Living with a SEAL: My Conversation with Jesse Itzler
Posted January 7, 2016 by Ryan Estis in Performance
‘How many pull-ups can you do?’ I did 8. After 30 seconds, I did 6 more. After 30 more seconds, I did 3 or 4 more, barely getting over the bar. I was done.
He told me we weren’t leaving until I did 100 more. I thought that would be impossible.
Jesse Itzler passed that test and 100 more pull-ups later, the lesson was clear: “We are capable of so much more.”
Jesse is no stranger to breaking through barriers — he’s a serial entrepreneur who thinks outside the box. Since his early 20s, he’s been finding success in unexpected places and knocking it out of the park. He’s rapped on MTV, founded Marquis Jet, and sold to Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets. He brought coconut water to the U.S. and sold the company, Zico, to Coca-Cola. He runs ultra-marathons and now is an owner of the Atlanta Hawks.
At the peak of his interesting, successful, happy life, he diagnosed a rut. “I was in a great place professionally, but I was also in a routine. I was doing the same thing every day, and I just wanted to get off autopilot.”
So Jesse asked a Navy Seal to live with him and his family for 31 days of training. Seal agreed, on one condition: Jesse would do anything Seal told him to do, any time he was told.
Here’s a short video of Jesse describing his decision to hire Seal:
Jesse blogged through the experience and subsequently published the book “Living With A Seal” documenting the grueling and often hilarious experience of training with “the toughest man on the planet.” They ran through snow storms in the middle of the night, jumped into a frozen lake, suffered in steam rooms and did lots and lots of pull-ups.
I couldn’t put the book down and I also couldn’t wait to talk to Jesse about the whole experience. Our recent conversation spans the spectrum of his eclectic and wildly successful business career to his inflection point of hiring a Navy Seal and the valuable insight gained every step of the way.
While reading the book I couldn’t help but consider: “How much more am I capable of?”. The answer, according to Seal, is about 60% more. Trust me, if you’re ready to shake things up and accomplish epic shit in 2016, the book is a great read. Here are few highlights from my conversation with Jesse.
On Entrepreneurship: “We Are the Business Plan.”
Jesse is relentless and has the unique ability to convince people to bet on him. “I’ve always been a ‘get your foot in the door early and figure it out later’ kind of guy,” he says. When he got a meeting with NetJets, he and his partner “didn’t have a business plan. We were the business plan.”
That requires incredible self-confidence. “Great entrepreneurs don’t ask other people for validation about their ideas. They have the self-confidence to just figure it out as they go instead of getting stuck in the research and the data.”
When he thinks about Marquis Jet, he says that it “had nothing to do with private jets. It had to do with recognizing a need that would make my life better.” That principle has applied to every professional venture he’s touched. “I had no experience in any of the industries I got into. It’s all about finding a good opportunity, smelling it out, hiring a good team around you, figuring it out once you’re in there. Sometimes when you don’t have any experience, you don’t do things the way everyone else was taught to do them.”
Jesse didn’t need experience to succeed — and neither do you. However, he does visualize success: “I’ve always had a movie in my head about my life,” he says. “I always knew I’d be involved with a basketball team, that I’d be independent, that I’d write a book. It’s all about visualization. If you don’t have your own movie in your head from the beginning, it’s probably not going to happen. The script isn’t there — you write it as you go — but the outline, the plot, is there.”
A Bucket List and a “Fuck It” List
Jesse is a person who pushes himself past his limits. He has a bucket list that looks a lot like most people’s, including mine — places he wants to go, fun things he wants to do. But then he also has what he calls a “Fuck It” list. “It’s stuff I don’t want to do, but I’m going to do it anyway.” Extreme races. Riding his bike across the country. Things he wants to put on his resume that will provide a real challenge and personal journey.
He recognizes the window of opportunity to attack the “Fuck It” list is shrinking and he also shared that list provides a much deeper level of fulfillment and self awareness than a bucket list could. I had never heard of a “Fuck It” list but it makes sense to me. We grow the most during times of incredible challenge and adversity. Being intentional about inviting challenges into our lives can prove to be a catalyst for transformation.
Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
When Jesse invited Seal to come live with him, they agreed on two things: Jesse would do everything Seal said. And nothing was off-limits. “He wanted me to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says. Seal definitely succeeded there. “He got me out of my comfort zone, broke up my routine and made me realize that when your soul and spirit feel better, you’re more productive in all your buckets.”
“Uncomfortable” really doesn’t do justice to the misery Jesse endured during the training and I couldn’t help but wonder, at what point would I have quit? Or, why didn’t he? “As I learned that I had more in my reserve tank I wanted to find out how much more,” he told me.
Getting uncomfortable also produces some incredible results quickly. It doesn’t mean you need to hire a Navy Seal, but there are things anyone can do everyday to break up the routine and break through to the next level.
The 40% Rule
In the video at the beginning of this post, Jesse explains the 40% rule — when our brain tells us we can’t go on, we’re really only 40% done. We have more in our reserve tank. “I thought I was operating at a super high level before, but once I started raising my bar, I realized I wasn’t operating at a high enough level for me. My baseline now is higher than it was a year ago. I can approach things with more confidence. My challenges are bigger.”
Learning Cumulative Time
One of the areas Seal helped him with was planning and time management. Like so many of us, Jesse reached a point where he had lost control of his time and schedule. His time with Seal elevated his discipline and he learned new ways to prepare for each day to accomplish more. He learned to use spare minutes to get more done — a few sets of push-ups between meetings, for example. “My days became cumulative. I’d use the whole day to complete my tasks rather than trying to cross things off my list,” he says.
I think it’s important to mention that Jesse didn’t take 31 days off work for this training. He had meetings, traveled and conducted business as usual with Seal by his side. The sets of burpees between meetings were hilarious reading but also proved to provide a valuable takeaway lesson. Jesse commented that he now “feels like I get 28 hours each day.”
The Accountability Mirror
This time of year, a lot of us are making resolutions. Not many of us keep them for more than a few weeks. I asked Jesse his advice for everyone who’s making a New Year’s resolution. He uses what he calls an “accountability mirror.”
“We’re all born with some level of mental toughness. You have to look into your accountability mirror and hold yourself accountable. The hardest thing is being consistently disciplined. When it’s hard, when you’re tired, that’s when you have to tap into the 40% rule. You can’t take a day off.”
No surprise, Jesse isn’t finished passing tests and you are invited to join him. Check out his new #2016ofEVERYTHING challenge on Twitter:
— Jesse Itzler (@the100MileMan) January 4, 2016
Ryan Estis helps companies and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance. Each live event blends original research with compelling stories that move participants to take action. Ryan has 20 years of business experience working with the world’s best brands to initiate change, inspire innovation and deliver growth. Learn more about Ryan Estis.
About The Author
Ryan Estis is a Keynote Speaker & Management Consultant blogging about business performance.
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