Rob O’Neill – Keep Moving Forward
Rob O’Neill, a Navy SEAL on the team that killed Osama bin Laden, reveals his commitment to the deadly mission, why small victories are the most important and how to get a fresh start every morning.
Spoiler alert. Bin Ladin dies at the end of it. We knew we weren’t coming home from that mission. We were gonna die. We’re gonna get shot down on the way in. We’re gonna run out of fuel and just be in Pakistan and live our short, miserable lives in a Pakistani prison. If anyone is gonna blow himself up, it’s Bin Ladin. We’re not coming back.
The guy that ended up in the point man position taking me up the stairs to Bin Ladin’s bedroom, he pulled me aside before we left and he said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m going, but if we know we’re gonna die, why are we going?” Which is just legit. He wanted to say it out loud.
And I said, “That’s a good point. We are not going for fame and we are not going for bravado. We are going for the single mom who dropped her kids off at elementary school on a Tuesday morning, and then 45 minutes later she jumped to her death out of a skyscraper because that was a better alternative than burning alive cause it’s 2500 degrees inside. Her last gesture of human decency was to hold her skirt down so no one could see her underwear as she committed suicide. She didn’t want to do any of that. She wasn’t supposed to be in the fight. We’re supposed to fight; that’s why we’re going.”
We were a week and a half into planning that big mission. We had some of the best minds planning the mission to kill Bin Ladin, and we rehearsed the perfect plan over and over and over every day with real helicopters on a real training site, 14 hours a day, and then afterwards we’d talk about it around a table with a replica. One night the boss said, “All right, guys, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
The youngest guy in the room said, “The helicopter could crash in the front yard.” He’s like, “What? Can we talk about that for 20 seconds?” And that happened. But we were able to take a potentially catastrophic event and turn it into something great because of our preparation. No matter what, we never quit.
People will be so close to a goal, 95% of the way there, have a bad day, and then throw their hands … or a series of bad days. “That’s it, I quit; I’m done.” You are not having a bad life. You’re having a bad day.
Saying “Never quit” and never quitting are two different things, so I need to tell you a story. You’re in the navy, so you know how to tie a lot of knots. The test is go tie a series of knots with this rope around that rope. So the instructor will say, “Go tie a bowling knot.” So you hold your breath and swim down there, tie a bowling not and you back off. It’s been about a minute. He comes back down and checks it. “Yeah, okay, that’s good.” So you untie the bowling not, you go back up, you get one breath of air, enough time for him to tell you about knot number two. So “Okay, go tie a square knot.” The test is simple. Tie five knots in a row, you pass.
They give you a certain amount of attempts at each test, but a friend of mine named John was on his last attempt. If he doesn’t do all five right now, they’re gonna kick him out today. He’ll never be a Seal. Lifelong dream, that’s a lot of pressure. On his fifth knot attempt, he drowned, so the instructor swam down to get him. He straddled John and started immediately with a sternum rub trying to get him to cough it up, then he started CPR, and we could actually hear him saying to John, “Come back to the light.” So John was out for a minute and a half, finally spit up all the water out of his lungs, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Did I pass?” So the instructor kind of sat back on him, and he’s getting his color back too because he gets to keep his job, and he goes, “Yeah, man, you passed.” And he goes, “Thank God, I finally got the fifth knot.” And the instructor said, “No, you didn’t. Look, I’m in a good mood right now so I’m gonna let you in on a secret. I don’t care how many knots you know how to tie. That is not part of the curriculum to become a Navy Seal. My job simply is to see how far you’ll push yourself. You just killed yourself. You passed the goddamn test. Good job.”
When you feel like quitting, which you will, don’t quit right now. Quit tomorrow. Wake up in the morning on time and make your bed the right way and brush your teeth. Little victories. Make it to 5 a.m. PT on time. Get through that and make it to breakfast. After breakfast, concentrate on getting to lunch. After lunch, make it to dinner. After dinner, do everything you need to do to get back in that bed. No matter how bad that day was, you get a fresh start tomorrow because your bed was made right. And the enemy is all your doubts, all your fears, and everyone you know back home that told you you weren’t good enough to do this. Keep your head down. No matter what, never quit, and you’ll be just fine. Keep moving forward.