One of the cornerstone documents of the SEAL Teams is the SEAL Ethos. Its influence spans from the newest recruit to the war hero to the Bullfrog to the Admiral. It's referenced in both retirement ceremonies and memorials.
The Ethos is the yardstick against which Team Guys (which is how we usually refer to ourselves - deemphasizing self and emphasizing our role in the Team) measure ourselves.
Single phrases from it, in the right context, will stop the baddest special operator in his tracks. It commands respect and defines what it means to be a good frogman.
I memorized it when I was 22, I finished BUD/S at 24, and I left the SEAL Teams at 35. I became a man in the Teams. And the Ethos was always there.
Not everybody reveres the Ethos the way I do, and I certainly have not always lived up to it, but there's something compelling about a narrative of values and examples that you can read and say "yeah, I want to be that man" and then you spend a decade doing that. Every day.
But there's a phrase in there that throws guys off when they get out:
I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.
To make things more confusing, a lot of guys DO get out and make movies and go on shows and write shitty books about how fucking cool they are. They run for public office on the back of their Trident (and the honor it's accumulated from a thousand other men). And the guys who do that were often not the best of us.
One well-known public figure wrote at least two books about how cool he was, but he never even completed a single deployment as an actual SEAL. Thank god his political career seems to have fizzled out 🙏🏼
And so, in response to the worst of us tarnishing the community's name and out of respect for the Ethos, there's a real sense that when you get out you have to silently move on and never mention your previous life.
I was raised in a Catholic family. Not the kind that's particularly devout. The kind that is ruled by unspoken taboos, fear of strong emotion, and a deep stultifying shame.
Never step outside the box, never try things, and never burden others with your feelings. That shit is shameful and you keep it inside because anything other than blind obedience to arbitrary and hidden rules registers as a personal attack on your parents.
You learn not to step outside the box. You learn to suppress who you are and what you feel and what you want. You rarely feel alive.
Two years ago I read this tweet and it sparked something in my mind.
Here Sasha talks about the energy that comes from authenticity. And the mental/emotional constipation that comes from doing things because you feel you're supposed to.
And, perhaps the reason it hooked me, it suggested that this failure of honesty is due to the fear of your own inadequacy.
I am not the kind of person to hide from my fears. I am terrified of heights, so after did freefall training and we got certified, I would jump on the weekends. Other guys did it for the thrill. I did it because I would not let my fear control me.
So when I internalized Sasha's tweets as "you are not talking to the world because you're scared of your own inadequacy" it felt like a personal challenge. And I would not allow myself to be a coward.
Probably this response was influenced by the fact that I was in the gym. When I work out, my mind gets pumped up right alongside my body, so I just fucking vented between sets.
I wrote a bunch of tweets about why people shouldn't just blindly respect me, or any other veteran, because we were SEALs or Green Berets or Rangers or whatever. It was the first brazenly honest/inflammatory thing I wrote online, but it didn't matter since like 10 people read my tweets at the time and nobody would care if dave just belched flames for a minute and then went back to gardenpoasting.
I put myself out there. I talked about being a SEAL. I shared my shameful emotions (in that case mostly anger and frustration). And people seemed to care. It blew up and all of a sudden I was talking to a lot more people, some of whom were really wonderful.
One of my first trolls read that thread and - not without cause - questioned what kind of shitty teammate I must have been to have seen so many shitty things.
And I looked at the people the universe was delivering into my orbit and I thought, well, if that other kind of honesty resonates, I wonder how honest I can actually be.
So I doubled down and wrote an excruciatingly personal thread. I actually even mentioned in it that I might delete it later because it felt too personal.
And you would not believe the messages I got from people asking me to keep it up. A mother trying to help her son - a vet who saw his own life echoed in the things I said and that made him feel less alone in the world - a man raised by a deeply-traumatized Vietnam vet, thanking me for helping him understand his father for the first time in 53 years.
That one made me ugly cry for real.
By giving people a story in which they could see their own reflection, I was helping them process the hard things in their lives. And I was processing, myself, in the process. What a gift I had just been given.
It makes you feel alive to touch people like that. And to connect with them at the core of this really intimate conversation we're having. It feels honest and real and fucking important. I have a hard time believing that these things could be bad.
'I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.'
'Keep your feelings inside, that shit is shameful and sharing them is an assault on your family.'
👆👆These stories still play in my head 👆👆
The second one, the dysfunctional one, I tell to fuck off. It's nothing but an excuse to be a coward. Thank you for helping me see that, Sasha.
The first one, however, is a matter of interpretation. And this is what I've told other Team Guys when they've asked how I balance these things.
You can talk about your life and the things you've learned without it being an advertisement and without seeking recognition.
I don't wear shirts with Tridents on them or walk around telling people I was a frogman. It's not mentioned in any bombastic in my Twitter bio - if you don't already know what SOF means then you gloss right over it.
But I'm also not hiding from it. That's the thing. I became a man in the SEAL Teams - I joined as a boy and I left as a man. It's silly to completely discount the culture in which you learned to be an adult because you don't want some random guys back in the gear lockers rolling their eyes at you. If people want to know who you have been, you're allowed to tell them.
But you'll also notice I'm not writing about what a badass I am or selling myself as some leadership wizard (I am not). But I can acknowledge where I came from without trading on it as currency.
And every time I open myself up, good things have happened.
Which is why, after like a year of me saying "not yet" to Jack and Dee I finally agreed to go on The Team House Podcast. (TBH I didn't actually agree. I was noncommittal, so Dee just put me on the calendar and I just shrugged my shoulders and rolled with it 🤣)
After we recorded the conversation, I was pretty terrified I'd come across as overly-negative or complaining. So terrified that I didn't really tell anyone about it. Even after I got really positive feedback, I didn't really tell anyone about it.
But now I realize that this, too, is my fear of being found inadequate.
A kind of failure of honesty.
So here it is. Jack and Dave and Dee were wonderful and I'm glad I did it.