Archive for June, 2012

The Secret to Doing the Impossible.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2012 by michaelcogdill

Eric Greitens taught me this secret.  He doesn’t know it, but he did.  I believe he’s taught it to scores of people he’ll never meet or know.  In teaching it, he forged me a clearer lens on what my life ought to be about — what it’s been about all along.  I just couldn’t see it so well.


He clearly wants us all to learn this.  So do I, for to know this secret – and to execute it — is to grow a taproot deep into who we were all born to become. 


This will alter you.  It altered Eric Greitens.  I found his secret nicely tucked away in his brilliant memoir, The Heart and the Fist.


Eric Greitens became a Navy Seal.  He volunteered to throw himself against the rock-hard ground of the toughest military training in the world.  He did this instead of reclining into the soft yet deeply noble gray matter of teaching at Oxford.  He turned down a high-dollar consultancy on the heels of his study as a Rhodes Scholar. 


He, instead, sought to become an even greater, more honestly courageous, compassionately toughened version of himself.  He has continued to live for humanitarian service that took early root in his life.


Above all his wisdom, which would fill volumes, the secret to his success distills from this.


During Seal training, Greitens had to swim 50 meters — no small achievement for even the most conditioned athlete.  Yet when a man has to swim 50 meters underwater, without a solitary surface pause for breath, the idea of impossibility begins to surface.


Halfway through the swim, the solitary breath he took before hitting the water simply wore out.  His lungs revolted.  His mind tried to join that revolution, seeking to pull him to the surface to gasp wind and failure of the task.


Lesser souls would panic.  Panic is the logical act, a survivor’s deed when a body faces drowning halfway through what feels like an unbearable, genuinely impossible 25 meters more.


Instead, Greitens wrestled panic to the floor of his thinking.  Not allowing his heart rate to  soar, he settled his mind on the idea of calm, denied fear the hold it sought on him.  He recognized that to react as his mind wanted is the very act of failure – death for some people who decide to panic rather than focus their energy on survival.  Most of us would flail in horror deep in that water.  Eric Greitens did not. 


He soon touched the other side of the pool, gulping wind but triumphant, ever closer to becoming the Navy Seal who would deploy 4 times and win the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, serving his country and his fellow human race with stirring compassion and courage.


This essay is no call to swim 50 meters underwater.  An agonizing spate of training leads a Seal in the making to being ready for that test.


Instead, Greitens experience calls us all to recognize that panic, the old flight-or-fight run amok within us, is in our way.  It hardens us off from the veins of greatness within us.  In my work in television, watching people cut a path through crushingly hard times, I’ve witnessed the misery of flailing reactivity.  I’ve seen it make the worst of news. On the other hand, the serenity and courage of resolute calm – this is the stuff of greatness.  I’ve seen it.  I have shaken its hand.


When his wife and two children were killed in a crash with an SUV. Daniel Rivera didn’t panic.  He didn’t react with contempt for the young man behind the wheel of that SUV.  He instead called the young man’s family and sent a message of peace and forgiveness, telling the mom he didn’t want that young man carrying the weight of death throughout his life.  Daniel Rivera became a close and dear friend to that mom and the young man.  His serenity, his devotion to calm, meant he did not go down into malice and suffocating self-victimizing.  In my interview with him, Daniel Rivera tearfully reminded our audience that he would lean upon his faith.  He would do this rather than coiling against the worst of our nature for a life of lashing out.  I have never felt such peace off a man.  It thrummed from his voice and his entire being.  He stands among the great heroes of my career in television storytelling.


To hurt is human.  We’re wired for pangs of terror.  Yet we can change this wiring.  We can catalyze our lives, instead, with ways of a U.S. Navy Seal.  They are physically powerful, yes.  Trained beyond all others, they’re this, too.  Yet as I put in my daily hours and miles of working out and running to stay young, Eric Greitens has taught me the secret of staying truly strong. 


Surrendering to serenity, resolving to keep heart and mind at calm, with a devotion to serving causes greater than the self – in these acts are found the great forces of a powerful legacy.  Life hits us in waves, some of them full of mad froth and mountain-high.  But in the fortitude of not reacting, not panicking, are we able to carry on, to achieve what looks impossible. 


Kept in this secret we do not drown.        


Experience of the West Wing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 13, 2012 by michaelcogdill

The American Presidency transcends politics. For all the political warring to get and stay there, the essential matter of the Presidency itself stands untouched by the ideological fracas. To spend only a few hours working in the West Wing and other parts of the White House is to feel the reason.

The reporters of the White House press corps – grinding through deadline-whipping work days in the briefing room and their sardine-can work space behind it – hold a reverence for the sense of their place in the world. In their constitutionally guarded role as the watchdog Fourth Estate — advocating, ideally, only for the whole truth – the reporters assigned to the White House clearly know their ears and fingers are pressed against a major artery. I stood through a briefing, watching them feel the pulse of the American experience. Exhausted, overwhelmingly competitive and stressed, yes, they are those. But they’re more than respectful, even when firing hard questions from the howitzer that is a major media outlet. They work, day after long day, in a quiet awe of that hallowed ground. It’s the White House. The gestalt feel of the words and the workings of that place remind each of us of American ideals. As I questioned Jay Carney at that daily briefing, I was struck by the calling of statesmanship to each of us. To every American.

I was blessed to stand in the cabinet room to interview President Obama. Surrounding him and the intangible force that is the Presidency is an enormous human orbit of protection, advisement, but also the sense of knowingness. I talked with him struck by what the President and his close circle know that you and I will not. The threats mined by U.S. intelligence stream under the doors and over the transoms of the West Wing day and night. To serve there is to know and act on these threats, knowing parents will put their children to bed that night assuming the inner workings of the United States will safeguard them. This is but one reality of the job. To serve as President, regardless of party, is to wield the prestige of the office in honor and ceremony of the finest of humanity while, at once, knowing and acting upon the malignant intent of the worst.

The White House is a rigorously formal Georgian mansion stocked with history by the century. The eyes of Presidents who’ve known the awe of the job watch over it from large portraits in high-ceiling rooms whose windows aperture onto monumental views. But the White House also harbors a family – currently one with two young daughters and a Portuguese water dog. They live behind high fences, guarded by full-kitted men and women who watch out for them with guns and responsibility of the highest power and weight. The evening I and other reporters were working there on the South Lawn, we saw the highly armored Presidential motorcade assemble at the south door. Word whispered into my ear that the Obamas that night were going to young Sasha’s 8th grade graduation. For all the family’s effort at normalcy, at keeping Sasha and Malia at long distance from cameras, the awesomeness of the American Presidency follows them. They all must wear its breastplate wherever they go. This reminds all who see the effects of it about the significance of America. It tells us our place in the world comes with a responsibility far more enormous than partisanship.

The West Wing is a workplace. To work there for only a few hours as I did is to feel and appreciate this. I sat for a quick lunch with policy advisor David Plouffe only a few feet from the door of the Situation Room, and found myself moved deeply by the service symbolized by every grain of wood that lines the walls. Men and women for generations have given of themselves to the American Presidency, and, thus, to you and me. They sacrifice deeply for it, in ways even the Fourth Estate will not fully know, no matter how dutifully we try. Such service – and the charge that comes with it – is neither left wing nor right wing. It is, simply, the West Wing of the American Presidency, the American experience – yours and mine.