The Secret to Doing the Impossible.

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.        



3 Responses to “The Secret to Doing the Impossible.”

  1. Gina Robinson Says:

    I like it.

  2. Doris Hayes Gibson Says:

    What a wonderful story, Michael… Such inspiration and courage! We all should live this way. Reminds me of the forgiveness my parents offered the young man who killed my 13-year-old brother so many years ago. And they never brought it up in conversation again. They forgave and, in turn, received healing to their broken hearts.

    Determination is something I’ve been learning so much of as of late. I am struggling, but I am determined. And I have to add that your blogs have been a great source of encouragement for me. Thank you, my friend!

  3. Pam Gurule Says:

    What an inspiring blog. How easy to forget life’s true beauty, and the depth of the human heart.

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