Whatever avenue I choose, I want to be the very best. And the very best may not be “I’m Number One”. The very best may be “Did I leave everything inside me out there?” . . . The best is . . . I’m running against myself in everything I do.”
If you’re reading this, you probably know a little about my background as an Special Forces soldier. Many people assume that most of what I’ve achieved is beyond their capacity. But over time, I’ve learned three things. First, most people have an imperfect understanding of what they are capable of, which is always much more than they think. Second, mindset matters, perhaps much more than actual capability. The ability to ‘back yourself’ and not be deterred by obstacles or failure, for failure is only a matter of perception. And third, we are all travelling our own journey. So comparisons with other people don’t make sense. In our last blog, we talked about the importance of thinking about where we operate in our daily lives. Are you firmly in the green zone? Or is the red zone your playground?
This question was brought home to me when I stumbled across David Goggins in a YouTube Video. This is, without a doubt, a man who lives firmly in the red zone. Growing up disadvantaged and bullied, he learned at an early age to turn inwards for drive and strength. He remains the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to have completed Navy SEAL, U.S. Army Ranger School and Air Force Tactical Controller training. Since leaving the military, he has taken up ultra-marathon running and ultra-distance cycling. All of this is extraordinary in itself, but what sets Goggins apart, and caught my attention, is not Goggin’s obvious physical capacity but his specific attitude towards life.
Goggins has built his life around a recognition that the only person who truly matters is yourself. That, when you look in the mirror, the person looking back at you is the only one who can see inside and knows whether you’ve given it all. The only person you cannot lie to, and who can tell if you’ve taken the easy way out. And, what I know myself, is that the easy way out, the short-cut, the stopping when it hurts, are all choices which are ultimately unproductive. So Goggins has chosen, consistently, the “path of most resistance.” The more difficult option, the struggle, the challenging and the painful, choices which have enabled him to surpass, and then far exceed, the limitations others have attempted to set for him, and the limitations others have set for themselves.
This too is how I’ve approached my own life. When someone told me I couldn’t do something, I told myself I could. And then I did. But what sets me, and Goggins, and my former comrades apart, is one simple thing. We are willing to spend time with the operator within.
This operator within is the person you see in the mirror whose eyes you can’t quite meet when you’ve done something you’re ashamed of, when you’ve quit too easily, or given up too soon. It’s also the voice in your head which, when you’re pushing yourself as hard as you can and it starts hurting, tells you to turn inwards and keep on bearing down. And the more time you spend with that person, the more you realise that the physical pain isn’t really the problem. It’s the mind games you play with yourself. The excuses, the little voices of fear that say that you should stop, take the easy way out, do it tomorrow, or not take the risk because you might fail, get hurt, or rejected. So you can ignore the operator inside. So you can just walk away. And maybe you do. Or maybe, you shrug, bite down on the pain and the fear and just get on with it.
When you’ve learned to do that, and to take the pain and discomfort and use them as a motivation to spur you onwards, then you are operating in the red zone. It is only through challenge that you grow. And you are only challenged in the red zone.
We noted previously how easy it is to avoid the red zone in daily life but without risk there is no reward. Interested in challenging yourself, and equipping yourself for success? We have a few ideas for you. Stay tuned for our next blog.
One of the defining features of military life is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. At times it seems as if decisions are being made and orders given for the sole purpose of increasing discomfort and making things more unpleasant. The reality however, is that being constantly pushed beyond our comfort zones and having to deal with pain, fatigue, fear and loss of control was exactly what tempered our capacity to achieve beyond perceived limitations.
These lessons are not easily forgotten. In every situation we continued to seek opportunities to push ourselves, to challenge ourselves. Because it is through challenge that we grow. And if we begin to forget those lessons, to remind ourselves, we remember our heritage.
Serving in the military, you became very familiar with operating in two distinct zones. The ‘green zone’ is safe and secure. In this zone everything runs smoothly and there are no issues. A relaxed place where you practice and prepare for active duty.
But when you deploy, you do so in the red zone.
Operating in the red zone is different. You are alert, aware that this is where your opponents also operate. A place of consequence where your actions can get you hurt, or killed. The red zone is where you execute and challenge yourself. Where you put all of your practice and preparation to the test, and find out if you measure up.
Civilian life is, by any measure, vastly different. Most people here seem to live eternally in the green zone. It is a comfortable existence, working in a predictable, familiar environment. But how much does it challenge you? When was the last time you did something that truly scared you? That you took a risk and operated in the red zone?
The red zone doesn’t always mean being involved in trench clearing operations, defusing IED’s or breaking down doors. The red zone is the place you operate in when you are confronted by something which scares you, hurts you or attempts to incapacitate you emotionally, physically or socially. A good operator will have prepared for this through ongoing training and continued exposure to the red zone. To get comfortable with the pain in order to get used to it. So when you train, or practice, or prepare for life, you need to be working in a zone which on some level makes you uncomfortable. For it is only through challenge that you grow.
When you are in the red zone, pushing your limits and going to exhaustion, you are learning that being uncomfortable is transient. But it tempers you, and makes you stronger and more resilient. So that the next time you can go a little bit further, then a little bit further again. The red zone remains a place of challenge, but it is a place where the challenge is something to be overcome, not an insurmountable obstacle.
In the next blog, we discuss what a life lived in the red zone looks like. In the meantime, take some time to reflect and ask yourself, when did you last operate in the red zone? And what’s holding you back?
If you haven’t had the privilege of visiting the Villers-Bretonneux Australian Memorial in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France, I can tell you, it’s impressive. On a recent visit, it caused me to reflect on the comparisons between my military service and that of the soldiers that it commemorates. While there have been many changes over the last 100 years, the one thing I feel that has not are the important factors required to win battles. I believe perhaps one of the most important of all is the courage and resilience of the soldiers fighting it. While reading about and exploring Villers-Bretonneux, you are presented with many instances of the Australians’ extraordinary courage.
One example is that of Walter Brown. Walter’s story is amazing, and the courage he displayed all through his life was, I think, astounding. Like me, Walter was Tasmanian. Born in 1885 he grew up not too far from where I did in New Norfolk. It’s easy to see him playing by the river as a child and, after finishing school, working in Hobart as a grocer. It was humbling to realise that, while treading the same battlefields he fought on, we had both grown up fighting the Derwent Valley’s winter cold as young men. More overwhelming was to learn of his courage under fire. You see, Walter was awarded a Victorian Cross, Australia’s highest award, for gallantry ‘in the presence of the enemy’ for his actions at Villers-Bretonneux. Documented in the London Gazette on the 17 August 1918, his citation read:
“War Office, 17th August, 1918. His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Non-commissioned Officers and Man:
— No. 1689A Corporal Walter Ernest Brown, D.C.M., A.I.F. For most conspicuous bravery and determination when with an advanced party from his battalion which was going into the line in relief. The company to which he was attached carried out during the night a minor operation resulting in the capture of a small system of enemy trench. Early on the following morning an enemy strong post about seventy yards distant caused the occupants of the newly captured trench great inconvenience by persistent sniping. Hearing that it had been decided to rush this post, Corporal Brown, on his own initiative, crept out along the shallow trench and made a dash towards the post. An enemy machine gun opened fire from another trench and forced him to take cover. Later he again dashed forward and reached his objective. With a Mills grenade in his hand he stood at the door of a dug-out and called on the occupants to surrender. One of the enemy rushed out, a scuffle ensued, and Corporal Brown knocked him down with his fist. Loud cries of "Kamerad" were then heard, and from the dug-out an officer and eleven, other ranks appeared. This party Corporal Brown brought back as prisoners to our line, the enemy meanwhile from other positions bringing heavy machine-gun fire to bear on the party.”
The words ‘courageous’ and ‘inspirational’ are tossed around a lot these days. Sportsmen are called heroes and we get given ‘finisher medals’ for completing fun runs. Now, there’s no doubt that every day people struggle with challenges and issues – one person’s walk in the park is another’s Mount Everest. But really? True courage is seen when ordinary people find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and face the challenge with resolve. The men at Villers-Bretonneux and across the Western Front faced death and appalling conditions with courage and resilience which even today, continues to awe their descendants. Walter Brown’s story does not end in 1918. It is worth reading the rest. He, and his brothers in arms, are great examples for us in our daily lives. Not only do they remind us to never forget the sacrifices of past generations for our freedoms and comforts. They also provide the gold-standard of courage and self-sacrifice to live up to
Some of you might know that, when we travel, we generally have our cameras at the ready. One reason we love photography is because it forces us to slow down and ‘see’ the places we are, rather than just ‘looking’ at them. It changes our perspective. And, of course, that’s one of the reasons we love travelling – because it shifts our perspective on who we are and how we live. Cambodia is one place we went this year which did just that.
So, next time we go to Cambodia, we’ll be taking our camera, and remembering to frame our experiences and views through a slightly different lens.
He has worked in some of the world’s most hostile and unforgiving environments, but for Point Assist’s tour operator Mark Direen, there is no greater thrill than climbing mountains.
“When you finally get to the top, that feeling is pretty epic,” the 40-year-old from Hobart said.
“That sense of achievement at the end is worth every aching muscle – and if you are lucky enough to climb with a friend, then the experience is even better.”
While he no doubt loves the physicality of trekking, the self-confessed adventure seeker is not immune to the challenges of scaling that next mountain, crossing “one more river” or staying in an unknown town.
“I’ve climbed many mountains in Tasmania during winter and haven’t always made it to the top because of the conditions,” Mr Direen said.
“But I enjoy pushing the boundaries to see what’s possible and I guess, the boundaries just keep giving.”
Mr Direen’s passion for adventure and travelling has translated into a new career with the former Australian military sergeant and Special Forces patrol commander launching his adventure trekking business.
“I got more and more into trekking over the past five years, but it wasn’t until I ran a few small treks for clients here in Tassie that I realised, ‘wow, this is awesome stuff’ and that this could be my next career move,” he said.
During this time Mr Direen was working “on and off” in Kabul as a security officer for the Australian Embassy, a job he “lucked into” after discharging from the full-time military in 2009.
“I started out as a driver for diplomats in Kabul and was then appointed team leader,” he said.
“We’d scope out locations to make sure they were safe and add in security measures to facilitate meetings for diplomats,” he said.
Despite finding the job exciting, Mr Direen said he knew his “true calling” was in the adventure travel industry.
“It has always been a long-term goal of mine to run my own adventure trekking business,” he said.
“The idea behind Point Assist developed while I was still in Kabul, but the business model itself took about two years of fine-tuning once I got back to Tassie and gained all the necessary accreditations.”
Point Assist specialises in unique multi-day adventure tours to isolated locations and distant cities around the world.
It offers a variety of experiences, from bespoke adventures and small group tours to executive travel and teamwork, each of which is tailored to clients’ individual needs and goals.
It may be the remote outback of Australia or the cities and towns of Asia on the edge of mountainous rainforests and spectacular coastlines – “the more unique, the better,” Mr Direen said.
“I love the idea that each person who goes on a trek feels like they are the first person ever to visit that area.”
He is currently focusing on developing the Tasmanian component of the business and pitching it to mainland markets.
“Tasmania is very unique, and not just in the sense that our wilderness is pristine, but because it is so remote.”
“I often say to clients interested in exploring the state, let’s pick a mountain in Tasmania that no-one has ever climbed and let’s work together to build an expedition around that.”
“For those keen on an easy trip, while wanting to see something spectacular, I would suggest Mt Field or Freycinet.”
“Once you venture out beyond Wineglass Bay to climb Mt Graham, it is very rare that you will see another soul.”
Mr Direen said the mental and physical skills honed during his 20-year career in the military, security and safety sectors had contributed to his ability to survive in some of the toughest conditions.
“Everything I learnt in the military complements climbing a mountain in Tasmania, from the equipment you take, the planning, navigation and leadership skills you employ to living and surviving in the field,” he said.
“Fortunately, my planning has always been good enough that I haven’t been stuck in a prolonged survival situation.”
A natural-born leader, Mr Direen finds it deeply rewarding training and empowering clients to achieve their goals, whether it is around fitness, motivation, preparation or mindset.
“I’ve spent years in the military developing my leadership skills and years building and leading high-performing teams in complex and high-threat environments,” he said
“These are the skills that enable me to travel to locations that are missed by other adventure tour operators.”
Mr Direen, who has been licensed to operate “off-track” for 12 months, has recently incorporated helicopter travel into his treks.
“We love a helo pick-up after a rewarding multi-day hike into the Tasmanian remote wilderness. It’s a great way to top off the experience,” he said.
“One trek begins with a helicopter drop-off into the Florentine Valley before an attempt on the summit of Wylds Craig.”
He already has a number of adventures in the pipeline for 2017, including trips planned for Northern Cambodia, Mongolia and, of course, climbing mountains in Tasmania.
“There are so many things on my bucket list. I could really go anywhere given the opportunity and an enthusiastic client.”
I recently contacted Mark for assistance and advice regarding a trip to Cambodia in September 2017. The trip was originally planned to lay the basis for a larger research project about Cambodian society. Mark has been invaluable in advising me about both the project and the trip itself, showing himself to be both knowledgeable about the country and the realities of travelling ‘off the beaten track’ and also enthusiastic and supportive about my work. Without his help, my project would have been centred on Phnom Penh. As it is, I will be able to see visiting more remote areas, and seeing places and people generally neglected by visitors. Mark has been incredibly generous in his time and enthusiasm about the project, particularly during the planning phase, and his contribution has resulted in a more ambitious and interesting project than I had originally envisaged.
Mark is also accompanying me on the trip, and his presence will make my time in Cambodia more productive than it would have been otherwise. He has already liaised with an interpreter and driver, and made contact with other people in-country who may be able to provide assistance. In addition to managing these smaller details of daily life, he will also provide me with the necessary support and security to travel in more remote, and less accessible, areas. As a result, I will be free to get on with my job as he does his. Indeed, it is only because Mark is going to be coming along that I am able to make the trip in the first place!
I am not a particularly adventurous or experienced traveller, but Mark has consistently put me at ease and given me confidence. He has tirelessly answered endless questions, been responsive and helpful in all communications, and I am confident will provide me with an excellent support and advice while on the trip. I look forward to reporting back after the trip, and to planning the next one.
Dr Fiona Gill
University of Sydney
I spend the next 15 minutes processing just how unsettling accurate this statement is likely to be. My mind fights with me, questioning my ability and worthiness to even be on this mountain, attempting this climb. All the reasons to quit now start rushing into my mind. Luckily, I realise this response as fear, my body’s primal response to push me back to safety. So, with a deep breath, I summon every bit of courage I have and stare that peak down. Something in me shifts. My fear is replaced with belief and determination and I soon settle into a steady, comfy pace and enjoy the beauty of my surrounds.
An hour or so later comes challenge number two. Injury. What began as a dull ache in my butt swiftly turns to a burning sensation down the whole front of my hip and thigh. This is the very pain that has been wiping the floor with me in the months leading up to the climb. I knew this would happen, but nowhere near this early in the piece. Once again my mind starts chattering, questioning my ability to endure the pain for such a large portion of the climb. But, like it or not, the pain is here. I cannot control it, only my responses to it.
So I let these thoughts pass and instead focus on employing the strategies I have developed to deal with this obstacle. I’ve trained my body in different ways of walking to shift weight distribution and alleviate discomfort and I’ve trained my mind with walking meditation to manage the pain. A short break and some food revitalise me and once again I get over the hump and find my rhythm.
Scenery, sunshine, fresh air, movement… its Sam nirvana! This is exactly how I imagined this experience to be. I’m in my zone, that sweet spot where reality matches expectations. The mountain; however, has other things in store. Before I know it my nice little walking track and wilderness vegetation is swiftly replaced with a near horizontal gradient and nothing but rocks all the way to the summit. Its decision time. Either I fold or go all in. Refusing to waste the opportunity before me, I say goodbye to hiking and hello to my rock climbing debut.
There is no doubt I am out of my comfort zone, but I take each step in my stride. My pace slows but my determination does not. It’s tough, but manageable. But once again, the mountain is a harsh teacher. Before long, the gradient gets steeper, the rocks larger and the climbing harder. At times I am literally clinging to the side of this mountain. My focus narrows as adrenalin begins to flow through my body. I concentrate on one rock at a time, but my lack of skill is becoming evident and we are now fighting against daylight as well as my capability to reach the summit before dark.
My guide stops me and goes ahead to assess. Returning without his pack I am hopeful we are close to the top. That he has left his pack at the summit and will take mine to allow me to make the rest of the journey easier. But with one look at his face I can tell the reality of the situation is very different.
“Sam, I’m concerned. What lies ahead is increasingly more difficult and I’m not sure it’s within your capability. Your safety is now my primary concern.”
Even now I think: “What?!..No way, I’ve got this!”. But as my guide, I know his judgement is more sound than my own. No further words are spoken. I know the decision has been made and ultimately it is the right one.
Failure, disappointment, regret and exhaustion flood my body and I begin to cry. The feelings are overwhelming and for a moment I can’t move. The minute I take a step back down that mountain I have been defeated. Even now, my will is still fighting my capability.
“I’ve failed” is all I can utter. “Are you kidding me?!” he retorts. “Today you’ve done things you’ve never done or thought possible for yourself. How is that failing?! If you define success on a mountain as simply reaching the summit, you’re missing the point. It is the journey, not the destination that makes you great. It is with each step that you grow, learn and demonstrate what you are made of.”
As I lay in the tent that night my disappointment is replaced with pride. Did I reach the top, no. Did I give it absolutely everything I had, yes! I came for a life changing experience and that is exactly what I got. I learned so much more about myself than had I simply waltzed up an easier mountain just to see a sunset.
On the day the mountain turned out to be too great for me. But I will gladly pay the cost. In defeat I learned humility, self-awareness and what I need to do to improve and better position myself for success in the future.
So next time you are faced with a challenge, don’t run. Instead, be brave. Lean into your fear and grow. Nothing worth doing comes easy. If you want to be your best self, you need to stretch and in stretching, you must change your relationship with failure. It is not something to be feared but something to be encouraged. Understand and accept that on the path to success you will fail, (possibly many times), but it is with these experiences you will find the exact lessons you need to take you to the next level!
“I will come again and I will conquer you because as a mountain you can’t grow.
But as a human, I can”
– Sir Edmund Hillary
Sam is a mum and fitness coach form Canberra. She wrote this blog after her first trek into the Tasmanian wilderness to climb one of the states stunning peaks. It was an awesome adventure that resulted in a epic 36 hour lesson in resilience.
Sam conquered many things that day and I congratulate and thank her for sharing this leg of her remarkable journey with us.
Check out the link below to read more of Sam's blog at her SAMfit website.
How good is this poem?
We would like to thank Coach John Wooden for bringing it to our attention. Point Assist recommend all leaders take a look at his Ted talk.
Coach John Wooden. This legendary basketball coach shares leadership insights from his decades of leading teams and winning.
The Road Ahead or the Road Behind - George J. Moriarty
Sometimes I think the fates must grin as we denounce them and insist,
The only reason we can’t win is the fates themselves have missed.
Yet, there lives on the ancient claim – we win or lose within ourselves,
The shining trophies on our shelves can never win tomorrow’s game.
So you and I know deeper down there is a chance to win the crown,
But when we fail to give our best, we simply haven’t met the test
Of giving all and saving none until the game is really won.
Of showing what is meant by grit, of fighting on when others quit,
Of playing through not letting up, it’s bearing down that wins the cup.
Of taking it and taking more until we gain the winning score,
Of dreaming there’s a goal ahead, of hoping when our dreams are dead,
Of praying when our hopes have fled. Yet, losing, not afraid to fall,
If bravely we have given all, for who can ask more of a man
than giving all within his span, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.
And so the fates are seldom wrong, no matter how they twist and wind,
It’s you and I who make our fates, we open up or close the gates,
On the Road Ahead or the Road Behind.
"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."
T. E. Lawrence "of Arabia"
The New Year period can be a potential flash point for difficulties and obstacles that can make your goals seem unattainable. However, while you can’t always control when and where your resilience might be tested; you can have your mindset and skills ready to assist you in overcoming the resistance you may face on the way towards your objective.
Here are a few techniques to employ next time you feel mission success is compromised: