Just finished Unbreakable by Thom Shea…

Back in 1986, the movie Top Gun came out and interest in naval aviation apparently spiked 500%. Even in the mid-90s when I was finishing my bachelor’s, some peers were still dreaming of ways they might eventually fanagle their way into a pilot slot.

I never caught Top Gun fever but I did catch a related strain, and caught it madly – terribly – acutely after my next door apartment neighbor lent me his copy of Rogue Warrior shortly after it was published (1992). I now felt the way my friends felt about flying F-14s, except for me the dream was about becoming a Navy SEAL.

While finishing my remaining undergraduate electrical engineering coursework (which I now believed I’d never use), I joined the university SCUBA club and got my diving certification to make sure I was comfortable in the water. I doubled down by going on night dives far off shore. I vastly increased my running distance. I bungee jumped (has to help, right?). I joined the university Army Ranger club (a recruiting tool for the ROTC), working out with the cadets and doing late night raiding and patroling exercises on campus. I joined the university Skydiving club and parachuted out of a Cessna 172 at the local airport.

When it was finally time, I visited my local Navy recruiter…

…where Chief Holbrooke, instead of telling me whatever I wanted to hear to get me to sign up, was completely candid. He told me I’d have to go in on a 4-year contract, choosing a miltary occupation specialty that the SEALs might be looking for (he suggested electrician’s mate), and only after I went through basic and specialty training, and possibly spent some time in the fleet, would I then have to ask my superior to send me to the SEALs. And that person might agree to do so, or might not. Depended upon whether he liked me. Depended upon how easily he could find someone else to do my job. And then if I did get to selection, I’d only have a 15-20% chance of making it. He painted it for the long shot it was.

I was still in…

…until the other shoe dropped. It turned out my vision wasn’t good enough for SEALs and Holbrooke didn’t believe that could be overcome by a waiver. I suggested corrective eye surgery (it was new then, and still done by scalpel). Holbrooke said that would disqualify me from joining his Navy period.

I was… crushed. A dream that strong doesn’t die easily so I continued to read SEAL books for years. I eventually got it out of my system… mostly… though the cover of Unbreakable did catch my eye so I decided to buy just one more SEAL book. Unfortunately, either the writing wasn’t great or I have truly, psychologically, moved on – as it didn’t move me.

But let me not sit here and whinge about all the flaws I found with the book, and instead describe what I found to be the most interesting part. The US Navy has apparently spent millions trying to figure out who will make it through SEAL training and who won’t. After all, sending thousands of men to the course only to have 15-20% get through is very expensive & inefficient. But despite all the $$$ spent, as the story goes, they’ve never been able to identify any predictive factors. It’s not all the athletes or alpha males like you’d think. You just have to put all comers through the meat grinder and see who pops out on the other side.

The author believes he’s figured it out. He thinks it’s highly dependent upon internal dialogue – which is what you say to yourself when you’re going through something challenging. When a natural entrepeneur tries something and it crashes and burns, he says “Hmmm… That didn’t work…” and then tries a different approach. A person who doesn’t have that entrepeneur wiring, failing in the same situation, says “I’m so stupid. Why did I think that would work? I never succeed at anything. To heck with this. I’m just wasting everybody’s time.” Ditto with the SEALs.

I’m sure the author is on to something.