12 Character Traits That BUDS Training Taught Me to Succeed in Life

If asked to spot a Navy SEAL in a crowded ballroom, the odds would be in my favor. Why? He would be the one guy with a swirling air of confidence, an air of not needing to be noticed, and a vertical posture. He would be listening, yet rarely speaking, and confident that he would win no matter the odds.

Yes, a Navy SEAL is all those things, but at what cost?

I graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUD/S) training almost 48 years ago. What remains impressive is that BUD/S is virtually the same today as it was back then. There are still only three phases. Hell week is still five-and-half days of misery, during which each trainee or “tadpole” (baby frog wanting to become a frogman) sleeps only about four hours but runs more than 200 miles and engages in physical training for more than 20 hours. Dropout rates are still about 70%. The obstacle courses remain almost identical, and so on.

That being said, looking back, I can think of 12 evident characteristics that BUD/S taught me, which helped me to succeed later in life…and may help you spot a frogman in a crowd:

  1. Win a Few, Learn a Few: Hell week was constantly racing and competition. As one of the worst swimmers in BUD/S Class 89, I knew firsthand what it felt like NOT to win. Rather than giving up or feeling sorry for myself, I attempted to take that negative energy to become the best swimmer I could be. I did not compare my skills (or lack of skills) with anyone else. In other words, I sought only to be the best version of myself.
  2. The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday: I was blessed to be in BUD/S Class 89, the class that initiated this well-known slogan. So, what does it mean? Why is it still important today? Simple. Every day will have its challenges. Every day is an opportunity to grow. So, why not be prepared to be strong and have the courage to fight for what’s important? By being prepared for the hardships to come, you won’t be shell-shocked and less likely to feel defeated.
  3. Situation Dictates: BUD/S taught me never to panic. The Coronado gods (BUD/S Instructors) were experts in finding tadpoles who would panic in water or on land. They knew in wartime that frogmen must remain calm and purposeful. After all, our ability to engage in clear and proper thinking is significantly compromised whenever we feel overwhelmed. Every quality CEO I met later in life could think rationally, even when everyone around them was panicking. Learn to be the anchor. The “go-to” person whenever problems arise.
  4. Mastermind Group: As I am not the strongest tadpole, my swim buddy and others in BUD/S Class 89 often encouraged me. I still hear them singing on our beach runs whenever I felt like collapsing. My boat crew would continue paddling our IBS boat to and from the Tijuana mud flats, although I was physically injured. My BUD/S class became my mastermind group. They inspired me to take things one evolution at a time, one day at a time, and to persevere radically. No man is an island. Keep people around you that you want to be like. If you like to be a millionaire, find five millionaire friends, and you’ll be the sixth.
  5. Embrace Failure: BUD/S taught me never to allow any one setback or weakness to defeat me. Instead, embrace it and become stronger because of it. See each failure as an opportunity for more extraordinary things. Later in life, I found that failure is often a requirement for success. Zig Ziglar once said, “Failure is an event, not a person.” In other words, we all fail at something sooner or later. And, if we’re going to fail anyway, we might as well fail big just for the chance to learn even bigger. Embrace the challenge to grow and allow your character to soar. In the words of Ali: “There’s nothing wrong with getting knocked down; staying down is the problem.”
  6. Be Fun to Be Around: Even on deployments, there was never a dull moment. Amidst a group of team guys, there was lots of singing, joking, and a fair share of double dares, but never time to complain or whine or become self-absorbed. Why not be that guy today? Want to find someone who needs encouragement? Easy. They’re breathing. Make it a priority to laugh more, smile big, and encourage others. Always.
  7. Get Comfortable Outside Your Comfort Zone: How can you grow without actively growing? It’s impossible. So, get comfortable doing new things that challenge you to succeed, improve at something, and build more meaningful relationships with others. Embrace adventures. Don’t take up residence in your emotional prison cell. Decide today to be proactive. Become a doer in life. Thrive as you move forward. Always.
  8. Exude Confidence: You cannot succeed if you’re being held back by fear or its wimpy cousin, bitterness. The one characteristic shared by almost all successful executives is confidence in everything they do. It’s not just a requirement for leadership; it is imperative. Even in relationships, we all secretly strive to be around people who can lift us seemingly without effort. Wake up each day knowing you have a real purpose in life. I promise that you'll develop inescapable confidence by striving for a purpose outside of yourself. Such confidence will naturally propel you forward even when the circumstances dictate otherwise.
  9. Always Remain Grateful: I was never grateful to the Coronado gods during training. As of today, 48 years after graduating from BUD/S, I see that those instructors were the gatekeepers to the teams. Protectors of the community. They put us through unimaginable physical and mental hardships because they knew that the more you bleed in training, the less you die in war. They wanted us to be stronger than we ever thought possible. They wanted us to be confident to win any battle, no matter how outnumbered. Today, I’m forever grateful to my BUD/S instructors for leading me to be the best and most confident version of myself.
  10. Get More Excited About the Journey and Dream Big: Besides the blood, sweat, and misery, I would not trade my BUD/S training for anything. It was almost every other event I’ve experienced in my life. If you’re not living your life with excitement today, find it. Take that first step. Learn something new. Find new friends. Write down your goal(s)… and get going!
  11. Focus To Win: My BUD/S classmate, Doug Young, once said that being a Navy SEAL is one of the most selfish things a man can do, meaning you must be 100% focused. There is no margin for anything else. You'll likely die if you go into a battle at 50% or even 70%. Same with BUD/S. In other words, you must be focused like a sniper adjusting his sights for a two-mile shot. Whatever is most important to you, go all in. Don’t hold anything back. No regrets!
  12. Love To Compete: In BUD/S, it’s all about winning. Second place is first place for losers (especially during hell week). Winning boat crews are awarded a five-minute nap break while the other crews hit the chill-to-the-bone surf. That said, it’s not just about winning as much as the attitude to winning. Always demand the best from yourself, and then go for more. Never be satisfied. This “going the extra mile” trait has carried over in almost everything I do. Strive to exceed expectations with your clients, teammates, and even family. Go big!

Here's a bonus tip that has worked for me in both good times and bad. Believe in something bigger than yourself. For me, this was my faith. No matter how big my trials were, God was always bigger. After all, He created us in His image, and that image was made to excel. We are all children of endless possibilities.

(Written by Larry C. Fowler, author of Dare To Live Greatly and USMilitary.com/Navy SEAL.com publisher).

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