“You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft that you will die without ever realizing your true potential.”
This is the opening sentence of David Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me.
I picked it up in December 2018 after hearing Goggins speak on a podcast.
The first chapter spans 28 grueling pages that detail his traumatic upbringing.
Goggins’ father, Trunnis, was a successful businessman in Buffalo, New York. The family was picturesque: successful husband, pretty wife, two cute kids, and a nice house with fancy cars in the driveway.
But appearances only go so far.
Trunnis was abusive, forcing the rest of his family to work all night at his popular skating rink, and beating them mercilessly.
Skipping school because of bruises and lashes on his body was a common occurrence throughout Goggins’ childhood.
By the time he was in first grade, he was falling behind in school not because of his abilities, but because he was a six-year-old trying to operate on a few hours of sleep per night.
To give you an idea without going into too much detail, I’ll leave you with this.
Goggins’ father refused to spend money on doctors and dentists. One day, when David came home with an earache, his mother took him to the emergency room after seeing blood on his pillow.
The doctor told them the infection was so bad that he would have lost hearing in his left ear if he had come in any later.
For her maternal instinct, Goggins’ mother received another beating.
Although I bought the book in December 2018, I finally read it a few weeks ago. It took me three separate attempts over a span of 18 months to even make it through the first chapter of the book.
What David Goggins lived through, I couldn’t even read about until recently.
His story has been inspirational for me.
Anyone who wants to do anything can benefit from his hard-earned wisdom.
Here are my key takeaways from his life.
Considering his rough upbringing, entering adulthood alive and relatively well-adjusted probably would have been a huge accomplishment for David.
After high school, he viewed the Air Force as his ticket to a new life. He specifically wanted to join the Air Force Pararescue Unit.
Air Force Pararescues are basically superheroes — jumping out of planes behind enemy lines and pulling downed pilots out of harm’s way.
Understandably, the training for this program involves significant water stress training.
This was a problem for Goggins, who could barely swim and was negatively buoyant.
Although it took his entire will to complete tasks that were effortless for his peers, Goggins tried anyway. When he was discharged from training because he had sickle cell trait, things took a turn for the worse.
After being released from Air Force duty, Goggins worked the night-shift as an exterminator. During this time, he ballooned up to 297 pounds.
It looked like he was living the life his messy childhood set him up for.
One day, he came across a TV show about the Navy SEALs. The show tracked recruits’ training journey. At SEAL graduation, their Commanding Officer said,
“In a society where mediocrity is too often the standard and too often rewarded, there is intense satisfaction with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms and who seek to transcend traditionally recognized human capabilities.”
Goggins realized the SEALs were everything he wasn’t, and everything he wanted to be.
He set out to change his life almost immediately.
At 297 pounds, he began calling up recruiters.
They weren’t interested.
Forget not interested, they laughed at him.
He kept trying.
Eventually, he called a recruiter who was too busy to speak over the phone and told him to come into his office.
So he did.
He had the audacity to walk into the recruitment office at 297 pounds.
At his height, Goggins was allowed to weigh a maximum of 191 pounds to even be eligible for SEAL training.
The recruiter told him he had to lose 106 pounds in three months to even have the opportunity to try to become a SEAL.
Scientifically, that sounds impossible, but science doesn’t account for David Goggins.
Not only did he attempt this seemingly impossible feat, he succeeded!
The journey was no smoother from there.
When his first Hell Week was marred by double pneumonia and stress fractures, he came back for a second.
When his second Hell Week ended with a broken knee cap, Goggins came back for a third Hell Week within the same year.
Among some of the toughest people in the world, Goggins still stands out.
He’s the only person in Navy SEAL history to go through three Hell Weeks in one year. He is also the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to go through training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller.
At a certain point, it isn’t even about resilience or work ethic, it’s about being ridiculous.
Instead of calling it quits after his military career, he set his sights on ultra-marathons and the world pull-up record.
Today, he has completed over 60 endurance races, placed in the top five in most of them, and won multiple.
Even more impressive to me are his attempts are breaking the world pull-up record in 24 hours.
I mean, first of all, aside from bragging rights within a small circle, there’s logically no reason to try to become the world record holder for most pull-ups done in 24 hours. To me, it seems like an absurd amount of work for very little tangible return.
On top of that, people who compete in pull-up competitions tend to be on the smaller side. In terms of pure physics, a bigger guy like Goggins shouldn’t be able to do a ton of pull-ups.
Nevertheless, Goggins went for it. Not only did he go for it, he did his first attempt on the Today Show, which is already kind of crazy. He fell short at the halfway point because of a wrist injury and had to end his quest.
Of this, he said:
“It takes great strength to be vulnerable enough to put your ass on the line, in public, and work toward a dream that feels like it’s slipping away.”
After his public failure, he tried again a month later. He got three-fourths of the way there but again had to stop because of an injury.
After two failed attempts, it really seemed like a pipe dream.
He then showed up again and beat the record by doing 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours.
Read that again.
Just attempting any of these feats requires one to be ridiculous. Trying each of them three times within a few months falls beyond the range of what English adjectives can describe.
This was Goggins’ version of pitching his company to hundreds of investors before getting a single yes.
When it comes to doing things nobody has done before, it pays to be ridiculous.
Do It For Yourself
Goggins would still be highly respected in just about every room in the world if accomplished nothing after leaving the SEALs.
It’s rare to see someone reach one pinnacle and not only attempt to, but succeed in reaching many other pinnacles in completely different arenas.
If you have any desire to do something similar in your own life, it’s important to understand the mindset behind Goggins’ achievements.
Of his motivation, Goggins says:
“All I’d ever wanted was to become successful in my own eyes. That didn’t mean wealth or celebrity, a garage full of hot cars, or a harem of beautiful women trailing after me. It meant becoming the hardest motherf*cker who ever lived.”
It’s impossible to endure the conditions Goggins put himself through if one is doing it solely to impress others. Extrinsic motivation may be a potent-enough catalyst for moderate successes, but never for a David Goggins level of success.
Whenever Goggins seemed to have “made it,” he pushed even harder. This was not to gain admiration or to make others look inferior. He had to prove his strength to himself.
Taking action because of his own intrinsic values seems to be the key to what Goggins has done.
“The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself. You wake up with them, you walk around with them, you go to bed with them, and eventually you act on them. Whether they be good or bad.”
He knew who he wanted to become, and he knew it wouldn’t be relatable for most people. He did it anyway because, at the end of the day, he would only be accountable to himself.
There is a lot of glory associated with the SEALs and even in holding any world-record associated with fitness.
If you really believe Goggins is in it for the accolades, you’ll never guess what he’s doing now.
Today, Goggins is a wildland firefighter in Montana.
There is absolutely no glory in wildland firefighting (although there should be).
They work long days digging lines and putting themselves in harm’s way. When they finish working, they sleep exactly where they are and get back to work the next morning.
It’s underappreciated physical labor in the purest sense.
No one seeking external validation could ever bring themselves to be a wild land firefighter, but that’s part of the reason they’ll never be David Goggins.
We’ve all heard about the importance of intrinsic motivation, but Goggins lives it out to a new level.
Nobody is Destined for Anything
After reading about everything he’s done, you may have already forgotten about how terrible the beginning of Goggins’ life was.
That’s okay. We all do it.
Others focus on our successes over our struggles, while we focus on our struggles over our successes.
If you take one thing away from this whole article, it’s that nobody is destined for anything.
Logically, Goggins’ journey probably should have ended at every minor level of success he reached.
His story reads like a movie script that critics find too unrealistic.
Now that he has done all of these things, it’s easy to write it off and think David Goggins was simply destined to become the Goggins.
Goggins overcame all of these obstacles not because he was preordained to do so, but because he was ridiculous enough to keep trying when things looked bleak, and then push even harder once he saw some success.
A few of you might find him too extreme for your tastes and ambitions, but that’s not the point.
Nobody is saying you need to become David Goggins, or do anything he’s done.
The point is that incorporating even five percent of his spirit into your own life will push you far closer to your dreams than you could ever imagine.
What You Consume Can Change Your Life… If You Take Action
What’s hidden within Goggins’ story is the real key to success.
He doesn’t highlight it explicitly, but it’s essential for you and I to process.
If you’re reading this, chances are you like to learn and want to improve yourself. That’s a great place to start.
What’s more important than reading about successful people or watching interesting documentaries, though, is actually doing something with what you learn.
You just read an article about an extremely inspirational person.
What are you going to do next?
Are you going to buy his book? Look him up to learn more? Go workout? Do something else you’ve been putting off?
What you do (or don’t) do next is the great separator.
When David Goggins overheard a documentary about the SEALs, he felt inspired.
A lot of us have had moments like that.
What did he do next?
He called up different SEAL recruiters, let them laugh at him, and kept calling until one agreed to meet him.
Then, he had the audacity to walk into the meeting 106 pounds heavier than he was allowed to be if he wanted to become a SEAL.
If that wasn’t enough, he then lost 106 pounds in 3 months to achieve his goals.
For most of us, things would have ended with the documentary.
We would watch it, feel excited for a few hours, and then things would go back to normal.
We’d never call anyone, we wouldn’t deal with rejection, and we wouldn’t make any changes in our lives.
More than resilience or ridiculousness or anything else, it is this propensity to take immediate action that separates David Goggins from everyone else.
I hope reading about him encourages you to take action in your own life.
Thank you, David Goggins, for showing me and everyone what is possible for all of us if we’re willing to go out and get it.