I’ve had friends in the Spec Ops community whose lives have essentially gone downhill ever since leaving the military. I understand that only too well. It’s hard to fully describe the Spec Ops experience to anyone who hasn’t been there: not only the training and exceptional level of performance, but also the sense of team and community. It’s something that burns so deep it’s hard to put into words. And it’s easy to think, “I will never have anything like that again.”
Once you’ve been part of such an intensely high-achieving community, it’s natural to feel that nothing else you could possibly do will ever come close to equaling that experience. The way these guys see it, nothing in civilian life could even begin to compare with being a SEAL, Delta, Ranger, or whatever. In their worldview, the rest of life automatically pales. In a sense, they feel their lives have to go downhill.
You don’t have to be in Spec Ops, or in the military at all, to see this. You’ve probably got friends who can’t stop talking about their college football days, the old neighborhood, or the way things were when they first joined the company as young pups. Blah blah blah. People have been torpedoing their own chances of success by their addictive attachment to the “good old days.”
There’s a word for that point of view: “settling.”
Fortunately, that’s not what happens for most of us. The majority of guys I’ve known in Spec Ops refuse to accept that defeatist verdict, refuse to entertain the notion that the quality, juice, and excitement of our lives have to decline simply because we’re no longer serving on the battlefield of war. Here in the civilian field, we have our own battle cry: “Never settle.”
Refusing to settle will often mean you’ll have to make hard choices. You’ll find yourself in a situation where the present course of events is… acceptable. Reasonable enough. Not perfect, but pretty good. And who wants to risk rocking the boat, right? So what do you do?
Rock the boat.
The book whose excerpt you’re reading was originally contracted to be published by a different publisher. Good people and a good house, but they weren’t really a business publisher, and their hearts weren’t in it. At one point, we decided to pull out and look for a different home. We had to pay back the original advance (ouch) and delay publication (ouch again). It was a royal pain in the ass for everyone involved. But we ended up placing the book at Portfolio, a company that in the business publishing world is excellence personified. Publishing partners don’t get any better than this.
Sometimes it’s better to rock the boat now than see it crash or take on water and slowly sink later.
By the way, when I say “never settle,” I don’t mean that in legal terms. Any businessperson who claims “I never settle a lawsuit” is an idiot or a blowhard. Lawsuits, unfortunately, are a fact of life in modern business, and settling suits is sometimes both clever and necessary. Other times it isn’t because the other side is bluffing. I can’t tell you which is which; that’s why you need an excellent lawyer you trust.
There’s a suit right now that my lawyers have urged me to file. Someone has violated the terms of an agreement, and I’m told I could easily win a hundred grand if I would just file. I’m not doing it. Life is too short, too sweet, and too precious to get entangled in that crap unless it’s absolutely necessary. When it comes to lawsuits, I’m with Sun Tzu: the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
“Never settle” also doesn’t mean never compromise. Real-life is full of compromise, and so is real business. This is something I’ve noticed former Spec Ops guys sometimes have a hard time learning. SEALs will go through brick walls; it’s what we’re trained to do. But you can’t balls-and-bluster your way through a complex business negotiation. Good business takes sensitivity and nuance, not just supreme confidence and outstanding performance.
“Never settle” doesn’t mean you become a bull in a china shop. It simply means this: you refuse to accept mediocrity. It blows my mind how many people will accept a half-assed job, in others and even in themselves, as “good enough.” I have learned to be a patient man, but that is something I have no patience for.
Thomas Watson, the legendary CEO of IBM, gave this formula for achieving excellence: “As of this second, quit doing less than excellent work.”
Pretty simple, isn’t it?
This is an excerpt from former Navy SEAL turned CEO and New York Times bestselling author Brandon’s book, Total Focus.
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