Jocko Willink is an intense guy.
Jocko is a former Navy Seal who served in the Iraq War. He came home, wrote a few books, did a few TED Talks and now runs a podcast.
Jocko says the same thing when he is faced with a problem, “good.” He means it. His philosophy is that problems give us unique opportunities to learn. Problems expose weaknesses that can be corrected. Problems give us second chances and time to develop resources.
Jocko’s problems are different than mine. He has Navy Seal problems. I have suburban Denver problems. But the concept is the same; if a setback presents itself, we are posed with a unique opportunity to get better. Our response now might mean we never have to face this issue again. We’ll be vaccinated against an outbreak of this problem in the future.
This philosophy conflicts with our lives today. No matter your circumstance, lives are busy. I was discussing this very fact with a friend who also has two young children. He agreed, saying “my life is a non-stop sprint from the moment I wake up until 10pm.” This is everyone. We all have a life chock-full of things every waking minute. There are always too many things. I have to-do lists. I have a Google Calendar. I need to get 10,000 steps today.
There aren’t moments for reflection. There isn’t room for failure. The idea of a setback is terrifying because there are so many things to do. Life is a big supply chain, with everyone else waiting to receive my inputs before they can begin their task. I don’t have time for problems. The business doesn’t have time for problems. The idea is that we are right the first time. My supply chain feeds your supply chain.
But life does not care about my time. Failures and setbacks are inevitable. Life has the uncanny ability to keep pushing forward, despite our setbacks.
This is particularly salient with regards to our health. “Health care” is not to be confused with “wellness.” Health care, for many, is the sum of the services we take advantage of at the worst moments.
We don’t access health care when things are going well. Something must be off. The kicker is that when a disease is finally manifesting itself, it is often in its most pernicious state. It’s also a late state in the game. And then we poignantly realize the difference between “setback” and “life-altering.”
True wellness is a lifelong, multi-factorial, everyday movement. Wellness allows us to check our progress during healthy periods. Wellness allows us reflection and exploration of alternatives. The Affordable Care Act made preventive care available at zero cost to members. We have access to screenings, yearly check-ups, lab work and clinical advice. What this does, in Jocko’s parlance, is give us the opportunities to develop solutions at an early stage. Good. Now we make changes:
My A1C is elevated. Good. This is a setback. This confirms I need to change my diet. I am grateful that I have the health literacy to understand this clinical marker. I am fortunate in that I can make behavioral changes before things become dire. I have this awareness now. Good. This can help prolong my life and stave off dialysis, which would be life-altering. I can be the best version of myself for my wife and kids.
I have a torn labrum in my shoulder. Good. This is a setback. Now I know I must keep it strong and be more careful. More caution will also have the downstream effect of preserving the rest of my body. I had surgery and it didn’t work. Good. Now I know that recovery is in my control. I do not have to waste more time and energy seeking invasive care. I am lucky that I have just a torn labrum. A more serious injury would be life-altering. I’m fortunate to have had the insurance, resources and access to address it.
Wellness has given me a second chance. Health care might not have been as forgiving.
Anyone who is interesting has had setbacks. Anyone who has achieved greatness will have had even more setbacks. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Walt Disney was fired from an animation job because he “lacked imagination.” J.K. Rowling used to live in poverty.
Being vulnerable and acknowledging our failures as opportunities is necessary. It teaches humility and induces change. I can bring down my A1C through dietary changes and exercise. I can’t un-do diabetes. I can take care of my shoulder by keeping it strong and being cautious. I can’t un-do a spinal injury.
Life has the miraculous trait of marching along. It is our job to try to keep pace.
So, as Jocko would say:
Find your problems. Find your opportunities. Be the best version of yourself.