Have you heard of this guy, Jocko Willink?

If not, here’s his official bio from his latest book:

Jocko Willink is a decorated retired Navy SEAL officer. He was a Navy SEAL for twenty years and was the commander of SEAL Team Three, Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated Special Operations Unit of the Iraq War.  Now Jocko teaches leadership, strategy, tactics, fitness, and jiu-jitsu to people all over the world.

His Instagram feed is simultaneously terrifying, demoralizing, and inspiring. He posts pictures of his watch, showing the time he wakes up—always before five in the morning.  Yes, even on Saturday and Sunday.  Upon waking, he completes a workout in his garage gym that would leave me weeping in a ball on the floor if I could physically complete even half of it.

Follow this guy’s career and you’ll quickly come to two conclusions: (1) If these are the people protecting our country, we can all sleep easy at night, and (2) You’re the laziest, weakest person on the planet.

This week, Mr. Willink’s new book, Way of the Warrior Kid, was released.  It’s a short novel written for kids about Marc, a fifth grader whose Navy SEAL Uncle helps him transform over the summer from a weak, bullied kid who can’t swim to a warrior.

It’s a fantastic little book, full of inspirational gems. Uncle Jake, the Navy SEAL, makes clear to Marc that being a warrior isn’t just about military fighting.  It’s a code of conduct you write for yourself, a philosophy of living that prizes hard work, discipline, and humility.  It’s a call for empowerment, about how each of us can make things happen instead of letting things happen to us.

During the school year, Marc is humiliated in front of his entire class when he can’t complete a single pull-up during gym. One of the book’s main plot lines is his ongoing quest to complete ten pull-ups.  Under his Uncle Jake’s tutelage, he’s up early every morning, working out in his garage, strengthening his body—and his mind—toward his goal.

It got me wondering about my own physical capabilities. I’m in decent shape and get moderate exercise most days.  I was absolutely certain I couldn’t do a full pull-up, but I figured I’d be able to pull myself up a bit, and flattered myself into thinking I could do a chin-up.


My parents have a pull-up bar in their basement, and I went down to test my strength. I didn’t even attempt to pull up my full dead weight from the beginning—I just jumped up and tried to hold myself above the bar.

I fell like a boulder sinking into a pond. My knees hit the floor and my arms went completely slack.  Forget trying to lift myself, I could just barely hang onto the bar.

It was truly pathetic.

But really, who cares? I make my living sitting at a desk, my cholesterol is good, and I can go up and down stairs without becoming winded.

What does it matter if I can’t do a pull-up?

And yet, somehow I can hear Uncle Jake whispering in my ear. As he says to Marc once he has triumphantly completed ten pull-ups, “This isn’t just about pull-ups. You know what this is about?  This is about everything.  Hard work and discipline are how you achieve things.  And that is exactly what you did here, and what you can do with almost anything in life.”

So I’m on a quest to do ten pull-ups, just like my fictional fifth-grader friend Marc. I have no pull-up bar, and my lack of strength has been documented.  But I’m going to make a plan and execute it.

Maybe I’ll succeed and maybe I’ll fail. But it seems to me the living is in the growing.  That if I can achieve ten pull-ups when it seems impossible, then maybe that means I can publish a novel, and write a dozen more, and all the other goals I set my mind to.

And I’m pretty certain Uncle Jake would tell me failure isn’t an option. So I’ll revise my statement about maybe succeeding and maybe failing, to say instead:

This June I turn thirty-six. I will complete ten pull-ups before I turn thirty-seven.

And when I do I’ll publish part two of this post.