“Now what?” I asked myself right after my first book, First, Fast, Fearless, became a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Believe it or not, that was the lowest point of my life. I had grown up poor, and by the age of 12, I lived full time with my grandmother and my brother deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. My grandmother only had a seventh-grade education, but she was tough and she had guts. Growing up in poverty and coming from a broken home is a lonely experience, and it permeates all aspects of life with fear, doubt, and a sense of scarcity.
Baseball saved me. My coach, Coach Cutler, took a chance on me, and I made varsity as a freshman in high school. Baseball gave me direction in life; it gave me the first glimpse of a future. I was awarded a Division One baseball college scholarship and was inducted into the Virginia High School Hall of Fame.
The thought of graduating from college was overwhelming. I was in uncharted territory, and I was on my own. But as luck would have it, I ran into a Navy SEAL. He told me about a life of adventure, mystery, and danger; about the ultimate team that was also a family. A light went on in me. This was what I was searching for. This was my calling. I hitchhiked from Virginia Beach to Richmond. A day later, I signed up!
Twenty years, three wars, and nine tours later, in 2012, I retired from the SEAL Teams. I was happy—at least I thought I was. A few months after retiring, my dad died suddenly. Although I had a hard childhood, coming from a broken family, my dad and I had since repaired our relationship. No matter the circumstances, he had a special place in my heart. Most boys look up to their fathers as if they are Superman. I was no different. Although my dad had his flaws, I felt like he was my protector, my anchor. Just knowing he was there gave me a sense of safety. And then he was gone.
Less than six months later, I lost my brother—the one person I had grown up with who had known me all of my life. He, too, was gone. In a short period, I had lost my identity as a SEAL, my team, and my family. My friends and teammates were getting killed or wounded or, worse, killing themselves. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and numerous physical injuries. I had lost my “why.”
There’s an Ernest Hemingway quote I found myself living: “There is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter.” Having a dangerous profession and serving in combat—that is very unique. When you are done with it, life is very different. It’s like deep scuba diving for long periods: the diver doesn’t get the bends while he is down; he gets the bends when he comes to the surface. The longer you stay down, the worse it is when you surface.
After retiring I felt like I had bolted to the surface with no real transition, and then it all compounded. Being a SEAL and going into combat is addicting, and like most addictions, it’s a love-hate relationship. The taste for it is there, probably for life, even though I know it’s bad for me. It numbed me to happiness and joy. It took away my feelings and my connectedness to the best parts of my life and to the people who meant the most to me.
There were times I couldn’t sleep for 72 hours without medication, and many of the medications didn’t work. I was always nervous and in a fearful state of mind. I was full of anger and hatred for my enemies. It was controlling my life and stealing my joy. I felt like I was in a downward spiral. One of the final straws was when I started to hear whispering at night while I was in bed. I would get up and clear the house to ensure there were no intruders. At times I thought I could see movements in the shadows. I knew it was irrational, but I felt like “they” were coming to get me.
Everything around me was crumbling. I had lost my identity, my team, my meaningful mission, and my overall well-being. I had lost so many of my SEAL brothers and two of my closest family members. My world was in tatters. What held it together was my single-minded focus on writing my first book, First, Fast, Fearless. I had always been motivated by a meaningful mission, so after I had accomplished my goal, after the book was published and became a bestseller, it all came crashing down. I was wracked by fear and self-doubt about the future, about what would come next.
Warriors don’t feel sorry for themselves; they are not victims, yet I started down that path. I knew I had to pick myself up by my bootstraps. I knew I had to start living again. I had to fulfill the promises I had made to myself in war—and now I am. And I did that using the principles in GUTS, which I now want to share with you. Everything I write about in this book is drawn from my own journey. I hope it will teach you how to turn fear into accomplishment so that you can achieve whatever goals you’ve set for yourself—and lead happier, more successful, more fulfilled lives.
HOOYAH! Let’s do this!