A few years ago, I was at a serious low point, made worse by the fact that some disgruntled former members of the SEAL community were engaging in a smear campaign against me on social media. It was ugly, stupid, and pointless, but it was also a serious drain on my morale.
At the height of this episode, I happened to be out in California for a meeting with Mark Harmon, the actor, and producer (best known for his work on the show NCIS).
I met Mark through Paradigm, the agency that represents us both and we would eventually become friends (we both love timepieces). The people at the agency told me that when he was preparing for an episode of NCIS that involved snipers, Mark had read a book I wrote with my friend Glen, Navy SEAL Sniper. He loved the book, they said, and then read The Red Circle and loved that, too, and we met to talk about making a television show out of it.
Mark, I soon learned, was also a huge aviation fan. During World War II, his father, Tom, had quite a storied career flying bombers. In April 1943, over South America en route to Africa, his plane broke up in a torrential storm, and the elder Harmon gave the order to bail out. He was the last one out of the plane, and he also turned out to be the sole survivor of the crash. Six months later, he was back in the sky again. He was later shot down by a Japanese Zero during a dogfight over China and was ultimately awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.
And did I mention that before the war he won a Heisman Trophy and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame? If there was ever a guy who exemplified excellence, it was Tom Harmon.
Which made it all the more shocking to hear what Mark had to say.
When we met, I guess he could tell that something was bugging me, and I ended up telling him about the smear campaign that was dragging me down.
“Let me tell you something,” he said.
He told me that back in the 1970s, when he (Mark, that is) was playing quarterback for UCLA, some guys came up to him and said, “Your dad’s a freakin’ coward, man.”
His dad. Tom Harmon. The guy I just described. And they were saying he was a coward… because they’d heard something about how he bailed out of a plane and survived a crash when others died? Idiots.
Mark really looked up to his father and hearing this was tough for him. And it wasn’t just these guys this one time; the same thing happened to him repeatedly during those years.
“Here’s the thing,” Mark said. “You’re always going to have people who are miserable in their own lives and just lash out, out of their own insecurities. And they always lash out at the brightest targets. It comes with the territory.”
On one level, I already knew this, but at that moment it was incredibly helpful to hear. Especially from someone like Mark, who is not only one of the most successful television actors and producers around but also universally liked. Hollywood has its share of jerks and prima donnas, obviously. Then there are people like Tom Hanks and Ben Stiller, people who have reputations among their peers as being incredibly likable. Mark is like that: just a tremendous human being. Yet even this guy has to deal with his share of haters. It felt comforting to have him share that experience and to realize that I just have to be the best I can be and ignore all the bullshit that goes with it. You never see people who are happy with their lives exhibiting that kind of behavior. Successful people don’t waste their time trying to tear down others — but they are often the targets of others who do.