Will Chesney found identity and purpose as a Navy SEAL, one of the military’s most elite teams, where he was required to perform calmly and effectively under the most extreme circumstances. However, years of neurological and psychological trauma left Will in a very dark place. Unable to do what he loved most or connect effectively with others, he turned to drinking and isolation. After hitting rock bottom, a friend reached out and invited Will to join him on a journey of self-discovery that allowed him to tap into his resilience and get himself back on his feet. Tune in as we learn what Will did to find healing and meaning in life after war.
Will served in the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group as an operator and a dog handler in the Osama Bin Laden raid. He was awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his bravery.
"I woke up and it was me again at one point during the weekend. I know I was a SEAL and everybody always says, “Oh, we can't relate to what you've gone through.” But everybody has trauma. Every life is good but life’s hard sometimes. Everybody deals with trauma no matter what."
What We Discuss in Episode 51:
02:41 The challenges of reintegrating into civilian life as a combat veteran.
05:51 The mindset and techniques that Navy SEALs use to remain calm and effective in any situation.
13:25 Navigating the depression and hardships that come with losing a core identity.
20:26 How humility is essential for executing any successful mission.
24:44 The reflection that put Will firmly on the path to recovery.
**Full transcript coming soon! Check back HERE for the link.**
Follow us on Instagram at @artofaccomplishment to learn more about our guests and share your own experiences.
Intro: I just woke up and was me again at one point during the weekend. I was a SEAL, and everybody always says we can’t relate to what you have gone through, but everybody has trauma. Life is hard sometimes. Real life is good. Life is hard. Everybody deals with trauma, no matter what.
Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler here today with my co-host Joe Hudson.
Brett: Will is a retired Navy SEAL who I met in a program that was working with SEALs who had suffered traumatic brain injury and other psychological traumas from war and from just anything else related to that kind of a lifestyle. Will served in the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group as an operator and dog handler. He was on the Bin Laden raid.
Joe: What is that thing you just mentioned? What?
Brett: That’s me reading off of his author bio.
Joe: Will, what does that mean?
Brett: Will, what is that?
Will: SEAL team six.
Joe: That’s the badasses of the badasses, right?
Will: It takes a lot to be a SEAL alone, and then you have to go through a certain amount of extra training to actually be selected to go there as well. It is quite the task to say the least.
Brett: Other notable information here, you were on the Bin Laden raid with your dog, Cairo, who joined you on hundreds of missions.
Will: That is correct. I was the dog handler on the Bin Laden raid with Cairo. That’s what I wrote the book about, No Ordinary Dog.
Joe: What kind of breed was it?
Will: He was a Belgian Malinois. That’s kind of like a German Shepherd, shorter hair, a little more agile, a little smaller. The shepherds are 100 to 120 pounds. They get pretty big. We skydive with them on a fast rope. We hoist them up walls. We have got to carry them, so having a 120-pound shepherd or the Malinois are 60 to 70 pounds. They are a little bit lighter. They have shorter hair and can work in hot environments. You don’t need the dogs getting heat stroke. It’s beneficial.
Joe: Do they have that kind of sloped back, shorter hind leg thing that German Shepherds do?
Will: I think shepherds have problems with their hips. I don’t think Malinois have that same issue. I could be wrong on that, but Malinois are a little different breed. I think they have a little more energy. I mean there is nothing wrong with shepherds. They are really smart dogs, and they are amazing. But Malinois are really athletic. They are some monsters.
Joe: That’s, I’m sure, not what we are talking about today.
Will: If you are a bad guy hiding, they are going to find you. They are going to get to you no matter what. They will die trying.
Joe: Let’s see if we can make it through the bio now, or was that it? Was that the whole bio?
Brett: There is more. He has also got a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, which I think is definitely worth mentioning. The context in which we met is interesting, which was in working with veterans who had suffered neurological and psychological trauma and using various modalities and methods to work with them. Will had told me some of his story.
After, I think, 13 years in the service, you came out and dropped into a really dark place, which is very common for people who are reintegrating to civilian life after a very different lifestyle. It has been very hard on their bodies and their spirit. Your journey back from this was incredibly profound for me because I remember the first day I met you was the first day after a treatment weekend you had been through. It was at a social event. You were kind of quiet and sort of hanging in the corner. Your friend who had brought you said this was your first time at a social event since he had ever met you.
Then I didn’t see you until four months later. You were helping run this retreat. It took me several days hanging out with you to even recognize you were the same person. You had pulled yourself out of this dark place, and you had made a lot of progress. You had written your book. In this time right now, given some context on the time of recording right now, we just had the whole Russian invasion of Ukraine happen a couple of days ago.
This is a very different kind of interview than we have done in the past. Maybe this is timely to bring some of this kind of perspective in from somebody who has been through a lot of darkness that isn’t just the kind of darkness you might get as a CEO outrunning your runway and trying to please investors, but a very different kind of difficult experience. You have been through it and integrated it. That’s really what I am interested in talking with you about today.
Will: I was in a very dark place getting out of the Navy. I did 13 years. You are correct on that. I was medically retired after 13 years. I joined the Navy right after high school. I had worked with my father building cellphone communication towers for a few months and then left to join the Navy right after high school. That was just to spend some time with him.
I went through BUDS, no problem. BUDS is Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training, so that’s the six to seventh month selection process just to become a SEAL. I made it through that. I grew up in a trailer park in southeast Texas. It was a nicer trailer park, but still a trailer park. I went from that. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. There is not much around where I grew up unless you like drinking or drugs. I had to get out of the trailer park.
I showed up to a beautiful beach in Coronado, California with a bunch of great guys. You basically just have to get your nuts kicked in. You get to stick around. It was all of the things I wanted to do or was aspiring to do. I got to shoot guns, blow things up and dive. You just have to get through this selection process. Don’t get me wrong. It was very hard, but I made some of the best friends I’ve ever made in my life to this day. Even once I made it through BUDS and got to team and went to war with some people, I still have those friends, but I made a really tight group of friends in BUDS.
I made it through BUDS with no issues. I went to SEAL team four. I spent a few years there. I deployed to Iraq and South America. After that, I was selected to go to the development group. I made it. I squeaked by and made it through development group. That’s a very hard process. It is like going through BUDS all over again for a bunch of Navy SEALs. They know you are not going to quit. You have already proven you have what it takes to be a SEAL, so it is all performance based.
They still beat you is what we call it, make you do runs and physical exercise until you are almost dead, but that’s just the stressor you put on because they aren’t really going to shoot at you or put you in a near death situation. The best thing they can do is scream at you and push the physical limits to the most you can and put you in these really hard circumstances. If you are in the position to save an American hostage or any hostage, then you will actually be able to perform under pressure. Do you have what it takes to think calmly and smoothly in the most extreme circumstances basically?
I made it through that without too many issues.
Joe: What was the trick you learnt there? You might not even be able to describe it, but how to think calmly and smoothly as you put it, just that word “smoothly” is so brilliant as far as I am concerned. How did you learn how to think smoothly under intense pressure? What was the trick?
Will: The same thing you do when you are wing suiting, you learn in life-or-death situations to breathe and to go into your happy place. You get into the flow, I guess. Nothing else really matters. In BUDS, you are sitting in ice cold water and then they have tests to make sure nobody is going to die, but they push it to the brink of hypothermia. Some guys do get hypothermia. You are sitting locked arms in the surf with the waves crashing over your head in Coronado. That water is always chilly.
Same thing here, it is not physical, but you are not doing anything other than laying there and being cold. I would go to my happy place. Anything else that is stress related, I would still just breathe and try to get in the zone and in the flow and just focus. Nothing else is important. If you stress out about it too much, it is just going to fall apart.
Stressing out never helps anybody.
Joe: It sounds like one of the things you are doing is getting out of your head and into your body. That’s my interpretation of what you just said. How am I wrong or right about that?
Will: You are just not letting the outside factors, or the stress get to you. You are staying calm. You keep the heartrate nice and low to where you can think still. If you freak out, you are just going to fail and get somebody killed in the long run. If you can pay attention to your body.
Brett: This might be skipping ahead a little bit, but what you just described was going through BUDS and then team six training. All of these things are something you had to have this I am not going to quit-ness about you. You had this grit, this drive. You knew how to get into flow. You knew how to persevere through it. Then you went through this period after the service where just going back to civilian life, all of that seemed to crash.
This seems to be something that’s really interesting for people who are really high performers. Sometimes we go through these periods when we have really got it together in the sense that we are connected to ourselves and we are in flow, and then sometimes we feel like we have fallen entirely off the train. You have gone there and then come back. I am curious what it is that if you had this flow that got through the trainings and through 13 years with the service, what was it that switched off or changed?
Will: There are multiple factors. I got some brain injuries along the way. I put alcohol on top of the brain injuries, and lost some friends. You know about that. I don’t like to use the word PTSD, but I do miss a lot of my friends that we lost. Pouring alcohol on top of that definitely does not help. Brain injury, alcohol, loss of friends, and I stopped growing as a person. That’s where the ego comes into play. I made it to the pinnacle or thought I had made it to the pinnacle. I started partying more and drinking more and stopped caring as much, I guess, about my personal growth.
I got to see all of my friends who were doing multiple college courses and were going to become team leaders, basically bosses, in our command. They were raising families, running trips, getting their black belt in Jujitsu. They were growing and I was just drinking and living off of my past accomplishments, I guess. I think that’s accumulation. I don’t think I felt like the same person either, but I think that the brain injury definitely had an effect.
I was blown up in 2012 by a hand grenade in Afghanistan. After that, things weren’t exactly the same. I was still able to function somewhat, but I started getting migraines. The memory loss was really bad. Before when we talked about going through BUDS, I was 18. I was 17 when I left for the Navy. I didn’t know I was going with the flow. I was just doing whatever I thought made sense. You would have to kill me to leave.
We had one guy in our class. His hip ball broke in half. There was nothing he could do. He was done. He would never become a SEAL. If that was my case, then it is what it is. It is not in my hands. It is in God’s hands, but if I would have fallen off the obstacle course and broken my neck, I would have been completely content. There was no other place I wanted to be. I wanted to be there, and I was going to give it 100%, everything I had. If I died along the way or something impeded me from making it, that was fine, but I wasn’t going to quit. I just couldn’t do it. It is just not me.
There is nothing wrong with the guys who did quit. There is nothing wrong with that. We have guys who quit and come back to complete it later. That job is not for everybody. That’s for sure, but it was everything I wanted to do. There was nothing else I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t going to school. I could have gone back to the trailer park and done drugs, but that didn’t sound very fun to me. There was nothing else I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to go to school. I didn’t want to become a doctor, lawyer or anything. I would have failed at school, but being a SEAL, it is all I ever wanted. I was going to give it 100%.
Brett: It sounds like when you retired, there was a major loss of identity there.
Will: That was my family. I had my family back here in Texas, but I care more about the people I served with than some of my family members, not all of them but just as much as my family members I do care about. There are some family members I don’t talk to, and I don’t care to talk to. That was my family. That was my life. That was me. Going from that, I mean I got to be on some of the coolest missions and some of the most well-known missions. I was on the Captain Phillips raid. I got to partake in that. I didn’t take any shots, but I still got to go on it. I got to be on the Bin Laden mission.
I got to the pinnacle of my career. I was up here, and then going from that, suffering a brain injury and then fast forward a couple of years after getting blown up, I was moving back in with my parents, and I couldn’t hold down a job. I was drinking myself to death. I was 250 plus pounds. I couldn’t wrap my brain, my mind around what was going on because it was my mind that was messed up, to some extent. Don’t get me wrong. There was booze on top of that and me feeling sorry for myself and other factors, but the brain injury was definitely a big factor.
I remember sitting at my mom’s house and I was drinking a lot. I remember staring at the wall for an hour trying to figure out what the fuck was going on. I went from here and then all of a sudden I am at rock bottom. I was just waiting to die, slowly drinking myself to death. I had people that I cared about and loved me in my life. It was quite the fall.
Joe: The kind of stress that you handled is so different from a CEO, but there is this really interesting study they did where they took all these CEOs and put them in a house. They said the only thing you can’t do is work. Then they took away the phones, computers, etc. They just had to hang out with each other. At day three, they brought in a team of psychologists and told them to assess these folks. You just can’t talk about their work.
The team of psychologists came out and said they are depressed. It is a house full of depressed people. It is something I see all the time when someone who has been a high-powered CEO over an extended period of time. When that adrenaline fatigue hits, when there is no longer that stimulus, there is this bottom that they hit. I have seen some really successful guys who have done crazy stuff in their lives sit in their pajamas for a couple of years afterwards, just recovering. They are so hard on themselves because of that, and then that creates a secondary storm of self-abuse or feeling sorry for yourself as you put it.
Will: I definitely went through it, finding purpose. What do I do now? I can’t do that job anymore. I went from high school with nothing to that to some of the best guys in the world, best times in my life. I had a pretty cool job at the time, and then all of a sudden, I get blown up, my brain doesn’t work, and I am fired.
Brett: That’s a trifecta there. You lose your job, which is something your entire being is identified with, then your family you described as being linked to that as well as your brain injury. Just so much of your internal resources that got you through to what you were over the course of 13 years of combat and then also being blown up by a grenade, all of this stuff dropping. Now I am curious about the moment when it started to shift for you. At what point did you start to connect to that resource again? I am imagining the same thing that got you through training and through all of those years, but now reconnecting to it in order to pull you out of that dark place you were in.
Will: I think it was a slow progression out of it. It was a slow progression in and a slow progression out. I got out and I started trying to think of the first medical things I went through. I went to the Brain Treatment Foundation. They put me through a program where I did the TMS treatment, which is transcranial magnetic stimulation. It is basically trying to get your brain to communicate properly. I won’t do it justice, but it was a very good brain treatment center.
It wasn’t the best thing I went through, but I think it was a good start. I was in a really bad place and didn’t do anything. It took my best friend reaching out. I wasn’t going to do anything. He reached out to me. He basically wasn’t going to go to this place unless I went with him, which convinced me to go with him. I am really glad. I feel like that was the first step and then I started learning about the Wim Hof method. I started doing breathing and fasting. Then there were the hormones, so I looked at my blood levels and testosterone. I think there was meditating and obviously diet and sleep. I started getting better with my sleep. There were a couple of entheogenic treatments. That definitely helped. I think that was very beneficial for me to partake in. I don’t think it is one thing that’s going to fix you.
Looking back at it now, they all lined up together. I went to that brain treatment center. I started learning about breathing and got my diet better. I dropped from 250 pounds to basically normal. I got my sleep good. I started doing all these other treatments. Little by little I started to see progression. I am definitely nowhere near where I want to be, but I am still working towards that goal.
Brett: I’ve noticed there are a couple of different levels to track here. One of them are the modalities you went through, and you explored to hear yourself. Another level is the mindset shifts that occur. There is one that you just mentioned. Your friend was only going to go if you went with him. There was something about doing it with your friend that got you across the hump of learned helplessness of nothing is going to work for me to this can work for me. I notice that a lot of times the moment we have actually started to believe that we can go through a process and trust the process and transform, grow and heal, that is a major point and shift.
Then the modalities or the methods we undertake are less important than that internal shift. Does that resonate with you?
Will: I’ve been through so many treatments getting out of the military. Nothing against it, I did some yoga treatments and a little bit of breathing and diet and everything else, but they also did the antidepressants, the migraine medicines and a bunch of other meds. I had seen so many doctors and many therapists. A lot of them were just full of shit. I was over it. When he reached out to me, I was like I am good. I am going to sit in my dark hole at my lake house. I will be fine. I am just going to drink it away. Obviously that was not the right answer.
I am really glad he told me that. I wouldn’t even get on a plane. I drove to the treatment center in California because I didn’t want to fly and be around people. I was in a really bad place. I didn’t want to leave my house. I just wanted to stay there, drink and seclude. I was over it. I was over seeing all these doctors and trying these new things. They would just give me some antidepressants. I was good. I had my alcohol.
Joe: There is a humility you have in your system right now, and I am wondering when that showed up. Was that something you learned in SEALS training? Is that something that has happened in the reconstruction of your life?
Will: I think I have always had that. You have to be humble to be a SEAL. I let my ego get out of control there for a few years. I didn’t really comprehend what my ego was there for a while. I am only 37 now. I was basically in my 20s, early 30s at the time. I didn’t really understand maybe what the ego was until certain treatments really opened that up for me. Looking back, I was an asshole. I understand I was a SEAL, and I worked my ass off to get to where I was. It was a very high position, but I did not need to let my ego get out of control because I stopped growing as a person. I just thought it was all good and I knew everything. There is nothing else I need to do. I am fine. I am here. I made it. That was a hard fall. It almost took my life.
Joe: Two parts of that that I want to follow up on, the first one is double click on that sentence, “You have to be humble to be a SEAL.” Can you explain that? What does that mean?
Will: You wouldn’t make it very far. It is not Delta Force or Chuck Norris where you are a one man show. I am kidding. All of the Delta guys will love that. It is teamwork. I am not Chuck Norris. I am not going to do everything by myself. It is teamwork from day one. When you show up to BUDS, you always have a swim buddy. You have a teammate. If you are caught without that teammate, you get a safety violation. After enough safety violations, you go away. From day one, you always have a teammate. That’s just your one teammate.
When you get to your team, you have all of your teammates. It is about the team. It is not about you. When you get done with missions, you take care of the team gear, then your gear and then yourself. It is always about the team because you are not going to accomplish the mission without the team. If you are not humble, you are just going to go away.
Joe: Then you have this idea of the ego that comes in later. On some level, it seems like that humility to make it through SEALS is a partial deterioration of the ego. Then, somehow or another, in your definitely of the ego, it remanifested as it was finished.
Will: Once I got to a certain level in my career, I had made it through BUDS, this training, through here, and all these schools and missions.
Joe: I see this all the time, not just in career moves. You see it with CEOs, and they feel like they are finished, done. You see their progress slump if not deteriorate. You see it with people who are looking after awakening as well. You are searching for spiritual awakening. When they think they are done, you can see the corrosion that occurs.
The best story I have on this, which I thought was really cool, was I was listening to one of the world’s best cricket players. I shake my head because I don’t know what it is like watching cricket, but I like this guy. His career went straight up, skyrocketed, and then went straight down and then straight up again. Somebody asked him what the difference was between the ups and downs. He said when I was up, I was thinking about how to improve myself, and when I was down, I was thinking about how to maintain.
Will: I can totally relate to that, for sure. I look back on it and think about it all the time. I remember on deployment sitting in my room going out and looking. This guy is doing college. This guy is reading books, and this guy is doing that. I was not growing as a person. It makes me not the happiest looking back on it. That was what I needed to go through at the time. I don’t know, but I needed to go through that. Now I am feeling much better. That’s good. It could be worse. I could have just drunk myself to death. I almost died a few times. I am glad I am still here.
Joe: You did the brain treatment and the electromagnetic stimulation, breath stuff. You had clicked over into thinking this is possible. Something got you thinking this is possible again. I am not stuck, and I don’t have to believe these doctors who don’t know what they are talking about. Something happened there. You talk a little bit about ego and starting to recognize ego and the part that it played. How did the transformation happen on a mental, internal, psychological, spiritual level for you?
Will: On a treatment weekend I went through, it wasn’t up to me. I had to let go of everything and really open my eyes to some of my shortcomings. It put me on the right path to stop feeling sorry for myself and to realize who I was again. It also helped me with my brain function. I was giving up and drinking myself to death, for sure, but I wasn’t sticking a gun in my mouth. I was basically killing myself slowly.
Brett: What’s an example of a reflection you had that shifted things for you? In this treatment weekend, for example, what was something that came up from your subconscious, something you recognized and just the recognition of which put you on the right path?
Will: I just woke up and I was me again. Life is hard. I know I was a SEAL, and everybody always said they can’t relate to what you have gone through, but everybody has trauma. Life is hard sometimes. Life is good, but life is hard. Everybody deals with trauma, no matter what. You are not going to get out of this without dealing with death and hard times. People can know what I am talking about. I had the deaths of my friends and brain injuries, but everybody has their stuff.
All of that stuff on top of me and all of a sudden I woke up during the weekend and I had none of that. I had no ego, none of that burden on my shoulders. I came to it and it was me, legit me, who I was before I went through BUDS. I felt like the 18-year-old me again, the person that was going to go through SEAL training. Nothing was going to happen to me. I was going to fucking crush it. I had stopped being that person. When I woke up and I had that fire inside of me again, the whole me again, I was unstoppable. The devil himself could have walked into that room and I would have been like we are good. Fuck you bro. We are good. It was good to see that person again. Nothing was going to stop me.
Joe: This is a story I have heard a lot in different contexts. Basically, there is a moment of re-remembering but somehow or another, the journey was important. The integration of the old person that’s remembered is different than it was before. Generally, I heard a lot of times from people talking. It was like they had this big epiphany, a big awakening. It was like I was remembering who I was, but at the same time there is a difference. The journey had integrated something or shifted something at the same time as the remembering. How does that resonate with you, if at all? In the remembering and recognition of who you were, was there also an integration of something that the journey was important?
Will: Me waking up to realize who I was again and who I could be again, I realized I didn’t want to drink anymore. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself in certain aspects of my life and dealing with certain issues. The deaths of my friends, not that I don’t miss them and I don’t mourn for them and feel bad for their families. I know they miss them. I am not trying to downgrade their loss at all, but I know they are in a better place. I got to feel, at least what I think, where they are. I believe in God again. It was very eye-opening.
I quit drinking. My spiritual beliefs are back. I believe in God and I pray every day now. I read the Bible. It just put me on the right path. It gave me the opportunity to get back on the right path. I was wasting my time and I was killing myself. It was seeing who I was again and remembering, so integrating that old path into the new me and trying to get back there.
Brett: How has this integration affected the way you now look back on your career and the way you relate to those experiences of losing friends, taking lives and having to make really hard decisions that involve lives?
Will: It is kind of weird. I wish I would have found that treatment before leaving the military. I don’t think I would have had to quit my job, possibly. I mean I had some other issues, and I still do. But I definitely don’t have the migraines and the stress. I think the migraines were stress related. I definitely wish I had found that treatment a little sooner. Now that I look back at it, it is not the same level it was. It definitely wears off a little bit after a while. No treatment is going to last forever. There is no fix all.
I just try to remember my friends are in a better place and to live my life to the fullest because I know them very well. If they were to look at me now or look at me when I was drinking myself to death, they would have called me a fucking idiot. I know my friends. Hey dude, what are you doing? Stop doing this. I try to remember that.
Brett: Something we talk about a lot in the podcast and the work that we do is how our social reality is a project of ourselves. If you have gone through an integration and a journey where you found more empathy for yourself, I am curious how that impacts your empathy for others. Going back to my previous question, how does that empathy affect the way that you relate to the enemy, for example, or fighters on the other side?
Will: I think it would have taken away a little bit of hate. Looking back, not that I did anything I shouldn’t have done overseas, but once you lose so many friends, there is a lot of hate in your heart for sure. I think it would have helped me deal with that. I am really glad I wasn’t put in certain positions where I could have done things if that makes any sense. I had a lot of hate. I didn’t care anymore after I had lost so many friends. I just didn’t give a fuck. I was never put in a position that I look back to where I shouldn’t have done anything, but there was a lot of hate in my heart. I know that would have helped me deal with that, for sure.
Brett: How would that have affected you in combat or on missions?
Will: It would have been fine. We are not over there to kill people who don’t need to be killed. When I started, I didn’t care who died. We lost a helicopter, Extortion 17. It was a helicopter that was shot down by a guy we had captured and let go. I just stopped caring. It wasn’t worth losing one of my friends over. I didn’t care if I got in trouble, so I am glad I wasn’t put in certain positions because it is not the right call sometimes. You definitely need to have that empathy and still be a human being.
Joe: In a way, what you are saying here is even in being a soldier, having empathy makes you a better soldier than not having empathy. I think that’s actually something that non-soldiers don’t get.
Will: We used to hand out chem lights to the kid even if they threw them. They didn’t care. The mostly hate us. That didn’t bother me, but towards the end, I didn’t give a fuck. I am not giving anything to any of you. If you die, I don’t care. My heart got really hardened. I am happy to be the old person I am now. Who cares? Give the kids lights and flags. Even if they hate you, who cares? You still need to be a person. We are not them? We are there to make the world a better place, not just kill a bunch of bad guys. There is nothing wrong with killing a bunch of bad people for some reason. That needs to be done sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t care about other people who are there as well. I didn’t care at all.
Brett: It seems like being in this career and in this position, which is a really difficult position. It is a sticky moral position for almost anybody. Also, what I am hearing from you is that having more empathy, having less hate in your heart impacted not only the way you could stay in flow in what you were doing and also the ways you might be able to make a split second decisions when you might spot somebody at the end of a rifle and have to quickly decide whether or not to pull the trigger. Then, also, handing chem lights out to kids, how are you going to interact with civilians where you are? How is that going to impact the relations in general? How is that going to either feed or ease some of the tension that is inherent to the situation?
Will: Which is a big deal. You build those relationships, and they will tell you where the bad guys are. If you don’t build those relationships, they won’t. Otherwise, what’s the difference between you and the Taliban? Getting into the flow instead of being stuck in rage, hate, and anger where I am not going to function as well, I have so much mental bandwidth and if 50% of that is taken up by rage, then you are not going to function nearly as well. Just push all that stuff aside and get into the flow.
Brett: Some of that unowned and unprocessed rage is the source of the tension and the reason you are there.
Will: My hair was falling out, twice. It was a lot of hate, loss, and sadness. I had started losing big chunks. My hair was falling out. It was alopecia. They said it was hereditary and stress related. It was right after extortion went down, so I lost some friends there. That was the first time it happened. Then I lost one of my best friends. His name was Nic [unclear]. He died in a hostage rescue mission saving an American doctor. After that, my hair fell out again in different places. I am not a doctor, but it was kind of easy to figure out. I think that’s from stress. Then, after that, once I started losing so many people, it hardened my heart.
Joe: In your process of integration, how did grief and moving grief play a part, if at all?
Will: I would just drink it away and stuff it down.
Joe: I mean when you started the healing process, after the drinking, after the brain treatment that started you on the path, was there any movement of grief that had to happen for you to open your heart again? Was there some other way your heart opened again?
Will: I think it was a different way. I think it was realizing there is a God and a better place. It was feeling that. Not that I don’t miss them, but I know they are in a good place. I think that helped me a lot. They lived a full life. They died doing what they wanted to do. It does suck that they left behind families, and they died young, but they died doing what they loved.
Brett: I am curious. If you had never been exposed to the SEALS or there wasn’t a military to go into, with that same drive and that same spirit, what would you have wanted to do with it?
Will: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I have no idea where I would be today if I didn’t join the military. I really had nothing else I wanted to do. I am sure I would have found something, but I don’t know if I would have had the same drive. I really don’t know.
Joe: What are you doing now? Now that the military is no longer an option for you, what’s the way you want to leave this world a better place?
Will: I just wrote a book on my dog, No Ordinary Dog, Cairo from the Bin Laden mission. Some things came out that weren’t exactly accurate, so now he has a book. Everything is accurate, and it is a piece of history. I go out and promote that. I teach law enforcement when I can. I have a lot of things that I can pass along that might help those guys out, so if I can, I love to do that. I am getting into real estate, so I do that. I try to do some public speaking here and there.
I want to raise a family. I do a lot of working on myself, honestly. I just want to invest in real estate, so I have money to do what I want to do. I want to go hunting, fishing, diving and raise a family. I am all over the place these days.
I like to give back with foundations, too. It is obviously a big part of it. I work with different foundations. There are SEALs that are killing themselves, which doesn’t really make sense to me. SEALs don’t quit. I know where I was. I never stuck a gun in my mouth, but I was killing myself with alcohol. I was going to die eventually, and I was in my early 30s.
I didn’t have much longer I am sure. I try to work with foundations.
Brett: I am curious about that piece. SEALs don’t quit. You were saying ego was something that was getting in the way at a time. A phrase or a belief like SEALs don’t quit sounds like an easy way of abusing oneself. If you feel like quitting but SEALs don’t quit, and you are a SEAL and your identity is built upon being a SEAL, how does that impact you when you feel like quitting and you are drinking yourself to death? That also conflicts with your identity.
Will: There are certain times you do have to let go. You know that for sure. Not quitting the drinking is definitely not beneficial. Not quitting certain aspects of the lifestyle. Sometimes you just have to let go.
Joe: This might be a weird question, but it dawns me there is a way in which that humility to the team in that it wasn’t going to work without the team. There was no Chuck Norris. There is certain letting go into the team in that. You give up certain autonomy, certain belief in self and you give in to the belief in the team. There is this secondary one in this treatment where you let go. It is almost like a surrendering to God or something to that effect. How are those two things in your body and the way you think about them the same or different?
Will: Letting go and being part of a team?
Joe: Letting go into the team and letting go into God, surrender, into being yourself again? In both cases, you described them as letting go or surrender.
Will: Letting go into the team is for something bigger than myself. Letting go in the second part is obviously something bigger than myself as well. Letting go into the team to work together to accomplish a mission that’s going to save somebody’s life or to get rid of bad people that are going to hurt innocent people, it is letting go into a team to accomplish a bigger picture, a bigger purpose. I was all about it. What was I going to do? Go back to the trailer park or be a part of this team where I can actually benefit humanity, hopefully? It is the same thing, letting go into a higher power, a higher purpose. Sometimes you just have to.
Brett: What would you say to somebody whether they believe their brain was broken from birth, they have got ADD, or they are on the spectrum, or they had a car accident, somebody who feels like they are physically incapable in ways they didn’t like they used to be? What would you have to say to them about joining you in the journey through to recovery?
Will: First, just don’t quit. That’s very important. I know it can be frustrating, but one of the things I tell myself these days is it will pass. That’s a hard thing to see on the bad days. I do not think that. I have got to say it will pass. This won’t last forever. To be open minded, to not let your ego get in the way of trying something you think is stupid. You hear of essential oils or something. You are like I am not trying that hippy stuff. Breathing, sure I breathe every day. Maybe have an open mind.
Don’t give up, and even though you are going through a hard time, you can get through it. It will pass eventually, but you do need to put in the work to get past it. You are going to have to suffer through it, but you definitely need to put in the work to get yourself out of the whole for sure. It is not going to be easy, but nothing in life worth doing is usually easy. Just don’t give up. It sucks. I say that not lightly, not lightly at all.
Even though I am in a good place right now, I think about it all the time. You are going to have your bad days. They are going to come. To be as prepared as possible now for those bad days that are going to come because death is a thing. Your family is going to pass away. There are going to be bad days. You are going to lose the things that you love, or something is going to happen to you. You can get in a car wreck today, tomorrow. It can happen in a heartbeat. To get through those times, to put in the work now so that when those hard times come, it won’t be so hard to get through those hard times.
Brett: I noticed that when you say sometimes it sucks, I see an authentic smile on your face and acceptance. I feel an absence of resistance to the suck in you, the way that you see it, and that seems important here.
Will: Bring it on. It sucks when my brain is not working to think my way through certain shitty situations. I don’t want anything bad to happen, but if it does happen, I will get through it the best I can. Like Jordan Peterson says, you want to be the strongest person at your father’s funeral. Put in the work now. I know it is going to come, so it is just a problem I am going to have to figure out because life is not over.
Joe: It seems like you have learnt some tools that can support a whole bunch of other people in the military. To try to change the VA hospital, I know people who have been involved and who work for it, but there is a lot of stuff the SEALs do that is unique in the support of their people. Is there any inclination in you to figure out how to bring some of this stuff to the SEALs organization so they can support their people so that the next guy who is highly trained and loves his work doesn’t have to have hate in his heart? So the next guy can learn some empathy and get over that stress and not have their hair fall off so they can continue to do what they love?
Will: It is definitely very important to me. Doing things like this, the podcast and talking about it, not only in the military community, law enforcement, first responder, anybody can use it. Life is hard. Life is great, but life can be hard. I do this, and I help with a lot of charity foundations when I can just to bring attention to it. I will go to different events and speak and meet with veterans. I think doing things like this that anybody can listen to is also very beneficial.
Joe: Thanks, Will. Thanks for coming on.
Will: Thanks for having me.
Brett: Thanks for listening to the Art of Accomplishment. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and rate us on your podcast app. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions or comments. You can reach out to us, join our newsletter or check out our courses at artofaccomplishment.com.
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