Learning to Walk Taller

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Walking taller is a mindset, an attitude. No matter what circumstances or outcomes life throws your way, you’ll approach adversity with confidence and your head held high.

This mindset is not innate—it’s a perspective forged from trying times that test your character. As a former Recon Marine, Scout Sniper, and retired US Navy SEAL Officer, overcoming extreme challenges is part of my identity. However, it was the moment I left the military—the only tribe I’d ever known that my biggest personal challenge began.

That first year tested my mental fortitude.

The SEALs were my teammates, my soul. They were there on a Tuesday, and when I drove away from Virginia Beach on a Wednesday, it was like my entire support network fell out from under me. While I made lifelong friendships, we were separated by distance. All I had left were a pair of cowboy boots that meant the world to me.

In 2012, I had just earned my way into a highly selective and specialized unit. I remember a new teammate welcoming me as a brother and telling me it was time to get some boots. You see, the majority of this team wore a specific cowboy boot. I was 35 years old and never owned a pair of boots, but one week later, I had a pair of my own. A sense of pride, homecoming, and belonging immediately came over me.

At first, the boots were an accessory, but over time they became an extension of who I was. I had those boots for eight years. In both good times and bad, they walked me through some memorable years. Every time I put them on, I thought of the memories I shared with my team.

In a way, life in the military is simple—especially at war. Nothing but your team and the mission matters. There’s total unity in your purpose. But that changes when you leave. The noise increases; things that didn’t seem important all of a sudden are. It requires you to readjust to a different way of life and accept the esprit de corps you experienced in the military is over.

Mentally, this leap is the greatest challenge.

 

Man in red flannel shirt, light blue jeans, suede boots, and baseball hat standing on grass
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When I first moved from Virginia Beach to Austin, TX, I didn’t know anyone or have a support network. However, I built new ones from work and social gatherings and, after a few years, began to form meaningful, genuine relationships. Eventually I met my wife, right around the time I started talking to a clinical psychologist. Both played a key role in getting me back to the man I was.

Three years after I retired from the military, they posed a question that forever changed my perspective. It was profound, yet simple, but had eluded me until that point.

“If your brothers had made it home in your stead, would you have wanted them to live in guilt and sorrow, or would you want them to live life to the fullest in your memory?”

Well, you know the answer. It’s our job—those who returned from war—to live in the memories of those who’ve fallen and take care of the ones they left behind.

Life has good days and its share of bad days, but at least now I understand nothing lasts forever. When in darkness, know that light is close. But don’t wait on it—pull yourself up by the bootstraps and keep marching until you see that faint light begin to emerge.

Today, I focus my time and energy on making an impact—the greatest currency in life. I teach leadership and leadership development for a living, weaving the stories of my fallen comrades into discussions about leadership. These stories not only impact people who want to live better lives and become better leaders, but also honor and keep the memories of our fallen alive.

That brings me back to walking taller—a way of life that mirrors the Everyday Warrior mindset I teach. This philosophy is a no-hack, practical approach to living life. It doesn’t sugar coat anything nor does it pull punches. Hard times require hard people—not hard physically, but hard mentally. Every test you face in life is more mental than it is physical.

Whatever your personal path—paved or muddy—walk with pride. Walk with your head held high, and remember, you can always walk a little taller.

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