Find Your Why: A Life-Changing Chat With Navy SEAL Vet Sean Haggerty Of History Channel's ‘The Selection’
Since I was 6 years old, my greatest fear has always been death. So, at 10 years old, when I hit my head on a waterslide and nearly drowned in the shallow end, I became deathly afraid of water. Soon after, an attempt at swimming lessons proved futile. At 16, and again at 19, I wouldn't even go into one of the most magical places on Earth that I had always wanted to experience: The Dead Sea - where it's impossible to sink. Now at 5-feet tall I'm shorter than most puddles, so without the ability to swim, I simply avoided bodies of water for years. Until that eventful day, when I told one of the biggest lies of my life ...
You see, I wanted to be on radio. There were no on-air openings for a kid with zero experience, so I decided to create one: "Danger Girl" - a quirky, on-air stunt character.
I relentlessly pitched - and re-pitched - this idea to stations across the country. And pretty much overnight, I got the call. That is, about 365 overnights later.
A new station was set to launch in a major market. I’m asked to meet with the big boss - the program director.
PD: "Dahlia, we have a big idea. First, are you afraid of anything?"
ME: "I'm not afraid of anything."
ME IN MY HEAD: "I'm afraid of everything."
PD: "Good. Because we plan to submerge you in 10,000 gallons of water. For 48 hours. To broadcast live on-air. Launch the station. And raise money for Sick Kids.”
(Actually, I have no idea how I replied, because I think I blacked-out inside.)
PD: “Oh, and this will be Danger Girl’s audition."
(Good thing I already blacked-out, or the word “audition” would’ve killed me.)
It's the day of the event. A massive tank on a flatbed truck is situated on the parking lot at the city's busiest mall. A crowd has gathered. I put on my full face mask, no other gear, and prepare to enter the 10,000 gallons of death. (By the time I was done, it was probably 10,010 gallons ... Well, can you hold it in for 48 hours?) Once completely underwater, I go on air - for the first time in my life. Within the first hour I was swimming around like a mermaid and doing enough flips that my ears were popping (and continued popping for the next month).
Yes, I finally got the job. And helped to raise thousands of dollars for sick kids. But I succeeded at something much bigger. How was I able to push through that fear, when nothing could ever push me through it before?
My why was greater than my die.
But I had never made that key connection until recently, when I did something else I never thought I’d do …
Usually we do these sorts of things to numb our minds; not provoke them. But one Thursday night I turned to something that turned out to be addictive: The Selection: Special Operations Experiment on History Channel.
The unscripted show takes 30 men and women with no military background through the ultimate test of human limits and self-discovery: a course based on Special Operation Forces assessment and selection programs. Six instructors who are veterans of the Navy SEALs, Green Berets and Army Rangers challenge them with monstrous physical tasks, psychological warfare, tear gas and torture training, and more through test after test - or evolution after evolution, as it were.
The civilians can remove themselves at any time - most quit. Otherwise they can be dropped medically or for failure to complete an evolution. There is no cash prize for making it to the end. But no cash prize could replicate that sense of personal fulfillment either.
It’s not a reality show; it’s a real show. It’s not even a show; it’s more like a self-help book you don’t have to read. The deeply resonating lessons learned and self-discoveries don’t just apply to the participants; they apply to you.
And it seems the whole world is in search of these lessons. A simple Google search will land you about 11.1 million results of “lessons you can learn from a Navy SEAL.” Change the wording just slightly and you could find 12 million more, and so on. So if you have all the answers at your fingertips, why do you keep searching?
Maybe because you’re really searching for your why.
At 8 years old he found his what. At 19 he found out why. Now, at 31, he had a conversation with me about how.
The Navy SEALs documentary Sean Haggerty saw as a boy changed his life; now he’s changing other people’s lives as an instructor on The Selection.
So little Sean sees this doc and tells his mom that’s what he wants to do. Then 140- or 150-lb teen Sean joins the Navy and heads off to SEAL training. “For some reason,” he says in his History bio, “I stuck with it ... For me that was a source of discovery. I constantly doubted myself if I was gonna be able to make this … The more I stressed about it, the more I practised it … The harder I tried. I didn’t excel at everything. I’d say the majority of time I was just able to make it through it. Through a lot of odds.”
And he continued excelling through many more odds.
Eleven years as a SEAL. Four deployments to the Middle East. And over 115 operations in Iraq. As a sniper, Sean faced the possibility of death more times than most people will ever have to experience. As a grandson, son and brother, it was the deaths of those closest to him that changed his approach to having the best life experience.
“What’s your biggest failure?” I ask him.
Sean pauses. "I’ve had a lot of little failures. But there was a specific point in my life where I really just stopped making as many mistakes.”
He casually continues, “I was a SEAL. Deployed. Came back. Got some awards. But I didn’t really feel fulfilled within my heart and soul as much as when I just stopped making as many mistakes."
What he tells me next stops me in shock, and shocks me into a more grateful mindset.
“I was married - and it wasn't to the right person. I wasn’t the right person for her either. My father died, my mother died, my grandfather died and my sister died - all within a year of each other. And I just started thinking about all of the mistakes I would make that led to my failures. And it really just came down to a lack of thinking consciously of where I’m going in my life.”
So, after years as a sniper and re-adjusting to life outside war, Sean also had to adjust to the deaths of the very people you’d need to support you through all of this.
“And that happened in 2012. And at that moment, I got a divorce and started applying just some simple principles that my mom and my dad taught me - that any parent would teach their kids. But it really just came down to making less mistakes to not fail as big. My life actually got much better after that. The surprising part about all of it, is that it compounds on itself.
“So I just told myself four simple principles. Those simple four principles turned my life around drastically.”
He keeps talking, so I wondered if they were top secret. But a simple ask and here are Sean’s four principles, verbatim:
1. Do the right thing - all the time - which is subjective, but as long as I could feel like I'm doing the right thing, then at least I could sleep good at night. And that one, specifically, was really hard because when you deploy overseas there's no black and white. There's a lot of grey area when it comes to ethical decisions - specifically in Iraq.
While he pretty much just handed you the Ferrari of principles (Hey, Sean’s Four-rari Principles!), there’s one thing missing here: the key. So I have to dig deeper.
“The lessons that you give … Extremely simple. But it’s like losing weight. We all know what the secret is. You eat less. You eat healthier. You exercise more. But all of these simple things are not very easy for people to accept. So what’s the difference between someone like you, who can apply these things, and other people who keep searching for that secret?”
"I’ve often thought about this. So much. And the conclusion I've come to is the mentality. You know how to lose weight. But why do you want to lose weight?”
Well, apparently, you have that key. You just have to find it.
And as someone whose top Gallup strength is Futuristic, maybe Sean can help you on that journey.
“It’s so hard to navigate the right path in life. If you had 1000 steps from today until X-amount of weeks from now to get to some certain goal, the hard part is what steps do you take to get there the fastest, the most efficient, the most successful. And then how do you attract other people to you to help you along the way? And how do you help other people?”
So, like a sniper, mark your target …
“Think about where you want to be and it has to be only your thought.”
Get in your zone …
“Everything else it doesn’t matter - what anybody else is doing. It really just comes down to you really consciously thinking about where you want to be in X-amount of years. And it doesn't matter what anybody else tells you. You have to really stay extremely hard-headed.”
Have confidence in your abilities …
"Without believing that you're going to get yourself to that point ... And it really just comes down to doing the things that other people just don't want to do. And really questioning everybody around you. Why are they doing the things they're doing? Why are people telling you to do certain things?”
Commit to your duty …
"Everybody's very unique, but my recommendation would be flat-out, plain and simple: You've gotta have a sickening work ethic towards whatever that goal is. It could be to be the best ballerina in the world, and/or become a Fortune 500 CEO. You just have to be consistently hammering away at certain tasks every single day, if it takes you working 18-hour days for years. Surprisingly, it will be easier if it's something you really thought about that you love to do."
And take your shot …
“Are you a born leader or are you a made leader? I think the latter is more accurate. There's times in your life when you're thinking about where you want to go. And you have to break through brick walls of fear. And there's just this certain mindset that you have to have. And it sounds so cliché, but it's so true: You've gotta be willing to take those extreme risks to get to the next step. That may be accepting that you may die. You may lose your entire investment. But in my mind, I just kinda accepted the fact that's it's a worthy cause and if it happened I’d rather do that than nothing at all. So you've just gotta be willing to die, for lack of a better term.”
With all these lessons Sean’s been sharing, I have to find out about one more.
“What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?”
“Patience,” says the sniper ... of course.
“Nobody likes impatient people. And you can connect with people more efficiently if you're patient and open to new ideas. Because patience comes, I believe, in two forms: It's understanding that you don't know everything, so you've gotta consistently be open to new ideas. And your dream may not come tomorrow, so you've gotta be patient with the process of life.”
Right now, Sean is in the process of launching San Diego’s first organic beer company. He’s the founder and president of Protector Brewery, set to open this spring. So if you’re in the area, make sure to stop by for a beer - and raise a pint to him and his fellow brothers and sisters who serve and have served.
Who knew a former Navy SEAL sniper would go into the organic beer business? Well, the question isn’t who. The answer is why.
Because when you find your why, you will find out so much more about how capable you really are.
Remember when I was in the tank? I left out my favourite part of the story.
It’s Day 2 at about 5:30am. No one is around, except the guy outside from the tank company. Suddenly, my mask starts suctioning painfully tightly to my face. I can no longer breathe. I’m underwater. In the dark. And I can’t breathe. It’s my worst nightmare. Except, in that moment it wasn’t a nightmare at all. It was just something that was happening. I calmly swim to the glass partition between the guy and me. I get his attention. He runs to fix … something. I’m uncomfortable, but patiently wait for oxygen. I’m not sure how long I went without breathing. I’m sure it was not as long as I think, but long enough to show me that you don’t really know yourself, until you know your why. And I still have many more whys to find.
Like the old Chinese proverb goes, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
So now is your best time to find your why. And maybe when you find your why, you’ll finally get what you want - and so much more than you ever thought possible.
2/17/2017 12:02:15 pm
Awesome article! This show is amazing and like you said it's really not just a show but a tool to take you further. Been telling all my friends to watch it because it truly is life changing!
5/31/2017 08:02:38 pm
you are truly a gentleman, a humble and respectful guy. You're honest and hardworking. Watching you on the Selection and after reading this article, I couldn't resist telling you what i think!
10/1/2017 02:25:40 am
Ellos son un motor que nos dan ejemplo y fuerza!!!!
10/17/2017 02:19:32 pm
Yay for Sean Haggerty! Those life lessons sound so simple but it always shocks me how so many people don't live by honesty, integrity, or value patience. And man, I was just in SD - I'll have to stop by Protector Brewery sometime! Thanks for writing this!
10/2/2022 08:22:56 pm
Loved reading this thhanks
Leave a Reply.