The best way to be uncommon in a world that rewards common is to exceed the standards. Whether in business, fitness, the military, or being a man of good character, most people are perfectly content with “good enough”.
Human nature is to put in enough work to meet the standard. But since exceeding the standard requires sacrifice and extra hard work, most people don’t go for it. There’s a reason people like Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Warren Buffet, Jay-Z, Michael Jordan, Elon Musk, and Wayne Gretzky aren’t a dime a dozen.
Even at the highest level of business, sports and entertainment, the vast majority of people are unwilling to go the extra mile to far exceed standards. Living with this mentality can be a burden. It’s a high pressure mentality. You never feel like you’ve arrived, and you likely never will. But in my opinion, that's the whole point.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear things like “it’s a good idea to hold back during gate week so you have gas left in the tank for land navigation and team week” or “you don’t need to finish rucks and runs in the top 10%, you can still get selected so long as you’re in the top 50%”, “just be the gray man, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself”. While many of these statements are technically true, as plenty of guys get selected by finishing middle of the pack, I fully disagree with this mentality.
When attending selection, you’re trying out for one of the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding jobs in existence. You’ll be asked to do things you don’t want to do at a level of proficiency with which you shouldn’t be able to do them. You’ll be asked to put in the extra effort and go above and beyond what most people think is possible. Being mediocre or “just doing enough to get by” is a complacent mentality. It may sound cliche, but when you’re working in Special Operations, complacency kills. And it all starts with the individual.
You’re probably familiar with the quote “how you do one thing is how you do everything”. I agree wholeheartedly with this quote, at least in regards to doing things you deem important.
Sure, maybe you don’t approach that which you don’t care about with the same obsessive vigor as you would for something you deeply care about - I'm totally on board with that.
But if you’re preparing to undergo a rigorous selection process that will determine whether or not you have a chance to work your dream job, one can imply that it’s something you care about.
My interpretation of the quote is this: if you’re the type of person to give maximum effort in one important endeavor, you’ll give maximum effort in every other important endeavor. If your approach is to just "check the block", you’ll also pursue other things in the same fashion.
Your selection prep and subsequent selection performance is your first chance to prove that you’re the type of person who doesn’t settle.
That you go all in.
That mediocrity isn’t in your vocabulary.
Striving to simply do enough to meet the standards at selection implies that your training and preparation is such that it’ll allow you to meet the standards.
If you’re lucky enough to get selected, you’ll then go through the Q course, again, just doing enough to meet the standards. Then you’ll move on to the big show - showing up to your first ODA having met the standards at selection and throughout the Q course.
Depending on the team you land on, you may be in for a rude awakening. The good teams get the good missions. The great teams get the great missions. There’s no debate about this - I’ve been on good teams and great teams. The frequency with which great teams operate is on another level. Stakes are higher, but the great teams thrive in high stakes environments.
The great ODAs are only great because they’re full of Green Berets who don’t accept mediocrity. They go above and beyond. They work the extra hours. They do the extra rehearsals. They plan for contingencies to the contingencies. They don’t settle for good enough. I truly believe that this mentality starts the day you decide to pursue the job.
When a “standard meeter” or “block checker” shows up to a great team (which usually doesn’t happen, but it can), they’re in for a rude awakening. They’ve spent their entire career up to that point just getting by. They’ve landed on a team that doesn’t stand for such mentality, and they either struggle mightily and eventually figure it out, or their stint on the team is short lived.
My advice to you is this; start now. Start aiming for a higher standard. Aim for the highest standard you’re capable of. You may not be the best performer in everything you do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. This starts the very first day you decide to go to selection.
Those who exceed the standard have the following tendencies:
-Never skip training sessions
-Do hard things they don’t want to do every day. The more resistance, the better.
-When these things become easy, they find other hard things
-Prioritize sleep 7 days/week
-Run and ruck the extra miles
-Work on their weaknesses in the gym
-Never press snooze
-Know the difference between bad pain and good pain
-Identify their weaknesses, and put in the work to make them less weak
-Leverage their strengths and make them super strengths
-Do everything they can to prepare, even if it seems minor
-Eat in a way that fuels their training
-Don’t forget to hydrate
-Show up early, stay late
-Push themselves to a point of failure, learn from it, and try again till they don’t fail
-Don’t go out partying on weekends, or do anything else that doesn’t serve them
-Willingly make sacrifices
-Make confident decisions based on right and wrong, not based on emotion
-Know where they are, where they’re going, and what they need to do daily to get there
-Ensure they’re brimming with confidence through becoming competent
-Don’t bitch, moan complain
-Don’t compare themselves to others
To cultivate this mindset, you’ll want to ask yourself The Question: “What can I do today to ensure I’m exceeding the standards?”. This is the mindset every day. Not just when you feel like it. Whether you’re on day 1 of your prep, at selection, in the Q course, or on an ODA, this mindset will ensure you’ve left no stones unturned.
Is this a high pressure way to live? I’d argue yes. I’ve had this mindset since the day I signed my life over to Uncle Sam. I’m no longer in the Army, but I still strive to exceed standards, and ask myself The Question every single day when I wake up.
In full transparency, living this way can result in feelings of anxiety because the work and discipline that results in exceeding the standards is daunting. You’ll doubt yourself at times. You’ll experience uncertainty. You'll feel like an imposter. But you’ll also teach yourself that you have the power to crush feelings of doubt and uncertainty by taking aggressive action.
The best units in the world are composed of the best teams in the world, and the best teams in the world consist of individuals who assume responsibility and avoid mediocrity like the plague. They don’t accept meeting the standards.
Will you far exceed the standards with every single thing you do? Probably not. Failure is part of the process. Everyone fails. We all let our guards down from time to time. This mentality can be exhausting.
But the job you’re going into doesn’t relent. It doesn’t wait for block checkers to pick up the slack.
So my advice to you is to stop listening to those who tell you that meeting the standards is sufficient. Stop listening to the voice inside your head that tells you you’ve arrived. You’ll want to stop and take a break at times along the way. But don’t. Be the guy who always aims high. Exceed the standards.