As we discussed in my last post, most people don’t make it through BUD/S. They ring the bell, place their helmet in the Grinder, and move on, considered DOR’s (Drop On Request). But where do they go? They go to a purgatory-like existence at another part of the training complex at Coronado. So, they’re still technically around, although they don’t get to live in the same barracks as those still in BUD/S. This DOR group is referred to as the X Division, or X-Div.
X-Div members get moved to another part of the island, where they typically do menial labor until they get their next assignment from the Navy. As you might expect, the atmosphere among them is not great. They’ve just let go of the rope and given up their dream of becoming a SEAL, and few of them walk away from it in a good state of mind. Regret, frustration, bitterness, anger, resentment, fear, and a lack of direction on where to go next are standard responses.
But here’s the interesting part: new BUD/S candidates who arrive at Coronado before their BUD/S barracks are ready are sent to live with the X-Division. This mix of dreamers with those whose dream has been dashed makes for a compelling dynamic. The dreamers can’t wait to find out what BUD/S is really like from those X-Divvers. As you might imagine, lots of the X-Divvers are ready to talk about how awful BUD/S is, how the instructors are unfair, how the program sets them up to fail, etc.
This kind of talk does nothing to improve the confidence level of those entering BUD/S. Imagine talking to guy who looks like a Greek god, with biceps and pecs that can’t be contained by his shirt, and whose 8-pack of abs looks like it was airbrushed on him who is telling you that there’s no way to pass BUD/S. You can be sure that some BUD/S candidates are done before they get started as a result of their time with the X-Division. Even if they don’t admit it, they’ve preloaded these excuses into their brains and, when the time comes, they’ll pick one, ring the bell, place their helmet on the Grinder, and go join the X-Division themselves, ready to tell the next group of dreamers how their dream either sucks or cannot be accomplished.
Life is full of shattered dreams. It’s full of people who, for one reason or another, have not become who they set out to become or have not accomplished what they set out to accomplish. Hell, many of us fit that description right now. In life, the story doesn’t end until you die. In fact, for many, the story doesn’t end until years later, as their children and grandchildren will carry on what they’ve accomplished. But too many let their failures and their fears define them, and it makes them bitter. When they see someone chasing their dream, seeking to accomplish great things, their own failures and fears wash over them like a wave. And it hurts. So, they try to get everyone else to stay average with them. As long as no one around them is striving to get better, then they feel better about not striving.
As we noted last week, the hardest part of achieving great things is mental. Do you have the mental toughness and mindset to endure in the face of great obstacles, challenges, and even failures? If so, the world is yours. If not, there’s little of note that you could ever hope to achieve.
In this case, those BUD/S candidates have two options when hearing the horror stories from X-Div members. They can either respond emotionally and decide that, because these guys couldn’t make it through BUD/S, they have no chance either. Their other option is to can remain calm and process the information they’re receiving, understanding that it is coming from men who are hurt, frustrated, disillusioned, angry, and lost. They can understand that many of those X-Divvers want nothing more than to talk them out of success in order to feel better about their own failures. They can remember that no one can make them quit. They can remember that hundreds of people pass BUD/S each year and, while some of them are incredibly impressive physical specimens can run long, swim fast, and lift heavy, many of them are not. Instead, many of those who pass are just the guys who will not quit. They may not survive BUD/S because of an injury or because their body simply shuts down, but they will not quit.
To be clear, I’m not saying that we should not heed the advice of other people, that we should not listen to criticism, or that we shouldn’t be open to the idea that our plans are misguided. In fact, I would suggest that we actively seek counsel from others. As the Proverbs note, “plans fail from a lack of counsel”. If you’ve read Manhood and The Hero’s Journey, you know I believe that men need peers, as well as older, wiser men to guide, instruct, encourage, and support them.
However, we must remember that almost every time we try to do something significant we will face opposition. We will encounter doubters, downers, and haters. We will come across those whose consciences are pricked by our efforts and who, therefore, try to hold us back or hope that we fail. Sometimes, those doubters, downers, and haters will be those closest to us. Thus, if we are going to become the men we long to be, we must be tough enough in our mind to listen to the wise, but to walk away from and ignore the haters. We must trust the wise enough to listen, but trust ourselves enough to ignore the haters. Both are difficult. Both take mental toughness. Both are possible for every one of us.
At some point during Hell Week, my guess is that the excuses to quit offered by those from X-Div rang loudly in the ears of those BUD/S candidates. Some chose to heed their call and quit. Their reward: the misery and regret of X-Div. But others reached deep and determined to write a different story. Their reward: the honor of joining an elite group of men tasked with preserving the freedom of a nation.
Few of us are called to be SEALs. All of us are called to be the best version of ourselves. We can be strong, courageous, skillful men who develop our masculinity to bring value to the world. Many around us will tell us we can’t, that there’s no need, or that we’re fine as we are. We know better. We will not quit. This is the man’s life.
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