You’ve Probably Been “Taking Souls” Before Goggins Made it a Thing
An accidental read that shifted my thinking towards better is David Goggin’s book named Can’t Hurt Me. He has a reputation for being the world’s toughest man alive. Only a shallow dive into his story shows you why. Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL who holds some unreal accomplishments to his name. He endured three “hell weeks” in one year, finished an ultra-marathon while running on broken legs, with this the first of many races to come.
Goggins is no trust fund baby. He grew up in an abusive household during the disco era in Buffalo where he involuntarily worked night shifts at his dad’s skating rink. Lack of sleep caught up with him during the day, negatively impacting his school results. As he says, he should’ve been a statistic. In a bug extermination job he held in his twenties, he found the “mother of all cockroaches” in a restaurant so dirty, that he quit his job then and there, and committed to turning it all around.
On my daily pre-lockdown walk, I never left home without an audiobook. Can’t Hurt Me is available on Audible and narrated, with radio-show-like conversation gluing chapters of his memoir together. The man’s climb from bottom-of-the-gutter to most badass MF is unlikely to leave you indifferent. How can we take what this man accomplished and apply it to our lives?
One of the concepts Goggins talks about is the 40 Percent Rule: when we think we’ve exhausted the tank, we’re only at 40%. There’s 60% more left to drain. We’re capable of much more than we try to get out of ourselves, physically and mentally. Through suffering and choosing to endure at all cost, he discovered that we’re leaving tons on the table, either by giving up too soon or not even trying at all.
Reflecting on my life, I recall moments where I applied another of the concepts he talks about: “taking souls”. Defining moments in his military training were where he had to complete a sequence of activities while fully clothed in the pool within a given time. His bully of a trainer was underwater with him. This trainer detested his guts and didn’t make Goggins’ training easy.
Goggins used to fear the water. Refusing to back down, he dug deep into his mind to overcome the underwater drills. Still underwater, the trainer gestured at him to hurry up as he was running out of breath. Goggins fed on the trainer’s struggle, so he loosened up and took his time. The trainer couldn’t hold it anymore and went up for air. The moment he did so, Goggins knew he won this back-and-forthgoing mental battle. He had taken his soul.
When I visited China for one semester, I came unarmed with knowledge of the local language. I didn’t even know how to say “yes” or “no”. The first two weeks of my stay I had time to explore. Then classes started.
The first few weeks I struggled with how different Mandarin is constructed. It made no sense to me. In that third week, I had to read a sentence out loud. Instead of correctly using the word “friend” in a sentence, I messed up and accidentally said “boyfriend”. What followed was a blunt eruption of laughter. I felt disrespected. I look around at all these laughing faces and felt naked, ashamed, and angry. I snarked at them in a not so polite manner.
This moment was a turning point. Fuming with anger (how dare they laugh at me like that), my mindset changed. “Now you did it. Just wait and see”. No one knew I had started a war. It all took place in my mind.
Before this incident, I was giving myself excuses. “Mandarin is too hard”. “You’re doing your best. You’re trying”. Lies! Blatant lies. I was trying to get off easy. Before arriving in China I wanted to immerse myself in Mandarin, but I underestimated how much effort it would take. Getting ridiculed in class enlightened a bush fire within my soul. I started to take it dead seriously. I pledged there and then to study like a motherfucker and “show them”. So that’s what I did.
From that day onward, I excelled in Mandarin class. I was determined and obsessed. I never skipped a class and always arrived on time. Straight after class, whereas others went out to party or hang, I went to my dorm to study and practice my Mandarin. To read texts in the workbook, work on copied handouts by the teacher, or go through interactive exercises by for example taking pictures of street signs that contained words we were taught in class that day. I practiced writing hanzi, the characters, for hours on end, on average four to five, uninterrupted, until either my wrist hurt so badly, or my head pounded from information-saturation, that I just had to call it a day.
The end of the semester was here. I aced the final test and got the highest score in the class. One classmate remarked, “You always get good grades”. I thought, well of course, and responded with “I study”. It was a simple as that. I put in the work, day in, day out. The only exception being when I couldn’t leave the bed (or bathroom) due to severe food poisoning or lung infections.
Taking someone’s soul feels good. Especially when a person thinks you might not be able to pull it off, for whatever reason.
At a previous job, I was (per always), the calmer, more quiet person. Volunteers were needed from every sub-department. For the sake of team-building, someone higher up decided the whole floor should get together and hold a fun presentation in front of the other forty-ish humans.
I volunteered, because I like to extend myself beyond my comfort zone. My colleague and I prepped extensively. On the day itself, I was hella nervous. They weren’t. When it was my turn to speak, I nodded and paused for a few seconds. I looked around the room into the faces of all these humans and then thought, f&ck it, let’s go. And delivered with flair. Surprisingly, I didn’t stumble on any of my words. I remember the look on one colleague’s face who sat in the audience when I was finished. They were smiling at me and I could read a “You did thát. Didn’t expect that”.
Maybe I didn’t take their soul, but I could see that I climbed the steps on their ladder of respect. And it felt good.
As Goggins states in a Joe Rogan interview, he wanted others to know “This MF is gonna keep coming at whatever is in front of him”.
When in your life do you continue when everyone thinks you will lose, when you build respect from peers up from zero, or when you think you cannot go on? If there’s no one’s soul to take, keep in mind the 40% rule.
Goggins is inspirational, but his story isn’t about getting inspired. No one came to save him. His trenches-to-unhurtable story has nothing to do with motivation. He realized he didn’t like what he had become walked towards his pain and fears instead of away from it.