By Thomas Leitner
We are living through an incredible period of history. Despite what the news or politicians tell us, we are living in the most peaceful times, with the most equality and highest standard of living in all of human history, worldwide. Our struggle to survive is the easiest it’s ever been. So why doesn’t it feel that way? Why is there so much hate and strife? Why do we have slavery, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in this day and age? We need an enemy. We, as a society, need something to struggle against. Master Chim (Justin Garcia of the Jungle Gym MMA school in NYC) uses the phrase “Pressure to Power” because it’s the truth. It’s the only way we grow, both as a society and as individuals. CT Fletcher is always screaming “ITS STILL YOUR MOTHER FUCKING SET” to motivate people to keep going. Pamana Tuhon Chris Sayoc constantly reminds us that when we draw our blades 10,000 blades draw with us at the same time. They all are connected, because they all tell us to keep going. To trust in your training, to trust in your experiences, and to trust in your tribe.
Over the years I have been honored to train with and learn from some of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to both survival and violence. From them I’ve learned how to watch, learn, think, fight, build, save lives, improve the lives of others, to be a leader, and also how to be a good follower. One of the reoccurring things that pops up is that there is always work to do. There is always something to work on, something to improve, something to polish. In my Mindset Core Concepts class I lay out the formula we use in order to identify how to find the holes in your game and attack them with ferocity and determination. This is useful for everyone, as it applies to everyone regardless of where you are along the most significant symbol on any tombstone that has ever been set into the ground. That little dash between your birth and your death, the most overlooked and most powerful part of your life, the little line that signifies you lived a life.
How do we find meaning in that dash? When making small talk with people for the first time one of the questions that will inevitably come up is what we do for a living. We as a society, for whatever reason, interpret that to be what we do for our careers, our jobs. I realized through idle conversation in an airport in Madrid, Spain with a beautiful cashier I had lunch with. She explained that this is meaningless. As I listened to her explain, most people identify their lives based on their work. In her words, most people live to work. Instead, she chose to work to live. She didn’t identify her life based on what she did to pay the bills. Instead, her identity was based on what she did with her life. This is a significant shift in mindset, and it’s a conversation I will never forget. Quite literally, this short-lived friendship shook my paradigm for life. Because of this conversation, I started to look at everything and everyone differently, and it led to a series of revelations that will forever leave an indelible mark on my life. That is the power of a few words at the right time, delivered in the right way, to the right person.
The next step in my travels that day was to Djibouti, where I would remain for the next seven months and change. While there I had a lot of work to do, but also a lot of time to think. I no longer cared what I did for a living, but what I was doing with my life. This is a powerful shift in my approach to every aspect of my being, and has guided me in every step that I’ve taken since then. Watching those around me I started to pick apart what made each person who they were. What drives them, where they came from, where they are at that moment, and where they were going. Some of the people I’ve met since then never left the tracks they were riding on as if their life was in the hands of someone else. Some of them had a passion that propelled them forward, some had lost the compass to their lives and wandered through the forest with no true direction on where to go. Others just went where they were pushed, guided, or had allowed themselves to be rerouted away from where they were meant to go, never really knowing where they were going or given a chance to find who they were meant to be.
Tempering the Steel
The walls that we come up against are just as important as the paths that are cleared before us, and many of us overlook this. Some call it fate, the paths that we lead our lives on. Some call it manifest destiny, as they did when Europeans colonized the Americas. Others acknowledge that we have the power to shape our lives in the way we desire. One thing that we forget however is that we will always have something or someone standing in the way to our goals and our lives. What we choose to do about it is what makes us who we are. Do we take the road no one has taken; do we start blazing our own path into the unknown and reach new and amazing places? Do you follow the cleared path, or struggle through our journey and become stronger for your efforts? What appeals to you, the path of least resistance or the path of the unknown?
We live in a time of comfort and convenience, and are quick to complain about anything that doesn’t live up to the standards we have grown to expect. This holds true not just for ourselves, but the way others live. I often see people complain or comment on what others are working through, as if they need to signal their compassion to help alleviate some suffering. The reality is it does nothing but make the person signaling feel better about themselves. At the end of the day if you’re not actively helping fix the issue, all you’re doing is being selfish while trying to make others think better of you. When I see this, it disgusts me. If all you’re going to do is run your mouth, don’t bother. If you can’t be a part of the struggle as well as the solution, stop wasting my time. You are not concerned with my struggle, you are just selfish and want an excuse to ignore the reality of what others are facing.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius
Regardless of the variables you start with in life or currently have, we all have obstacles in our path that make us work for what we have. We must earn our keep every single day of our lives. Without the effort, where do we find value? In some cases we may not need to exert effort or suffer to truly value something, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how much we value something, what matters is how long that value holds. A fleeting infatuation is meaningless when compared to a long-term passion of life. Stress, pain, effort, investment, and determination all strengthen our value when it comes to any accomplishments or successes. A war easily won is soon forgotten and lessons erased. Without realizing it, most of us define ourselves through our pain. Your frame of reference for any aspect of your life is going to be different from my frame of reference. What may be fascinating and captivating to you could be boring and meaningless to me. The challenges we face define our character, and how we overcome those challenges is the foundation of who we are.
When we (individuals or society) have something to focus on to work with or against, we have a mission. One of the common issues I’ve seen with veterans is an issue that can easily be rectified, if it is accepted and embraced. When we leave the service, often times we leave what we considered a second (or even primary for some) family. A family that was united in working towards a specific goal, on the same mission, and held many of the same beliefs and mindset. We leave the service and this is gone, and it can be a difficult time to say the least. Finding work, love, and a mission is always going to take a lot of work for many. The ones that suffer the most are the ones that, even when surrounded by their blood, will stand in a room and feel isolated.
The best solution I’ve found is to find a group of people on a mission you can identify with and join it. This gives some semblance of a group of people you can depend on, that are all working towards the same ends. It also allows a sense of unity, belonging, and purpose. Usually this is found with the local religious group, but can also be found with charities and activity groups. This gives a direction. You still need to bring the passion, so if it’s not the right fit it won’t work.
This is a way to bypass a natural instinct that we all have, and that’s to find any threats before its too late. Whether it’s a person or a group, we all need to have an “enemy” to focus on. Lately, we as a nation (the United States, and other western countries) haven’t really had an “enemy” to work against. It used to be the USSR, during the Cold War. There was a time we had to do “Nuke Drills” at school where we would hide under our desks or fill up the hall ways and cover our heads with books. Eventually they changed the name to “Tornado Drills” but we all knew what was happening. Red Dawn was always in the back of our minds, and we all “knew” that the nuclear holocaust was coming eventually. It never did, however, and we moved on to a new “enemy” that was short lived on the surface but would take up our attention for the next thirty years.
The new “enemy” was Iraq, or less specifically Islam. Kuwait may have been the modern catalyst to where we are now, but it was by no means the first step to get to where we are. The biggest problem is, outside of 9/11 and a few sporadic attacks in the US, they haven’t really been that big of a deal to the American perception. I say this not to devalue what’s happened or those we lost, but to point out that even now we simply don’t take that threat as seriously as we should as a society. The government definitely takes it seriously, as evidenced by our wars, airport security, and toppling of governments throughout the Middle East (Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and attempted of Syria, Iran, Yemen, and others.)
Here in the United States though, the common person doesn’t feel that threat. In fact, the United States is in a position of near total superiority when it comes to having no threats that are really significant as far as violent conflict is concerned. Sure, we have gangs and the occasional sabre rattling from Iran and DPRK, but let’s be real here. None of those are truly significant on a population wide scale. For the most part they just like to show they are still a possible threat on some level, and then they go back to what they were doing before. When they step out of bounds in any meaningful way, we bring the hammer down on them hard, like we did with Qasem Soleimani. Then they go back to what they were doing and continue to be ignored until they get the nerve to do something else. When anything does happen, its rarely in the United States itself, as compared to the rest of the world. When paying attention to international events and politics, the United States is relatively calm up until COVID broke out.
So where is the enemy then? We don’t have one. We can’t fight a virus as an enemy, we can’t come together as a society to fight against it. We can’t pool resources and will to fight it in any meaningful way. When we have no enemy, what do we do as a people? We stop looking out beyond the walls and start looking hard at each other. When we can’t find anything truly significant to pick apart from each other, we start getting petty and go for whatever we can get our hands on. Facts and evidence are no longer relevant as everyone is emotionally strung out. Combine that with the quarantining, loss of work, loss of businesses, and loss of ones homes in some cases, you get desperation. Mix desperation and a society without exterior enemies and you get a society that has gotten sick of themselves, and start fights over trivial nonsense.
Emotions rule the day right now. In some instances, these concerns are truly legitimate. In others, the only reason anyone even bothers to focus on them is because there’s nothing better to do. We need an enemy. We need a cause. We need an identity. We need a fight. Right now, all we have are distractions. Short lived, emotionally driven, disconnected distractions that no one can truly focus on. These are not missions that will have any longevity beyond a year or two for the vast majority of people, but they are incredibly significant to some. When you find your mission, your group, your tribe; you will find your passion. When that passion is ignited you will know, and you will burn for it every day of your life. It’s good, and even useful for you to go after what I’m considering a side-quest of sorts, but you should never lose your focus. Why? Because you’re not finished yet.
The Measure of Character
Whether you’re talking about suicide rates, depression, monotony, being stuck in a job you can’t escape, a relationship, or anything else that anyone can complain about, there’s always something to do to fix it. Sometimes it takes ignoring it and focusing on something else for a while to find the answer.
The thing that holds most people back however are excuses. Excuses are an easy out, and are pervasive in our society. From the day we start to become responsible for ourselves, excuses are an easy out. Excuses give us a reason to skip the gym, to let the dishes sit, or to give ourselves what seems to be a reasonable conclusion to your life. It’s all a lie. It’s nothing but a thin disguise, to hide from yourself instead of putting in the work that is needed in order to make yourself a better person. They say that a mirror never lies, but the truth is it depends on what lens you use to look through your eyes. The problem is rarely what the mirror shows you, but rather what filter you use to paint the world around you.
Other times you need to adopt the slash and burn tactics. The people we surround ourselves with often play a powerful role in the direction our lives take. It is said that you are the average of the five closest people in your life. Who they are, what they do, and how they think all have a powerful effect on who YOU are. If you find yourself in a period of stagnation or degradation, it’s time to look at what your goals, principles, and habits are. Do the people you surround yourself with share these? Are they congruent with the missions you are taking? What value do they really have, and is it appropriate or nostalgic?
Nostalgia is a powerful weight to carry around. We all grow up thinking that our friends will always be there for the rest of our lives, but as we get older we realize how foolish this idea is. People have a tendency to grow apart over time, and most people aren’t on the same paths. That’s ok, this is why we are all important. If we were all on the same path, what would be the point? At a certain point its time to put these people behind us, and find new water holes to drink from. We aren’t even the same people we were five years ago, much less twenty or thirty years ago. Why would you have the same people around you when you’re not even the same person you were? If they are incongruent with who you are and what your mission is, maybe its time to find others that are. This isn’t to say go ahead and burn those bridges, but maybe invest your time in a way that has better returns. Eventually you may be surprised to find them on the same path later on, and now you have a lot to catch up and bond over. But don’t let nostalgia hold your life back when you would otherwise be making moves to improve your life and the lives of those around you.
All Ships Rise With The Tide
When you do find that tribe of people you share your mission with, amazing things start to happen. You are in a constant and consistent state of leveling up, something that you will share with them. All of you will be working to improve themselves and bringing you along for the ride, and you will be bringing them along for the ride as well. A true symbiotic relationship, you will work off each other’s strengths and filling in the gaps where needed. This past year has been hell for a lot of people, but for the people I share my mission with, it was great. We didn’t miss a beat, and kept working towards the goals we had. Sure, we had to adjust our tactics and our approaches, but that’s the thing: nothing should ever be the same.
We should always endeavor to adapt to what the universe brings us. Sometimes what the universe brings us is a bountiful crop, sometimes its an obstacle that we have to work around to conquer. Either way we must always work with what we have and adapt to the variables presented. What you do with the seeds of success depends on what you nurture them with. Leave them dry and starving and your failure is guaranteed. Water them and feed them and you will guarantee the success of everyone involved in your own success. And that’s probably the most critical thing to remember, we must work together in order to succeed. We need to look to those who teach, and we must teach those who have determination to learn. Opportunities don’t find their way to you without you putting in the work to find them. Sometimes the path you take is a dead end. Sometimes that next ridge shows you an entirely new life to embrace. In order to live the life you want, sometimes you need to leave the life you have. You must be ready to take that step, and to bring your tribe with you.
Then again, sometimes you just need to make the grass grow.