You Don’t Know That

The most powerful advice I’ve gotten recently wasn’t advice. It was a simple statement.

“You don’t know that.”

Fitz, a veteran of 20 years in the U.S. Navy SEALs and now a software company CEO, wasn’t telling me what to do. He simply was making an observation.

A very powerful observation. 

Early morning shift at the town fitness center, me at my usual post on the stationary bike – a strategic perch across from the check-in desk forming a pinch point through which all gym patrons passed.

The day before, when I showed up at my usual time of 5:45 AM (ok: my target time; I didn’t always get there then) I made a comment to no one in particular that I wasn’t “feeling it” that morning, and that I was going to give myself credit just for showing up even if I didn’t get much done in the gym.  

A trim gentleman of about my vintage riding a nearby spin bike overheard me and spoke up, “Did you make your bed this morning?”

That led to a brief discussion of Admiral William McRaven’s popular commencement address at the University of Texas in May of 2014. McRaven, after a distinguished career of over 35 years in the SEALs, retired in 2014 from his position as commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command to become the chancellor of the University of Texas System from 2015 to 2018.

Intrigued, I listened to the 16-minute speech later that day. To date, over 8 million people have clicked on the YouTube link. If you haven’t yet heard the speech, here’s the one-line summary: Ten life lessons McRaven learned following college during the six months of grueling SEAL basic training.

The next morning, I was back on the spin bike. I saw Fitz coming in for his workout. I didn’t know him well; but I regarded him as a friendly acquaintance. I had been told that Fitz had been a Navy SEAL officer; I didn’t know much more although Fitz, around 60, has a credible appearance as an ex-SEAL. He’s built like an ex-football player, which he had been (quarterback), and keeps himself in top shape. As he approached, I looked up, made eye contact and said, “How’d you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Get through SEAL training. I listened to McRaven’s ‘Make Your Bed’ speech, then I read about the SEAL training, and then I asked myself if I were 22 again, would I be able to get through that? And my answer was ‘No. Probably not.’”

That’s when Fitz looked at me and in a very matter of fact way, said “You don’t know that.”

You don’t know that.  

That choice of words and the way Fitz said them were surprisingly powerful. He could have said something like, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Not many people make it. It’s brutal.”

Instead, his statement captured in a few words so much more:

Leave open the possibility for achieving more than you thought possible, more than you thought you were capable of. Don’t sell yourself short. You may be right, but you may be wrong. You may find that you really like doing something that you assumed you wouldn’t. That you have a talent or skill about which you were unaware. And that you will enjoy a sense of true fulfillment – so elusive for so many.

Why not find out? At the least, you’ll learn a lot and you’ll find out a lot about yourself and a part of the world around you that you otherwise wouldn’t.

A moot point, because I am WAY past being a 22-year-old who might credibly consider signing up.

But still: You don’t know that.

I liked that line enough toYou Don’t Know ThatYou Don’t Know That use it plenty of times on myself. And at least a few times with others.

The other comment from Fitz was: “Just don’t quit.”

I’ll take that up another time.

Anyone got a story where they took up a challenge, in doing so faced the prospect of coming up short, and found they were capable of far more than they had imagined?