OK, I'll admit it: I've carried on a show-mance with the reality series The Selection: Special Operations Experiment on History. (Last night was the season finale, but you can see all eight episodes here.)
It's a great show. The evolutions are brutal. And eye-opening. I'd love to have participated...and I'd also hate to have participated. (Isn't that how the most rewarding experiences tend to be?)
So along the way, I talked to four different instructors from the show: Navy SEAL Ray Care about perseverance, developing the right mindset, and how the only limits we really have are self-imposed; Army Ranger Tyler Grey about adaptability, attitude, mental toughness, and how in life there is no finish line; Navy SEAL Sean Haggerty about pushing through doubt--and how ability is so important in business and in life; and Navy SEAL Marcus Capone about developing people, mentoring high-performing individuals and teams, and the one quality every leader needs most.
But what I didn't know is what it was like to be one of the 30 people, with no military background, who took on the extreme physical and mental challenge.
One of the few who made it to the end of the challenge was No. 11, Christian Griffith. Christian is the founder of Live for a Living, a digital strategy, brand-building, and lead-generation firm, and, at 45, the oldest participant on the show (and therefore my sentimental favorite).
Obvious first question: What made you decide to do this in the first place?
First and foremost, I wanted to test myself and see what I was made of.
But there were other factors, too. In 2012, I almost died. [He contracted a flesh-eating amoeba.] That experience changed my entire perspective on life. I was no longer going to waste time with what I considered to be minutiae. I decided to live every moment to the utmost.
I'm also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. There were lots of ways my life and direction could have gone, and I wanted to prove that your past doesn't have to be your future.
Lastly, I grew up with my grandfather as my role model. He was in the Flying Tigers in World War II. He was just a badass, he was my mentor, and I wanted to get even a little inkling of what he went through.
Add all that up, and it made the perfect recipe for why I wanted to do it.
How close did you come to quitting?
During the "torture" episodes [participants went through SERE training: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] there were some moments when I was so hot, I felt like I was going to pass out....
They were feeding us bottled water all day because they had to keep us hydrated. There were heat lamps...it was like 110 degrees and hot as hell for hours and hours on end.
So I was talking to myself, thinking, "Screw this, I'm about to die, I don't want to die, I want to go back to Sacramento and real life...."
But I'm also an ultra runner. One of the ways we train ourselves is to believe we can always take one more step. You play little mind games. You say, "I'm just going to run to that telephone pole. I'm just going to run to that rock."
So I did the same thing. I told myself, "I'm just going to go five more minutes. I'll do that, then, I'll make my decision about whether to quit."
There's another saying ultra-runners use: Never make a race decision on an uphill. When do you decide to quit when you're running downhill? Never. People decide to quit when it's hard.
So I just kept saying to myself, "I can do it. Everything is temporary. This too will end."
Luckily, that was enough to get me through, and I'm so glad it did.
How did you feel about the instructors? I'm guessing it was a love/hate relationship.
I've done ruck events before with a fast-growing company called GORUCK. I have some experience in dealing with cadre and the whole idea of tough love, so to speak. So I knew when to listen and keep my mouth shut and keep going.
Obviously, I respect the instructors immensely for their service. I also respect them immensely for how well they can communicate and lead.
But the fact that stands out the most was when we finished, they went from being your worst nightmare to being your best friend in an instant. Like, literally an instant. They turned into little boys. They went from being the biggest hard-asses, people I was scared to death of, to being my best friends.
They wanted to know about me, what I do outside the show...in some ways, they were actually inspired by me.
I had spent 16 days feeling like a piece of crap, and I understand why, but I never imagined they would be that friendly and welcoming when it was over.
We all became friends, and it was amazing. That was just amazing.
Physically, what was the hardest part?
The final was the hardest part.
There I am, miles into this endless ruck march with 70 or 80 pounds on my back, and I was just spent. You're fighting for every step and there are cameras on you, seeing you at your very lowest...and I'm cussing and constantly collapsing and feeling overheated.... I was just at my wit's end.
That was the most physically challenging part of the show. That's when I felt the most limited from a physical aspect. Mentally I was still hanging in there but physically I wasn't sure if I could keep going.
Plus, we didn't know when it would end. We call it "smelling the barn," when you can actually see the finish line and you get that adrenaline kick. We didn't know where the finish line was, which meant there was no adrenaline kick. When you're that tired, it's hard to keep going when there is no end in sight.
The instructors had worked to instill a sense of team...so how did you feel when your group split up on the last ruck march?
It did feel weird. When No. 12 [Ryan Kent] and No. 19 [Logan Nagle] ran ahead of us, I thought, "I can't believe they're leaving us."
What I later found out was that the instructors were driving that, to see if we would lose faith in ourselves. They were constantly finding ways to make us find our "why?" and question whether we wanted to be there.
That happened to No. 17 [Kurtis Michaels]. He allowed the cadre to get into his head.
I knew better. I was really struggling, but I knew if they weren't pulling me for medical reasons I was still OK, and I knew this evolution had to be coming to and end, so I didn't let the instructor get in my head.
But it definitely threw me for a loop, especially when I was walking alone.
Luckily, No. 2 [Cliff Braun] and I got together. I really wanted to see him not quit, and he looked terrible at the start of the final climb. Then on the final climb he found some strength and I started to collapse left and right.
The hardest climb was the one where No. 17 quit and we didn't. That's where Cliff and I really bonded. We were literally taking maybe two steps a minute. We had all this weight on our backs and we hadn't slept all night and we had been walking for hours...it was terrible. So it really helped that we did it together and supported each other.
You've been back from the show for a while, and it was intended to be a transformative experience...so how has this changed you?
As a man, it changed me profoundly.
From a resilience and perseverance perspective, it was the hardest thing I've ever done, hands down. Nothing even closely compares. It's in its own league. I've done things like run 100 miles, self-supported, through the Cascade Mountains of Washington, and that was nothing compared to this.
Mentally, physically, emotionally...it was the pinnacle of difficulty. So it gave me more confidence and a stronger belief in what I can accomplish.
But it also taught me a lot about empathy, what it's like to be a member of a team, and my value in a group dynamic.
So one thing I really want to do now is to create something for men who have experienced sexual abuse. Men who have experienced sexual abuse just don't talk about it. So because of this experience, and the confidence it's given me, I realize I can talk about it. I'm strong. I care about people, and I have the ability to spark change.
I want to use those talents not just for the greater good, but the difficult greater good.