I'll never think of America's elite warriors the same after hearing Navy SEAL Team Six member Don Mann speak at this week's DTN/The Progressive Farmer Ag Summit--and I will certainly never use analogies to war as lightly as I have in the past. I'll warn you now, if you're squeamish, you might want to quit reading. This wasn't a PG-13 event.
As both Mann and the best-selling book "Lone Survivor" by Marcus Luttrell describe it, SEAL Team members are the elite of the elite of the Navy's special forces, the Spartan warriors of the modern world. They practice a physical and mental discipline so demanding, it may shock the uninitiated but it is also designed to strike fear in the terrorist world. It's not for the faint of heart, or for those unwilling to run through life at race pace. They view themselves as the avengers of the innocent victims of September 11. That thought--along with an unbroken commitment to their comrades-- gives them a motivation that a normal desk job could never match.
SEAL Team Six was once cloaked in secrecy, but its members not only killed Osama Bin Laden, they rescued hostages like cargo ship Captain Richard Phillips from pirates and parachuted in to save U.S. aid workers held for months in Somolia. Sometimes they trained bodyguards to protect the presidents of our ally countries, in some of the worst war-torn regions of the earth.
Some might characterize SEALs as obsessed with physical challenges. In his off-duty hours, Mann climbed mountains. He entered Double Ironmen events. He once biked 1,500 miles in five days. During one 500-mile, 11-day marathon, he lost seven toe nails and was chided for not having them removed and sewn shut in advance. When he passed out partway through a double marathon, he picked himself up and ultimately finished the race.
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To earn a coveted spot on a SEAL team, trainees must swim two underwater pool lengths without taking a breath. If they gasp for air too soon, they're out. If they pass out from lack of oxygen, they're on the team. In war, you can't afford to quit, Mann explained, so overcoming your body's involuntary pain threshold winnows out those without the combat mindset. Or, as Sir Edmund Hillary said, "It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." In a class of 150 trainees, only about 10% make the final cut.
Those SEALs involved in the Bin Laden attack concluded that nothing in their mission matched the intensity of their training exercises, Mann said.
The discipline gleaned from extreme sports --or military training for that matter--applies to any respectable profession, Mann added. "Strength doesn't come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you could not do." If you accomplish your "mini" goals, reset more ambitious ones. If you haven't experienced pain--maybe self-doubts, temporary hardships or a failed business venture--maybe you haven't pushed yourself hard enough.
Most farmers I know who achieved success in their careers by formalizing their goals in writing. In fact, Purdue Economist Allan Gray also advised Ag Summit attendees to set written benchmarks and reassess their progress every year. "That which is measured gets done," he said.
On a business level, Mann's main message to me was not to coast in the comfort zone. "The real tragedy for most people is not that they set goals too high and do not achieve them, it's that they set their goals too low and do achieve them," Mann said. Live large.
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