A while back, Nate Green asked me a question: “What’s the best advice you’ve ever given your younger brother?”
His premise was that not everyone goes through life with a close brother, or a mentor, and that this is one of the main things that seems to help successful people along in life.
Nate’s idea was to compile this kind of brotherly advice and condense it down into something that anyone could access and learn from – whether or not they’re lucky enough to have these kind of personal relationships in their own lives.
I like his idea, and I think he’s right about the value of mentors, brothers or strong friendships. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the handful of mentors that I’ve been lucky enough to have.
His framing of the question made me think.
I considered all the things I’ve probably told my brother, Kyle, and was curious about what among that list actually had an impact. I’d like to believe that I was some sort of brotherly Aristotle but in reality he probably ignored most of what I told him in order to figure things out for himself.
And in most cases, that was probably for the best.
Rather than coming up with my own advice and hoping that it had worked, I asked Kyle for his perspective.
Not surprisingly, the things he told me were not the things I would have relayed to Nate.
What’s stopping you?
The first one he came up with was a conversation I had forgotten that we had even had.
It relates to a personal philosophy based on the quote “First say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do” spoken by Epictetus, an ancient Stoic philosopher.
Kyle: There was the time I was bitching about doing a marathon on three weeks notice and you gave me the “what’s stopping you” speech. That was a good one.
Craig: Can you elaborate?
KW: Whine whine marathon whine.
CW: What’s the problem?
KW: It’s going to suck. I probably won’t even finish.
CW: Why? You’re going to quit?
KW: Well no. But I didn’t train for this.
CW: So you think you will reach a point at which you cannot physically take one more step?
KW: Well probably not. But I’ll be so slow.
CW: True. But that has nothing to do with whether or not you will finish. You make that decision yourself. And you’ll make it before the race even starts.
Kyle’s team started and finished 26.2 miles together in the Men’s Military – Heavy Division of the race, which means that they did the course in a full uniform with boots and packs weighing at least 30 pounds each.
They placed third.
Kyle could barely walk for two days afterward, but as he put it, “that’s beside the point.”
Boot Camp Letters – “Play the Game”
The second thing Kyle brought up was the letters I wrote him while he was in Army boot camp. He read back through them while on the phone with me and then sent these highlights:
“Play the game, follow the protocol, but never once let yourself think they’re above you.”
“Screwing off and telling jokes is the best way to get through a shitty time.”
“In a few ways, you are hitting bottom. You are reaching lows that you never before fully understood. You treasure something, it is taken away, and yet you still exist. And now you know how bad it gets. Most people go through life afraid of losing what they only think they possess. Once you let go of everything that weaker people cling to, you will be free. You will be unfuckwithable. This doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain, hunger or weariness. It means you accept it.”
He was also thoughtful enough to dig through old emails and send me a few quotes from email exchanges over the years.
On the good things in life:
“Oh, and if any of you have never seen a cute, cuddly monkey punch a little girl in the side of the head, you really haven’t lived.”
On swimming in the ocean:
“The trick to preventing the ocean from making your mouth and throat dry is to keep the ocean out of your mouth and throat. This will also substantially improve your swimming and, quite possibly, life expectancy.”
On travel in developing countries (Suriname, in this case):
“If you can’t get air conditioning get a fan, or a spot with a breeze, or a hammock. You are wealthy in this country, so you can pay people to do stuff. Including your laundry. If you can’t do that, put it in a bucket with some soap or body wash, scrub, rinse and hang. The heat sucks and it takes about a month to get used to it. I hope you have Z12.”
Happiness vs. Comfort
I did an interview recently with the guys from the Super Strength Show, and we talked about the difference between comfort and happiness, and how those things are often inversely correlated.
Many of the things in life that we find most meaningful, that bring us the greatest sense of happiness, are not the things that make us the most immediately comfortable. In fact, they’re probably the things for which we’re most willing to suffer; to be uncomfortable.
A big part of the meaning that comes from that worthwhile suffering is the shared experience – the people next to you while you put in the time and “Just. Keep. Going.”
Sometimes, those people are shoulder to shoulder with you through a freezing night, soaked in saltwater and gun oil, or skull-dragging your way to a hide sight with a sniper rifle.
These situations are often mundane, like a bleary-eyed husband and wife taking turns comforting a newborn in the middle of the night.
At times, these people are there only in thought – thousands of miles away on the other end of an occasional phone call or email.
Your Highlight Reel
If we look back through our lives, and flip through our mental “highlight reel” of the most memorable moments we’ve experienced, a key piece of them is often the people we’re with at the time.
When those moments are, as the Marine Scout Snipers put it, times to suffer patiently and patiently suffer, it’s often the support and advice from those alongside us that gets us through.
I think I’ve been on the receiving end of that support and advice more often than the giver of it – sometimes even when it comes to my siblings – but it’s an interesting exercise to think through and appreciate:
What’s some of the most meaningful advice or support you’ve ever received?
And, what about the advice and support you’ve given? Rather than trying to come up with that answer on your own, ask the other person. The answer will probably surprise you.