Late to the “Goggins” party, an acquaintance gave me a copy of Can’t Hurt Me. The book provides a stark, non-apologetic, and inspiring telling of David Goggins’ life. Mainly, the book gives context to the idea that the mind can overcome the body as Goggins is proof. It requires a deep dive into the book for complete impact, as the context proves important.
The portrait painted by Goggins’ early life seemed reminiscent of my own in description. Early 80’s boxy cars, lack of cell phones, and roller rinks. Though Goggins’ father was physically and mentally abusive to him, his brother, and his mother. His father a drug dealer, human trafficker, and a narcissist; he was a controlling and violent man. Goggins recounts his father telling him to “take his clothes off,” initiating the anticipation of being whipped with the “belt.” But these beatings when far beyond a mere paddling. They often resulted in bruising and welts, making sitting and sleeping improbable.
Goggins and his mother escaped, moving to Brazil, Indiana, with next to nothing. A high point of Goggins’ childhood occurs when his mother tells him they don’t have enough money for rent, food, or gas. Young David remembers a jar of change they had saved at the direction of his grandfather. He and his mother were able to pay rent, put gas in the car, and have enough for dessert: a meager event, yet a highlight of a young boy’s trauma-filled life.
Goggin’s, not being academically gifted, had trouble in school. He relied on cheating to get by. He and his mother had a typical parent/teen relationship. At one juncture, they argued, resulting in his banishment from the house. He stayed away for ten days. She called him to notify him of a letter that she had received from the school. He was flunking out, and his mother thought he should know. In disgrace, Goggins headed home.
Something in him changed when he became honest with himself about his station in life. “You are one dumb mother fucker. You read like a third-grader. You’re a fucking joke!” Goggins told himself.
Many would crumble at this self-directed blast, but it meant something different to him. He alone was in charge of his life. Goggins took on complete accountability, ultimate ownership of how his life would turn out at this point.
The Lure of the Impossible
In early adulthood, Goggins worked as a pest control technician. Deep in depression and living on autopilot, he plodded through his mundane life. One such morning, after his all-night shift, he visited his mother for his “staple” breakfast. This breakfast would normally include six biscuits, a half dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, and two bowls of fruity pebbles. Goggins was nearly three-hundred pounds, at this point, and had the appetite to match.
After breakfast, from the other room, he was lured. On TV, a show on Basic Underwater Demolition (BUDs) training for Navy Seals, during its legendary hell-week. During hell week, a BUDs trainee is put through the most physically demanding training in the military. Goggins was drawn in, compelled. Goggins was inspired writing, “They were about pride, dignity and the type of excellence that came from bathing in fire, getting beat the fuck down, and going back for more, again and again.”
Goggins became obsessed with the idea of becoming a Navy Seal. Obsessed with the idea of becoming what was referred to in the show as “the toughest in the world”. He called recruiters for three weeks, laughed off the phone at each turn. Finally, he was seen. At almost three-hundred pounds, many would have scoffed at the sight of him. The recruiter gave him the news. He had ninety days to lose one-hundred pounds – impossible.
Goggins, accepting the impossible, began a daily routine beginning at 5:00 am, including a two-hour bike ride while he studied for the entrance exam (ASVAB), a two-hour swim, a few hours at the gym, and another two-hour bike ride. Soon Goggins was running six miles daily, biking twenty miles, and swimming for two hours. His commitment to the impossible task of losing one-hundred pounds in such a short time is further exemplified by the following story. One night after a workout in which he shorted his pull-up goal by one, he headed home. Riddled with guilt, he returned to the gym to begin the whole workout again, in the end, completing it in its entirety.
We’ve all had these moments with ourselves, and we’ve probably all done something similar to what Goggins did here. We punished ourselves for taking a shortcut. But instead of perceiving it as a punishment, Goggins looked at it as a core element of who he would become. He would always demand more and always follow through on his commitments. Further, this was key to achieving the impossible. And if he let himself back down this time, it would be that much easier the next. The impossible was his chosen destination.
The Role of Failure
Goggins’ story is not one of blessed success. To my surprise, there is more than its share of failure and more recent than expected. Early on, he did not pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) the first time. Embarrassingly enough, this was one of the main struggles in getting into BUDs training. The hundred-pound weight loss was hardly a challenge compared to the academic side of the equation.
The hell-week highlighted in the show inspiring the journey became an even longer stay in hell for Goggins as it took him three times to satisfactorily make it through.
Now known yet for his ultramarathon track record, Goggins’ first attempt at one-hundred miles landed him in the hospital. Covered in urine and his own feces, beginning to go into what seemed to be liver failure, he finished the run. But the embarrassment and the pain only furthered his desire to callous his body and mind.
More recently, Goggins attempted to break the world record for pull-ups completed in twenty-four hours. He would do this on the Today show (of all places) to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Goggins had the process well thought out. The target was 4,020 pull-ups in 24 hours. He knew how many pull-ups needed to be completed in each minute. He trained well, but this was uncovered territory. There was no clear training program for him to adhere to. The fanfare, the lack of privacy, the bar itself’s sway, and the improper preparation all played a role in Goggins’ failure. With social media in full-effect, the haters came out to shame his failure. But Goggins embraced the pain of failure just like any other he had experienced.
Within two months, he attempted the record again. He trained harder, applying what he had learned. His hands were too torn up to continue this time, and he completed even fewer pull-ups than during the initial attempt. Again, with the fanfare around the charity event, this was a very public failure. He vowed to be back on the bar in his typical form to complete the record in two months. And this third attempt would see him break the world record, completing 4,030.
Goggins embraced failure. Where there were barriers, he focused on and overcame. Here, he stands as proof of what happens when you confront failures and work through them. Many of us live in fear of public failures, let alone dealing with failure in our own minds. Goggins would not let himself fail in the end. He did what he had to do, even after multiple public failures.
For many of us, hearing this should feel liberating. We should seek out failure, for it often marks the correct path for the journey of our lives. The role of failure in life should not be shrouded in shame. Instead, it should be the curriculum for mapping our destination.
Dissolution and Integrity
Goggins took on his first platoon assignment for two years. His OIC had coached him that part of being a SEAL was to spend time with the rest of the platoon in off-hours. But he wasn’t interested in the social aspect of the SEALs. He wanted to continue to prepare for the next challenge. The comments from this OIC made him feel like he was asking him to just be “one of the boys.” Goggins was not amused. He felt he was being asked to prove himself in the social theatre, and he had no interest in this. His focus and hard work got him where he was. It was clear that Goggins was part of the team, but not the “brotherhood,” as he puts it.
Goggins did as he was ordered, however. He was incredibly disillusioned by this situation. He started looking outside of the SEALs to find new challenges. He didn’t want to become a “vanilla Navy SEAL” (an oxymoron at best). He wanted to join the toughest fighting force in the world. He, himself, wanted to be the toughest in the world. And after his first platoon, he would find his next challenge.
Goggins joined Army Rangers training, often a punishment imposed on the prestigious SEALs as a punishment. It was no punishment for Goggins, rather just the punishment he was looking for. Ranger training was different. There was no rest, no going home at the end of the day. Instead, they were in it, twenty-four hours a day. Spending time in the Appalachian Mountains during the winter and surviving freezing cold temperatures. After 69 days of training, Goggins graduated as “Enlisted Honor Man,” scoring 100% on his review. Instead of taking time off, an emaciated Goggins (losing fifty-six pounds during the training) went straight on to his second SEAL platoon.
Because of his status attained in the Ranger program, Goggins became the platoon’s physical training leader. He recalls trying to come up with “evil” ways to get his platoon feeling the pain. The workouts began at five am and were torturous. Goggins’ OIC pulled him aside and essentially told him to lay off a bit. He was almost insulted, certainly disheartened by the comment. Goggins was there simply for the opportunity to become even harder and now bring his men along with this. He continued to the early workouts, though they became optional. But because he was so bent on challenging himself and getting “harder,” he was disillusioned and began looking elsewhere for his next challenge.
Goggins was disappointed in the fact that many of his peers had the mindset that they had simply arrived. They didn’t seem to feel that any further toughness needed to be developed. This is where Goggins goes his own way. This is where his integrity shines. David Goggins was not after a title or an achievement associated with the Navy Seals or an Army Ranger’s prestige. He set out to be the “hardest man in the world.” Many consider him in this status. Still, he seeks pain to be overcome, continuing to develop and callous his body and mind.
Goggins set his sights on the Army’s special operations force, DELTA. He departed from the SEALs to take part in the DELTA screening process. Goggins, renewed in his desire for a challenge, was motivated to get through what would be his third elite screening in his military career. He did not make it due to an injury due to the final test.
As Goggins’ mom would say, he’ll certainly try that again.
Overall, this is an awesome book providing a schematic of what perseverance looks like. The only criticism that I could offer is that some of the language used could be perceived as sexist or misogynistic. It is what one may expect from the patriarchal history of the military and its culture.
The main moral of the book is that the mind is stronger than the body. Goggins demonstrates this for us time and time again. He made it through BUDs running on broken legs. Also, he ran the Las Vegas marathon a day after he couldn’t run a mile and could hardly walk. He writes about the importance of having a calloused mind and body.
Much of the extremity of his feats came at the expense of his body breaking down as it has for Goggins many times.
Also, our failures often show us the way is illustrated many times in the book. Goggins could have just not even tried to lose one-hundred pounds in ninety days. That is a daunting feat. He could have also given up after the first failure at hell-week during BUDs training. His knee was effectively destroyed. He could have also given up after the second failure. And when he actually made it through, one of his teammates died during the training as a result of hell-week. But Goggins had his sights set increasingly higher. Wherever there was a failure, it pointed in the direction of his life.
When we are bogged down in the pain of the moment, and we want to quit (running, freezing, taking the pain), we ask ourselves certain questions. Why am I doing this? Who do I think I am? I’m going to die/freeze/get injured/be embarrassed/etc. You must know yourself well enough to know the answers to these questions.
And finally, many of the people in our lives attempt to protect us from injury and direct us not to take on certain things. This holds us back. Often, the people we love the most can hold us back. We should not allow them to do this. In fact, we should ask them for their support. Ask them to believe in your mission. Let them know how critical it is to achieving your goals or getting through what you’re currently dealing with. Don’t let people’s concerns hold you back from your dreams.
I was hesitant to read this book. First, I’ve never heard of Goggins before receiving this book. I asked for some context, was told he was an ultra-marathon runner. I envisioned him as he describes this type in the book: “Granola, eating, professorial looking.” I typically don’t read this type of book. But it has managed to inspire me beyond my wildest ideations. It has reminded me of things that I have known and since forgotten. I have seen it work in my life since I’ve completed the book. I’ve got to recommend the AudioBook. Goggins sits down with his co-author to have a podcast-like conversation before and after each chapter. Some more context and life are given to some of the stories, making them more relevant and human.
Highly, highly, highly recommended read whether you’re a student, leader, professional, man or woman.