commit to sustaining streaks in these areas. Finally, find a colleague or two and congratulate them on their efforts and achievements to date in the New Year.