Book Review: “Thank You for My Service”

Author: Mat Best

Not Your Normal War Story

I loved war too. Thanks for telling your story Mat.

In late 2007, somewhere in Iraq, sometime between 2 pm and 2 am – I sat on a dusty couch watching, with 10 or so other people, a 20 year old crew chief that smelled like dust, Skoal, and sweat perform the most incredible rendition of “One” by Metallica. His fingers flew across the instrument so fast I could not follow. None of us was ready to try this song. But here he was – slaying it. As the final note passed, we all went crazy cheering like he had hit the game winning home run. And at the moment, he had. He was a Guitar Hero. For that moment – he was a god.

There is a LOT of time to kill in war. 455 days of deployment was more like 445 days of sheer boredom, 8 days of “hey that was cool,” and a couple of days we just don’t talk about – all dosed out in 8-10 hr increments thanks to flight hour/crew rest restrictions. We also played a lot of Call of Duty, Halo, some dumb WWII airplane game, and my personal favorite, Tony Hawk (for the soundtrack).

We did missions too. Those were fun most of the time. – That’s right. Fun. I loved flying and still do. There is no place in the world that a pilot can push, test, and utilize every feature of their aircraft except war. Even flying a routine mission can push the platform and the pilot (dust landings and AFG mountains are no joke). I miss the fun of flying in those environments (the “res” just doesn’t quite cut it). And I miss the people. Nearly every veteran I know misses the camaraderie that is built in combat.

Mat Best’s book “Thank You For My Service” is his story of his time in the service of our nation. Mat unapologetically describes how his time shaped him, gave him confidence, and propelled him to be the entertainer and creator he is today. He clearly loved every minute.

Mat is honest in his rendition of his service – doesn’t sugar coat it. If you don’t know Mat Best, I suggest checking out his videos linked at the end of this page before making a purchase to calibrate your expectations – this is not your normal veteran war book.

Which is why its worth reading.

Mat uses humor to drive a spike right into the heart of sensitivities, language, or veteran cultural taboos (suicide, PTSD, sexuality, and alcohol – mostly whiskey). If you are able to set aside judgement, for the week or so it takes to read this book, at the end you will have gained an honest look inside one part of the culture of war. You might not like it. You will probably not agree with him. You will almost certainly be offended by something. But you will have given him the chance to tell his story – which is one story of many from the veteran community.

Perhaps we owe all veterans the right to tell their story – as they see it – without our judgement.

For many, we loved our time in War. Most days, we miss it. Yes – almost all of us have scars. Yet today, we are thriving and kicking ass not in spite of war, but because of it.

Check out more Mat Best creations at Black Rifle Coffee, on YouTube, and on all sorts of social media platforms…

Book Review: “The Boys in the Boat”

Author: Daniel James Brown

Finding courage on the water

No sport more exemplifies team than rowing. A balanced boat is faster than one with a few strong rowers. Power seats trying to drive alone will be passed by a crew – rowers with hearts that beat on the catch and breath that escapes on the release. Harmony comes not by seats, or pairs, or oars – only boats.

I was a strong rower in college. A power seat. A port. I could pull some pretty incredible erg times and enjoyed holding a 500/m split consistently that was always better than my last times. I raced against myself. And thus, I was a terrible in the boat.

There are no superstars in a boat. Pulling together, in perfect harmony, makes a boat fly across the water. Superstars just create drag. I was drag.

Daniel James Brown’s book “The Boys in the Boat” is the incredible story of 9 young men who come together and beat the odds. These men were never expected to amount to anything – many hailing from the poverty that was quite common in the Depression Era. The book is set against the back drop of the 1936 Olympics pitting the US against a powerful Nazi Germany. American under-dogs who rise up to beat one challenge after another….

This book is about much more than under-dogs. It is about team. And sacrifice.

Forged in the icy waters of the Pacific Northwest, the men of the University of Washington crew team learned what it means to matter to something greater than yourself. Daily, the crew rowed not for the win, or the school, or the glory – but for each other. In rain and snow and heat – these men left the safety of land in a boat about 15 inches wide and traveled miles into the unforgiving waters of the ocean. Distance and water have a way of cementing the truth that every oar is needed to bring you home. Failure then becomes the ragged breath or sagging shoulders in the back you follow.

So you sit straighter. You do not let your shoulders sag or your catch drop. And you swing together.

I learned that to go faster in my boat, I had to slow down. Attacking the catch created drag. Rushing the slide could almost stop the boat. Power misaligned was simply lost. Slowing down, finding pace with the other members of the boat, and swinging in harmony resulted in the near levitation of the boat across the water as it raced to the finish.

Today, I don’t get the chance to fill a mighty 8 and take it racing down the river. But I am still on many crews. And my boats are filled with people who are willing to slow down, and swing together.

Come row with us!

For more about the story of this incredible boat – check out the PBS film from American Experience, The Boys of ’36.

Want to row – check out USRowing.

Book Series: Expeditionary Force

Author: Craig Alanson

Voice Actor and Narrator: R.C. Bray

Skippy –

Sometimes I need the space and time to grow. So I pick up a science fiction – to be entertained and maybe grab a leadership lesson along the way.

Craig Alason’s book series Expeditionary Force both entertains and sometimes make makes me think. I started listening to these books as my PhD dissertation was getting into the tough stage – trying to end but not yet there. The books gave my mind a rest for a bit. In 30 – 60 minutes, I could mentally rest. Listening was key to this series because the narrator – R.C. Bray – truly makes the books come to life, especially one of the main characters, Skippy the Beer Can. I highly encourage you to listen to the audiobook version of this series.

I have only listened to the first 5 books in Expeditionary Force but there are at least 8 main storyline books, and some spin off stories, which is pretty common in science fiction. The premise of the series starts out in Book 1 with a simple science fiction plot: alien race comes to earth, aliens treat us badly, humankind fights back.

Enter: “Joe”

Joe is a grunt. An Army Grunt – E5. He is a normal guy from New England that happened to make some lucky, albeit telling decisions, during the invasion, and save earth. The young NCO finds himself rewarded with a trip to a far off world to fight for an alien species that turns out to be embroiled in universal war far greater than humans ever could have known.

Enter: “Skippy the Beer Can

Truly there is no better character in modern science fiction than Alanson’s “Skippy the Beer Can.” The first book takes about half the plot to get to Skippy – wait – wait for him. It is worth it.

Skippy is an all-knowing, all-powerful, artificial intelligence that despite his infinite knowledge and winning personality, is physically limited by the absence of hands and feet. Joe finds Skippy on a far off world and the two of them proceed to embark on a hero’s quest together – with humor and humanity all in one.

The book is light mostly, but sometimes deep. Joe must lead his crew, and with that comes choices that challenge his values and morals. Skippy learns that human connection and love are the one thing that cannot fully understood through writing code. It must be gained by personal interactions with the crew and Joe. Together, these characters lead a crew across the galaxy, finding themselves in a fight that is as old as the universes itself. The book is hilarious and I am grateful to the talent of R.C. Bray, who brings the characters to life.

Growth isn’t immediate. I find that I have to give myself the space and the time to grow. Reading books takes me some time – more time than blogs or social media. But I also need time to experiment with lessons, try out an idea, mull over concepts, fail, succeed, and try again.

Frequently, I just need an emotional rest. To give my mind a place to lay down, perhaps after a long week or challenging encounter. I need to give myself the forgiving minute – to breath.

Criag Alanson’s books give me just a few more minutes. Through humor and a damn good story, I can find the space to rest, recover, and grow.

I breath. I laugh. I grow.

Book Review: “Tribe”

Author: Sebastian Junger

Small yet Mighty!

Purpose and connection will build your Tribe, but you must decide to join.

In 2016, I felt unsettled. I had been out of the military for about 4 years. Everything was just fine. I was steadily grinding on a PhD, raising an amazing family, and I had wonderful friends. Yet for some reason, I could not shake the feeling that I was wandering in life.

It was around this time that I heard an interview with Sebastian Junger on the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast (#161) about Tribes, which led me to immediately purchase this book.  Junger’s book was the first time someone put a label to what I lost when leaving the military – my Tribe.

Junger describes the roles of Tribes across the history of humankind. He talks of purpose, belonging, and acceptance.  Tribes have rituals and process complex emotions together.  The strength of the Tribe is greater than the sum of its members.

The military is a culture connected by shared behaviors and values. The people with whom I served were my Tribe. We found purpose in serving both the mission and the team. The Tribe always provided a way to handle the emotions-together. We mourned publicly, as a group, when we lost friends. We celebrated milestones in our careers or achievements with ritual ceremony. Our culture gave us a collective framework to process this messy world together.

I walked away from my Tribe. I left.

Junger ‘s book helped me realize how hard it truly is to leave the military. Leaving my Tribe felt like choosing isolation. Junger was the first person to tell me, through his book, that this was all okay.  Yearning to return to combat, fly aircraft again, to swap war stories – these were all manifestations of my primal need for my Tribe. I was grieving the Tribe I had left.

Connecting with the loss of Tribe helped me to finally see – clearly – that my Tribe was still all around me. Yes, I had left the military. But my Tribe remained.

My Tribe were the people – not the uniform. We had first formed by bonds of culture and clothe and ritual.  The bonds remained, however, long after the uniform hung in closets. My Tribe wasn’t lost at all. We had simply changed clothes.

My Tribe thrives–living a life of purpose, defined by the values of sacrifice and service. Join us!

Book Review: “Braving the Wilderness”

Author: Brené Brown

Being Me is scary. To not be Me is torture.

Alone, in the silence of the woods, I have only myself. And I will be just fine.

Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” came to me when I was having what I call a “self-awareness hangover.” This usually happens when I have read too many self-help, leadership, or business books causing my trips into self-awareness to wander into traps of self-doubt. I start to worry about how I handled past conversations, led my former teams, and interacted with fellow parents. Geez – how did I managed to get out of bed and parent at all?

Self-awareness hangovers leave me certain I will never fit in and will always be upsetting someone. Feeling terrible and keenly aware of the many ways I can offend nearly everyone – I withdraw. I hide my True Self. 

“You are only free when you realize you belong to no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great. ~Maya Angelou

“Braving the Wilderness” told me, “Stop. Be yourself.” Brené Brown opens the book with the Maya Angelou quote as she reflects on a life-long desire to fit in. She describes sacrificing her True Self in order to belong.  Fit in or be left alone in what she calls The Wilderness. Terrifying.

Naturally, we resist abandonment at our most primal level. The Wilderness is where we go when cast out, never to return. But Brené argues deciding to bravely enter The Wilderness alone is how we find True Belonging. For in the quiet of woods, only self can be heard. True Self finally gets to stand alone.

And True Self belongs to no one.

From this powerful realization, immense courage and confidence is found. Brené then calls upon the reader to, without fear, open their True Self to others. It is only through this most honest effort to connect with other people that we will find the purest quality of humankind – unconditional acceptance of True Self and others. And we will truly belong. To everyone who seeks truth. And to no one but ourselves.

And with that – hangover was gone.

Book Review: “The Obstacle is the Way”

Author: Ryan Holiday

The hard path is the true path.

Life is hard. Excellent! My struggle is my advantage.

Challenge, setback, failure, loss, and rock bottom are not exactly comfortable. Once you’ve experienced any of these, you likely learned a strong lesson about avoiding them in the future.  That hurt! We have visible and invisible scars. We likely lost friends and status. We probably lost money. Most of all, we failed ourselves. — But did we?

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. -Marcus Aurelius

Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way” opens with this powerful quote from one of history’s greatest thinkers telling us to stop running away.  Instead, we must turn boldly into our challenge and see it as an opportunity rather an obstacle.

Holiday lays out a path for turning what he calls “trials into triumph” by teaching us to control our perception of events. First, we must learn to master the only controllable part of any situation – our emotional response to it. Armed with this surprisingly powerful insight, Holiday then calls upon us to act. Deliberate, precise action that could fail, and fail again. This path is not one of reckless failure but rather it is a decision to act despite an unknown outcome. Finally, Holiday calls us to have the will continue forward. Our will fuels our courage to repeat the cycle – perceiving obstacles as advantages and motivating us to act–until we achieve our goals.

We are defined by what we do, not what we say we do. You know your obstacle. You now know your path.

Act.

Book Review: “Grit”

Author: Angela Duckworth

Find your Work. Find your Grit

We marvel at people who do hard things and get after challenging goals. People like you…if you choose it.

Do something hard! All around us, we see people seeking to find their own personal challenges. We are offered new quests daily, ripe for the taking! Read some “X number” of books this summer (library). Only eat cabbage soup and juice for a month (diet industry…and seriously?). Conquer physical trials such as marathons, Ironman events, Spartan races (Sports industry). And many, many, more.

It doesn’t really matter what the goal is – as long as it is your goal.

In a world with many challenges from which to pick, what do we actually seek? How do we achieve our goal AND is really our own? How do we see the goal all the way through to the end? What is the end???

Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit” provides insight into how we sort, prioritize, and achieve our most difficult goals. She has made a career of studying how groups of people – from West Point cadets to National Spelling Bee winners to professional sports teams – accomplish hard goals. Duckworth identifies the trait of Grit – the drive to maintain a long-term focus on one objective no matter the obstacle. She then digs deep into the foundation of Grit to reveal four cornerstones traits of some incredible people.

Duckworth identifies Gritty people as first having goals defined by a strong interest. You know this feeling – the topic or passion you simply cannot stop studying, daydreaming about, or clicking on. She then describes how to turn that interest into your life’s Work (sound familiar – see “The War of Art” post) through deliberate practice. Gritty people are internally driven to practice by a motivation, which Duckworth identifies as their purpose. Purpose is so central to the nature of the Gritter, that they often can’t quite articulate it beyond to say that they must matter. Finally – those with Grit have an eternal well of hope. It is hope that moves them past failure, setbacks, and obstacles, to see tomorrow as the next day forward in achieving their goal.

So go find your challenge.

Don’t wait for someone to make it up for you. Listen to your interest. Feel for your purpose. And then get after it with deliberate practice and the hope – knowing each day will bring you one step closer to your life’s work.