Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Warrior Way for Young & Old

I have been a dedicated lister to the "Jocko Podcast" since the first episode. I heard about Jocko Willink through the podcasts of Sam HarrisTim Ferriss and Joe Rogan. I read the book Jocko wrote in partnership with Leif Babin, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. The words both spoken and written coming from Jocko seem to have hit a certain core need in people who are craving direct, clear, no feel-good crap to confront and overcome challenges and problems in their lives.

His most recent book, Way of the Warrior Kid; From Wimpy to Warrior the Navy SEAL Way came out today, 02. May 2017. The Ebook magically appeared in the middle of the night on my iPad after I had pre-orderd it a few weeks ago. The book is a young adult book, but as Jocko has pointed out, there is a lot in its pages for adults.

I was strangely apprehensive about starting in on the book. I did not know why, but I found out as I read through it in about an hour this morning. Why am I reading a kids book? Why, without having any children, did I even buy it? Superficially, I justified the purchase because I do have a long-standing climbing group of young teens and I work on a regular basis with kids. I also thought that perhaps as a teacher, my wife could make use of the book personally and as material for her ESL courses at the international school where she teaches.

The book brought up some childhood emotions. There are a lot of young people who need a character like Jocko's "Uncle Jake" in their life. The young boy in the book, Marc, at the story's end is full of gratitude for the help his Uncle Jake gives him over their summer together. Jake responds by telling Marc that he did all the work to enable his transformation and begin his warrior path -- and what is a most interesting message for us adults -- Jake explains to Marc that in reality Marc did not need his Uncle, he just needed to do something about what was causing his deficiencies in fitness, nutrition, learning, etc.

This is the message to take home as an adult: If you wanted an "Uncle Jake" figure in your life that never materialised in your childhood, as an adult it does not matter, it really does not matter now! You can be your own Uncle Jake to your childhood self and take care of these lagging issues such as your nutrition, fitness, health, mental outlook, etc., by taking action and doing something now.

Another subtlety in the book is that the path Marc takes to being a warrior does not involve acquiring anything that is outside of himself. He doesn't need new running shoes, a set of weights, some weapon, intruding parents -- what he needs he already has in its raw, untapped form. What he needs to do is to do!

Further, there is no examination for the reasons why Marc is in the situation he is in. We don't have someone commiserating with Marc about his predicament. Why? Because it is a waste of time and energy that can be better put to use by taking action! Taking action now to combat your inadequacies and shortcomings that every single one of us has.

So as an adult, do the people you choose to surround yourself with challenge you to do something about your predicaments, encourage you to take action and believe that through your own work that you will overcome? Or are you in the middle of a circle of people that are giving you "emotional support" that involves commiserating, complaining, blaming outside factors and telling you in so many words to learn to accept your fate? Worse are those who disguise their negative influence that pulls you down as "good, rational advice" or "friendship".

Though I am not a parent, I follow the principles in Way of the Warrior Kid in my relationships to the young people I work with in climbing courses. I treat young people with respect, I value their emotions and feelings, but I do not allow them to escape from confronting obstacles, responsibility and fear. There is a mastery and balance in the application of this that is different for every young person and in every situation -- which the reader sees in effect with Uncle Jake's interactions with Marc. I always try and find ways to challenge young climbers, whether with body weight strength training, warming up, coordination, fear of falling, 100% ownership of the safety of their partner, and many other climbing-specific situations.

In the international alpine community, we are all tremendously saddened by the death of Ueli Steck. It is easy to think of all the great accomplishments of such a god-like alpine phenom as being due to natural-born gifts, an extraordinary upbringing or environment, or other "special" things that make him different from you or me. That thought dismisses the role of hard work, the smart application of logical problem solving for oneself and the willingness to suffer through short-term failures and re-adjust time and time again. It dismisses the strength and stubbornness of character built up over years of experience to get to a level of mastery in physical and mental performance. This fixed-mindset thought and belief lets the believer of such off the the hook -- it is not your fault that you are not like Ueli Steck. 

Canadian ice climber and friend of Steck, Will Gadd wrote this insightful tribute to Steck on his Facebook page. It explains that Ueli worked hard and made himself into what he was. Do not mis-read, "it is not your fault that you are not like Ueli Steck", to mean "it is not your fault that you are not Ueli Steck". Ueli showed us all what we as unique individuals can aspire to and, like him, make our lives in to something that is more than what we believe possible.

So, I am saying that it is your fault if you are not like Ueli Steck. It is also my fault when I'm not like Ueli Stick, or anytime I retreat in to a shell of protective self-pity and choose to shirk away from directly confronting issues within myself. In this New York Times option piece about Steck's death, the Jonathan Griffith (Griffith's tribute) photo of Ueli climbing the north face of the Col du Plan held a special meaning for me. I soloed that route three years ago. Looking at the exposure in that photo of Steck, I thought, "did I really do that?" and that the clear consequences of a mistake are blatantly obvious.

The point here is not that I'm some hardcore alpinist, it is that ten years ago I never would have considered that I could solo climb a route such as the north face of the Col du Plan. In my twenties, such a thought would have never entered my mind. I am clearly not of the alpine caliber that was Ueli Stick, but I aspire to be of the highest caliber that I can be. The only way to do this is to do this. Simple. Plain. Unexciting.

That message needs to be transmitted to kids and adults alike. Without the sugar-coated niceties. We need this because it is what works and it is what is best for us as individuals. Way of the Warrior Kid does this. It does this without violence, aggression or diminishing other people. It does it without criticism, belittling or shaming.

Something else that has inspired me after reading Jocko's book is that I know I want to be the "Uncle Jake" to kids. Whether I am climbing with them, swinging the kettle bell in the playground, skiing with them, whatever. I want to especially serve young people in my interactions with them that reflects the attitude, spirit and wisdom of the Uncle Jake character because, even though we all must take action for ourselves, a bit of encouragement never hurts and this is what the world needs.