Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 39: Spartan Founder Joe De Sena

Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior With Mike Sarraille is a podcast that inspires individuals to live more fulfilling lives by having conversations with disrupters and high performers from all walks of life. In episode 39, we spoke to Joe De Sena, founder and CEO of Spartan, the world’s leading endurance sports brand.

Listen to the full episode above (scroll down for the transcript) and see more from this series below.

This interview has not been edited for length or clarity.


Mike Sarraille:
Welcome back guys to the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Sarraille. We have got what I would consider to be one of the biggest underachievers probably in America. He does not do that much. I’m kidding. We’ve got Joe De Sena, the CEO and founder of Spartan Race, New York Times best-selling author. Created a multimillion dollar pool company as well as a construction business in college. This guy just has no off button, I’m assuming. Joe, how are you today man?

Joe De Sena:
Awesome. Thanks for saying that. I was feeling a little feeling like under my wife said we’ve been together 22 years and she said, look, for the first month or two, it’s a lot of fun, you know, waking up early and doing all this stuff and it’s kind of exhausting now after 22 years, can you tone it down? So I just assumed it was a bad thing, so I’m glad you just said that. You gave me a little shot in the arm.

Mike Sarraille:
Well, here’s the thing. So my wife we’re, we’re only three years married and I’m always on the road. She’s like this. I thought she knew what she was getting into. High performers are not easy to live with. I have no doubt for your wife and my wife. It is, and I hate to self proclaim. I’m a high performer, but I’m always gotta be doing something is when you say Let’s go to Cancun for a week vacation. I’m like, yeah, that sounds great. And when I get there it’s like, no, I gotta send these emails and I gotta do this and I gotta do this. And I ruin the vacation for, have you figured out ways to turn it off?

Joe De Sena:
The only time I’ve been able to turn it off ever is when I do something really incredibly physically exhausting. If I was to go out on a 48 hour bike ride and I come back to the house and I collapse on the wood floor, I feel okay with that. Okay, I’m allowed to rest now, otherwise I just don’t feel like I’m worthy of resting. I have stuff to do.

Mike Sarraille:
I think any psychologist listening would probably be like, you’ve got problems. So basically you just said, I’ve got to wear myself out to exhaustion in order to relax mentally.

Joe De Sena:
But I don’t know mean, you don’t have to agree with me here, but let’s dive into that. I think the rest of the world has problems. I think you and I have it right. I think the rest of the world somehow is okay with just wasting time sitting on that beach in Cancun, staying in bed for an extra hour. Life is so precious and so short I, that’s a crime almost. It’s a crime to just not be doing and getting stuff done and helping and hustling.

Mike Sarraille:
What did Socrates said something along the lines, and I’m gonna butcher this, that it is a shame or a crime or a sin to have not seen what the human body, your particular human body could achieve in terms of physique and strength and endurance. And I agree with that quote. It just seems like society has come so far from that. Mean I’ve got a new book coming out. You’ve got multiple bestsellers where it was Professor Dudley, Sergeant Harvard that advocated for physical training in grammar school high school and it’s formed around the whole person concept, mind, body, and spirit. But it just seems like, I have one friend that calls it like it’s moral obesity. Moral obesity. Not only, that’s a good one. Yeah. Not only are we becoming obese, but we’re becoming morally obese due to sort of comfort.

Joe De Sena:
I’m telling that I’m stealing that. Here’s my take on the whole thing. Tell me if you agree. I’m gonna sum up the whole world in like five, six sentences here. We are naturally lazy. There’s a few of us, probably one of 1% that have this psychological problem where we just do right, that you and I just spoke about. But the rest of us, the 99.9% of 8 billion people are lazy. And that’s not because they’re, they’re bad people. That’s because the brain is wired to protect us from overexertion heat from cold. And so it’s holding us back from ever expending too much energy because that’s a threat to the brain and to the body. So I get it. And so I would argue that we need leaders that force us to get up and get after it. For the 99.9%, you and I probably need leaders that slow us down our wives and say take it a little easy.

Joe De Sena:
But 99.9% of the people need leaders that give ’em a kick in the ass, get him in shape, make him eat more salad. And I know people listen and are like, that’s ridiculous. We need our freedom. Oh, I get it, I get it. Because most leaders throughout history are not benevolent. They start to do wacky things because power gets their head. And that’s the reason we created what we created in America, but left to our own devices. We don’t get after it. And if you don’t believe me, wake up at 5:00 AM in New York City where there’s 8 million people living there and go for a run in Central Park and tell me how many fucking people are out there running with you. There’s like nine and I know there were at least 9,000 that decided they were gonna run that morning, but they didn’t show up. So I guess I would argue that we need a little more JFK’s presidential fitness, like think whatever you want about China or Russia or whatever. And I get it. Leaders are we, it’s crazy. We don’t, but I like when I hear the president of China say, Hey, we’re gonna take our children. They’re gonna get after it. We’re not gonna allow them to watch these play these video games. I like that part of that structure.

Joe De Sena:
I get a lot of pushback in America when I say all this cuz they’ll say we need our freedom. And I’m like, I get it, but do you really need Slurpees? Have you been to Disneyland lately and looked around and seen what people have you looked at? Obesity rates have, we’re not exactly the number one country in the world in every respect because not for no other reason than we’re naturally lazy creatures. That’s it.

Mike Sarraille:
I’ve, I’ve always said that sight psychology at the root of it is lazy. You will always default to the path of least resistance and more so when putting entitlement and comfort is in overabundance right now in the United States. And so people have become accustomed to looking for the hacks and the shortcuts. These wacky fitness devices that, oh hey put this, have you seen the things where you put it under abs and turn on the knobs and it’s like, hey, it’s the equivalent of 1000 pushups. Be that as it may, may be 1000 pushups, but that is a hack if not combined with a solid diet, with a solid workout plan with habits. Because we all know when you go for those shortcuts, ultimately you’re not creating the pathways, the disciplines that are needed for the foundation. I love this Joe.

Mike Sarraille:
If was anyone was given a choice in the left hand, I’ve got this blue pill which will give you, taking you to let’s say 10% body fat overnight or over here I’ve got a checklist, a process to slowly build a regimen where you lose weight, you gain muscle mass and you reach peak fitness. But oh, it’s gonna take six months to 18 months. People will take the blue pill but they’ll lose it as quickly as they found it because those habits, again, those pathways are not set. You’ll continue to eat 3000 to 5,000 calories. You’ll continue if you’re 175 pound male to only get a hundred grams of protein far below what you need based off your macro nutrients. It, it’s insane. No, I agree with you. I do agree that there is some balance. I’ve yet to find that balance between being a high achiever and knowing how to relax. I still have not found that balance.

Joe De Sena:
Lemme comment on that. So by the way, this is all I think about every day. This is all, it consumes me, this whole thing because I keep thinking with every passing generation, there is no way it gets better. We’re not gonna wake up one day and say, you know what? We need it harder everybody. I can’t even do it in my own family. I have to physically turn the hot water heater off to get people to take cold showers. I have to get bagpipers to come visit early in the morning to wake everybody up. So my own family, we own a company called Spartan where we’re asking the whole world to do burpees and get in shape and it’s a fight in my own house. So our country and the first world country is around the rest. They’re not gonna wake up one day and say, we want to do things harder, we want to get rid of six minute, we wanna do 60 minute abs.

Joe De Sena:
Not gonna happen. Every year is gonna get soft and worse. And I would say if you and I were having this podcast back in the 1820s, I think you and I would be advocating for more penicillin, more couches and more Netflix. Cause life was hard back then. Yeah, right. So anyway, it’s really, I don’t look, don’t know how we change things. I mean, I think about it, I’m selling and your example of the pill in one hand and the checklist. I’m selling the checklist. Yeah. I, I’m in the worst business on the plant. Who the hell wants buy the checklist? No one.

Mike Sarraille:
Think about this in this mind. So I, I’ve come to realize this. Every time I reach a goal it’s like, it’s a shoulder struck. I’m like, okay, what’s the next ridge line? What’s next? I never find joy in the destination, but I have found pride and I look back and it’s my wife. She’s like, look at all that you’ve accomplished. You had a successful seal career 20 years, made it to J Soc, the elite of the elite and now you’re jumping into Everest. Now you’re gonna jump all seven continents in seven days. Why? You’ve already done so much. And she’s saying you continue to go on the destination is completely worthless, dude. But the journey, what you learn about yourself and your strengths and your weaknesses, I mean the journey’s about adding deliberate discomfort throughout your life to continually grow. I do believe, and we found this, and this is not, I mean this not new to you, but to a lot of people, true learning and growth take place when pushed outside your mental and physical comfort zones. When you can combine those, it’s especially powerful. But that’s also where true character emerges. So people that constantly find a way to deliberately add discomfort to their life, develop these character attributes that again, make ’em stand out from everyone else.

Joe De Sena:
Congrats, congrats on your undertakings and congrats on what you’ve gotten done. And I agree with you a thousand percent, it’s the journey, not definitely not the finish line ever. That takes a few seconds and then you’re back to another starting line somewhere else. But I would say here’s a visual for anybody listening on what you just said about deliberate discomfort and how it builds character. Imagine we had two human beings and those human beings were plants. Let’s just have some fun. And one of those plants grew up in a greenhouse where they were watered on demand and the temperature was perfect and there was no wind. How would they possibly develop character and resilience and grit and the other human being? You for example, grew up on the side of a mountain and you had to wrap your roots around a rock to hang on and it was windy every day. And that’s what we’re talking, it’s so simple when you have that visual right, you don’t wanna grow up in a greenhouse because as soon as you get put outside, you’re dead <laugh>. Right.

Mike Sarraille:
You know, talked about GFKs. One of my favorite figures is Teddy Roosevelt. I am fascinated with that, dude, if I had one wish and when I get to heaven, if that’s real and I’m a Catholic, I will tell the Lord to move outta the way. Where’s Teddy Roosevelt? I’m sure I’ve got a bottle of whiskey for him. I just wanna hear those stories. That guy was a beast. But hey Joe, I, I’d love to go back because you’ve always been a high performer at one point, you know, found yourself in the rat race. You, you’d felt that, and for you putting on a little weight may be minuscule to other people, but you did not feel happy with yourself and you decided to make a change. And you, let’s say, as a terms of career switch, that’s a pretty drastic career switch going from being a trader into the adventure space. Take us back to that moment cuz there may be people where they can actually sort empathize or find commonality with where you are at compared to where they’re at right now. And maybe you may have something to get off that damn couch and to leap into action.

Joe De Sena:
So for me, I was lucky for me, my mom and dad fought, physically fought when I was a kid. And I assumed that that fighting came from the struggles of money. And I assumed that if I had enough resources to be able to smooth out the ups and downs in a marriage and growing a family, that it would make it less likely that my wife and I would fight. So I went on a pursuit to make some money and I was lucky enough to land on Wall Street and we were making money, but in order to make money, I had to do a lot of dinners. I had to hang out with people at night. I had to work 24 7, but not physically work, no sweat. It was just stress, sit, eat, talk. And it’s no wonder, I mean we get to live inside this body.

Joe De Sena:
If this body is not being taken care of, we don’t feel good. The brain is inside the body. So I wasn’t feeling good, but I was making money and I was lucky in that I didn’t need to make a billion. That wasn’t my plan. I needed to make enough money where I could weather the storm and grow a family. So when I hit a number, I said, and now I have to find an unbelievable woman that’ll take on this challenge with me. I was lucky that I hit the number, I met the woman and I had just fallen in love with all these crazy races I found all over the world. And so everything kind of triangulated and came together at one moment, late nineties, early 2000, and I pulled the rip cord and I sold the company and I moved to Vermont and bought a farm with my wife, got some goats, chickens, made some babies and started this business called Spartan.

Joe De Sena:
And the quickest way to become a millionaire is to start with 10 million and start something called Spartan because you lose nine right away. I mean it, it’s been an absolute disaster financially. But I have a feeling when you and I end up in the heavens, I’m gonna be able to pull a favor and get you that meeting with Teddy Roosevelt. Because I’ve gotten so many emails from people that say they’re not drinking anymore, they’re not doing drugs, they’re back with their husband, they’re back with their wife, they lost 40 pounds, they gave up drug, all this unbelievable stuff. And so I don’t get paid in dollars, I get paid in. Life’s changed impact.

Mike Sarraille:
You get paid in impact. Yeah. I’ve always said the greatest currency in life is not money. It’s impact in those who have it in spades have found a higher semblance of happiness than those with cash. But it’s also the same thing, man. How many rich guys have I met who are rich in the bank and poor, I mean, poor in character.

Joe De Sena:
Yeah,

Mike Sarraille:
I mean the plentiful dude. So a book that everyone’s gotta pick up. Spartan up. Let me start with this. You’ve got a fascination with the Spartan, Spartan culture. What was it about the Spartan culture that pulled you in?

Joe De Sena:
I think we didn’t get into it. My mom back in the seventies got into yoga and meditation. She started doing trips to India, which was pretty wild for somebody living in Queens, New York. But there were a lot of philosophies coming out of those trips and my mom’s interactions with yogis and stuff. And it was around simplicity. It was around not being attached to material things. It was very spartan in many ways. And that combined with this idea that the Spartans were some of the best warriors, if not the best warriors throughout history. The number one export of ancient Sparta were generals like countries. And city states would call them up and say, listen, we need somebody fast or being attack. Spartan would show up and solve the problem at about 11 seconds. So easy for a young boy or a man to get excited about the ethos and what Spartan stood for. And by the way, they didn’t write down very much. They didn’t speak many words. So we get to imagine what it was and they become that rocky balboa or gladiator or whatever it is in our mind that the perfect warrior,

Mike Sarraille:
The mythos of the Spartans will live on for forever. I think in the book you talked about delayed gratification, which I’m a big proponent of. Again, we just hit on this, why can’t people delay gratification these days?

Joe De Sena:
I was just thinking when you said it, I was thinking about our wives and my wife said, when do we get to enjoy something when we are delaying for 22 years we’ve been married. When is the moment where we get to have the cookie? And I’m thinking maybe it’s when we’re in heaven. Maybe that’s when we do it at the end. But I think people can’t do it for every reason we set here, I’m a believer if we had a whiteboard behind me and the top of the whiteboard, if you could envision it, is complete success. You’ve got everything in life, the perfect woman, all the cars you want, all the money you’ve achieved, everything you thought was incredibly valuable. The bottom is like you’re just struggling for water, food and shelter. Most of us live somewhere in the middle, maybe 60% up the board.

Joe De Sena:
So draw a horizontal line across the board and folks are constantly chasing to get to the top of the board. They want more and if they get a little more, they’ll be happy. And it turns out they’re not that happy when they get to 67% of the way up and then they need a different car and then they need this and they need that. And I would argue, and I’m sure you agree with me, after what you’ve been through, happiness actually comes from going down towards the bottom of the board and you drop below the line and you take some things away from your life, you delay some gratification. When you get back to the line, when you get back to your normal life, you’re like, oh my God, this is the best grape I’ve ever eaten. I can’t wait to see my wife. You know what I mean?

Joe De Sena:
Think about all that. You’re so happy. The ancient samurai, the story goes at night when they went to bed, they would close their eyes and they would burn all their possessions and their family in their mind so that when they woke up and everything was there, they appreciated all of it. So I would argue when we have everything, we appreciate nothing when we have nothing. We appreciate everything. And I think delaying gratification is a muscle you have to develop. And if you’re a warrior, we have a responsibility to help those around us and hold them accountable and help them. My job is to help my family delay some gratification.

Mike Sarraille:
The simplest I’ve ever lived, and there was a lot of happiness, was when we were in a war zone. So I was surrounded by 40 of my brothers, all elite in their own. And trust me, I like to say I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. What I mean by that, I was never the top performer. I could hold my own, I can contribute to the team win. But you had your twin bed separated with these plywood walls. You didn’t have that much room, you didn’t have that many possessions besides your kit. Maybe a couple changes of civilian clothing, your uniforms. And it was simple, man. And all we focused on was getting outside the wire to bring the fight to the enemy. And so you rather than sit on the camp and just watch movies or read books, we wanted to get out there. We wanted to pursue the enemy, and life was so enjoyable. And then you would actually return to the states and it was just noise. It was all just noise.

Joe De Sena:
My opinion, you’ll help me think this through, even beyond this podcast, and I’d love to come back and circle up on this. My opinion is when we read books and we watch movies on men and women just not being aligned because the man is describing exactly what you just described. I was with my brother as we were in a twin bed and that was the best. And our wives want to go to Cancun. I’m not pick, my wife would go with your wife in two seconds to Cancun. But it’s not just our wives, it’s movies, books, we see the same story play out. I’m convinced that in general, men, especially warriors, we wanna live at the bottom. The people listening look up. If you don’t know at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,

Joe De Sena:
And I think men wanna live closer to the bottom, it’s really refreshing to just want water, food, and shelter. Everything escapes your mind. You were happy as can be inside that war zone. And I was in the Ukraine a week and a half ago, I have to say three days in Ukraine with the best three days, the last three years for me, <laugh> was the best street. And how could that be? Because I just wanted water, food and shell, you know what I mean? I was the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. Women, especially in the first world, especially women that are married to us, they’re pushing for the top of the pyramid. And there’s nothing wrong with either. It’s just like we’re in two different complete planets. You know what I mean? I wanna be on that twin bed in the middle of nowhere with just some basic food and water. This is not a marriage session, by the way, but there is a <laugh>,

Mike Sarraille:
I’m, I’m gonna replay this for my wife and see I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one. And Joe said he would send his wife to Cancun with you guys. Yeah, yeah. No, I’m joking

Joe De Sena:
With you. Yeah. So anyway, it’s

Mike Sarraille:
You. At the same regard, I don’t think I would want to be married to a woman that liked living at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think it’s a ying and a yang that keeps me contrasted. I also think it’s what attracts our wives to us and vice versa is that they do love that there’s a masculinity again with the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to provide food, water in shelter for our families. There’s nothing more manly or masculine than that. The basic needs,

Joe De Sena:
The very, you’re saying the very, and I agree with you, the very thing that attracts them is the thing that drives them crazy. And I think it’s the same for us. And I agree with that and I agree with you that it would be like somebody said to me recently, Joe, your kids would be an absolute mess if your wife was like you. And so it’s good that there’s a balance in the house where she’s normal and I’m not.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah, I look back at my dad was that man was I, I’ll say it hard as balls. And he very much was the disciplinarian. And my father did very well for himself. Came from very little but hated bullies. And I saw my dad knock out men that were two men bothering a son and a father, and they were big bullies. So my dad, I always learned that side. But my mom was definitely the emotional, spiritual rock, the quintessential Catholic with the quotes and Bible verses. But there is a balance there. It’s interesting as you look at society in the blurring of father and mother figures, both are required to create balanced children, to your point, in my opinion.

Joe De Sena:
Yeah, I agree. I absolutely agree. And my oldest now is 17, my youngest is nine. Another interesting little observation is the youngest, we have four children, the youngest we pay the least amount of attention to because by the time you have the fourth, you’ve been like, we’re exhausted. And she’s got the greatest personality. She’s just on her own. She puts on an apron. She was rearranging all the cabinets in the kitchen the other night just by herself. And the first ones your over parent for sure. So that’s an interesting observation I’ve noticed lately.

Mike Sarraille:
So Joe, one of the things, I don’t know if this was part of your grand design, and often when we start these ventures, no grand design, you iterate as rapidly as possible. But I do believe, again, Maslow Har Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that we do need a sense of homecoming and belonging. Use the word which is sort of taboo now. I say trot, we need a trot. And for me, that was the military and I loved it. I loved it. And when you leave, you lose it. But for a lot of everyday warriors, everyday CI citizens, they don’t naturally have that tribe. And I’m not talking about a fraternity or that you went to a university and you’re part of the alumni. I consider those superficial. And I’m not denigrating anyone who’s earned those or is part of a sorority or fraternity. But you go to your site and you’ve got people with the Spartan headbands on and they’re all hands in the air. They’re yelling, you’ve created this sort of outlet, this tribe through this commonality through hardship, which some people call shared adversity mean. Is that lost on you? Was that part of your original design? Or did this community just of emerge and you couldn’t have even guessed it?

Joe De Sena:
When we started back in 2022 years ago, my vision was I thought there were 50,000 people globally that would climb Everest, that would row a row boat across the Atlantic that would do a 500 mile run. And I was gonna basically group them together because those people were inspirations in my mind. They would inspire the world, <affirmative> <affirmative>. The first few races I put on were very long distance and very few people showed up for them. Of course, by 2010 I lowered the bar. It became a three mile race, an eight mile race, 13 mile race. The name was Spartan. We had this competitor out there called Tough Mutter. And the first race under the brand name Spartan 700 people showed up more than I had in the whole decade prior combined. And I happened to have a guy with me that worked for Discovery Channel and his job was to determine whether or not a new show would work and whether they were gonna air it on a discovery channel. Yeah,

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah.

Joe De Sena:
And so he would look at social psychology and he was sitting there as this race unfolded, this first branded Spartan event with 700 people. And he said exactly what you said. He said, oh my God. He goes, this is like a cult. He said, they’re finding commonality community, they’re transforming. This is unbelievable. They’re getting dirty. And he was laying it all out in a much deeper sense than I had a start line, I had a finish line, I had cool obstacles, but he was going a lot deeper for me and I just didn’t know. And we put on a second race and third race and sure enough, he was right. It became church in some ways for folks that maybe didn’t grow up like you did or I did, where they went to church, it became a place where they could, it was clean, it was healthy. They weren’t drugging and drinking. They were forced to leave a lead, a clean life leading up to the event. Everybody was nice. They were shared suffering. And then before it, you’ve got 40,000 tattoos out there with Spart and who doesn’t wanna spart in tattoo. And it’s got a connection to the military, it’s got a connection to ufc, it’s got a connection that like CrossFit and it, it became church.

Mike Sarraille:
Now you guys are expanding. I think we just had Yuon from, forgive me, I’m an Outlander. The

Joe De Sena:
Oh oh from Highlander. Yeah, Highlander. Yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
And so you’ve basically taken them on to assist them and stand that up mean, are there plans to expand beyond Highlander and Spartan or is there a grander vision for what you built?

Joe De Sena:
Yeah. Yeah. So there’s a company, lvmh public company out of France that owns a bunch of high end brands that sells all kinds of stuff that people don’t need. Fancy scarves and briefcase and pocketbooks and stuff and shoes. And I said, why can’t we be like that? Why can’t we be a house of brands? But we would be a house of hard. So you don’t know what Mike or Joe, whoever is gonna be excited by that’s gonna get them off the couch. It might be a Highlander hiking event. It might be the toughest mountain bike race in the world, a paddle board race across Hawaii. Can we curate all these different disciplines under one house, gain some efficiencies because this is what we do. And so that’s the vision. I just didn’t expect that covid would hit and we would be surrounded by the enemy 360 degrees and out of ammunition. But other than that, yes, that’s the plan.

Mike Sarraille:
So you guys must have,

Joe De Sena:
That

Mike Sarraille:
Was a good one. Down the hatches and embrace.

Joe De Sena:
Yeah, that was a good one. Just, I mean,

Mike Sarraille:
Really said something similar. He said it was, especially as Highlander was starting to pick up traction, he said the timing could not be worse.

Joe De Sena:
Well, when Covid hit, we had already sold 450,000 entries for 2020. So I had 450,000 very angry people that couldn’t race, couldn’t get their money back, and they just wanted to kill me to make them somewhat happy. We offered two entries for when the world opened back up in a few weeks cuz there’s no way the world’s gonna stay shut for more than a few weeks when it opens back up. We’ll give everybody two entries. That’s 90 million worth of entries we gave away. So when we went to open the world back up finally in 2022, you’ve gotta burn through 90 million of free entries, so to say. Yeah, it’s been But listen, I’m alive. I got my fingers and toes. Yeah, I’m sitting here talking to you. I got no complaints.

Mike Sarraille:
Would you guys ever consider doing this for grammar schools? Setting up,

Joe De Sena:
Oh my god,

Mike Sarraille:
Obstacles just to get kids the thrill of giving, negotiating this thing.

Joe De Sena:
So we have a farm in Vermont, which is where this all started back in 22 years ago. And on the farm during Covid, I started this thing called, which is probably just like the word tribe is a problem right now. I’m sure that we call it the death camp because kids get excited when they hear death camp. You can call it death, we’ll change it to death week. So I wanted it for my kids, basically bud training for kids. And we torture. I mean they’re up at 5:00 AM They’re getting screamed out by drill instructors. They’re in ice, cold water. They’re chopping wood, they’re carrying sandbags up to put it in perspective every day before breakfast they do just to start the day. They’re getting murf done and it’s awesome. And the kids come out with character and stronger. And it’s great for my kids cuz I’ve surrounded ’em with 50 kids.

Joe De Sena:
So it’s not just dad screaming at them. And what I love to do it in 3000 schools, of course I would look like one day, half day and it would be the greatest thing. But I need the do d I need somebody to partner on it because I can’t make it work. But I know the curriculum, I know it would work. I just need, by the way, I could solve the entire country’s recruiting problem in 11 seconds with it. 11 seconds. Save them billions of dollars of advertising and we’d have amazing, a new generation of amazing kids with character that would follow in your footsteps in your career.

Mike Sarraille:
When you weave in all the leadership lessons, the character lessons into that type of tough training. It’s even for adults. So I own a company called Talent or Group and we do leadership development. Yes, we can do it in the classroom, we can do it in house, but the data shows that only five to 10% of what’s taught in the classroom is retained. And so I do talk to a lot of CEOs, I’m like, give your people 50 of your top leaders, we’re gonna go to Yosemite for five days. The biggest obstacle we often hit is the hr. Oh no, no, no. This is a liability. And Todd is not in the best shape and we’re not putting ’em through hell week. Simply put a compass and a map. Give somebody a short class and get them out of a office. And even moving five miles a day through let’s say rugged terrain, it pushes people past their mental and physical comfort zones. But it’s amazing how many companies, oh yeah, the liability that we can’t do it and they miss out on the shared adversity, they miss out on the hardship even. And this is what we found when we do do it, the person that struggled the most throughout the week and who that is, is usually holding their beer. The highest bragging about how awesome that was on the Friday after you pulled them out of the field and watching them together share a beer or a drink. It’s a different team dynamic.

Joe De Sena:
And by the way, there’s no more important moment in throughout history when it’s needed because people are not in offices anymore. Think about that. By the way, wall Street Journal did an article or somebody did an article the other day. Not only is this out of office nonsense, ripping, ripping the entire workforce apart. Now they’re talking about now they’re recommending working how to work from bed, swear to God article hit the internet, how to work from bed because it’s too complicated and too hard to even get out of bed and change outta pajamas and take a shower and work out and then work from a desk. Now you just work from bed.

Mike Sarraille:
Now, hey, if for a company they’ve got a remote policy, awesome you again, talent or group. We’re an executive search firm. We also do HR consulting. I’ve got a team of people that have been in HR for decades and they’re very aggressively minded people. They’re very good of my book. George Randall’s one of the best and I’m not a fan of the remote work environment. It removes the human component. It move, it removes the collaboration and innovation. And again, is there is maybe, is there a hybrid? Yeah, I can see that. Or maybe policies where it’s certain days in the office, allow them to work home for, hey, whatever floats your boat with my company, it’s 100% in the office. We either win as a team or we don’t win at all. And that requires being together. That requires especially creating relationships. And I saw Twitter, hey lover Lon Musk, he said at some point for Tesla, no, no more remote, you’re in the office. He just did the same for Twitter. And it is like hell ha half frozen over in San Francisco. When you did that, enacted that policy.

Joe De Sena:
I moved my family mean we were living in Vermont, we had an office in Boston. I had over a hundred people in that office, pre pandemic, post pandemic. I couldn’t get 25 people to come in consistently. I couldn’t get 25 of 120. Who’s in Maine? Who’s living here? They gotta do their laundry. The traffic’s too much. I lost my mind. I said to my wife, we’re moving to a city where I could rebuild an office where people come to work. So I’m living in Orlando now. I got 25 people that come into work every day. My office in Boston, Orlando, I’m in Orlando, I moved to Orlando. I literally moved my family to, because I believe you believe that face to face, walking all over, talking to somebody is valuable.

Mike Sarraille:
Completely. And God, I would miss that human dynamic. Could you imagine if the military said, Hey, we’re gonna go remote. We we’ll gather once a weekend or one a month. And I

Joe De Sena:
Joke about that uniform services doesn’t get to go remote. I was waiting for a plane at Denver Airport and the flight got delayed and delayed and delayed. Finally they got on the radio and they said, oh, the pilot decided to work from home Today. Doesn’t work right? It doesn’t work.

Mike Sarraille:
We are in different times my friend, but I’m preaching to the choir on that one. Hey Joe, we’re gonna post all the books and where to find Spartan so that people can get involved. Here’s what I’ll say to the listeners. Just go do one. Even if you’re not in the best of shape, get through it. You’ll get through it slower. Don’t focus on the time, focus on completion or get as far as you can. And I guarantee you will feel a sense of accomplishment. But Joe, the way we finish this up, again, we believe, and the reason we talk to warriors like yourself is that you’ve been successful, you’ve also failed. Which we know failure is the greatest manner in life, but success leaves breadcrumbs. And so you may be able to leave a few breadcrumbs for people. So the first question is, what is the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make in your life? Or biggest regret?

Joe De Sena:
Oh my goodness. The hardest decision. Yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
These are stumps

Joe De Sena:
I’ve ever had to make. I think it was,

Mike Sarraille:
It doesn’t mean you necessarily got the decision, right?

Joe De Sena:
Yeah, I mean I don’t get a lot of decisions. I, there’s so many of ’em. But the one that jumps out at me as the most recent was when the pandemic hit and having to shut down the races all around the world and how many people to let go and furlough. A buddy of mine runs Sax fifth Avenue, the antithesis brand of Spartan. He’s got two little poodles, I’ve got a kettle bell. It’s funny that we’re both so friendly. We both wake up at 5:00 AM and shoot shit. But he said to me, he said, listen, literally the day Trump shut the country down, he said, listen, you gotta conserve cash. You’re gonna have to let a ton of people, you have to shoot puppies. So those were tough decisions, but it had to be done.

Mike Sarraille:
The organization, it’s always what’s best for the organization cuz the organization can rebound and then hire people back. I agree though. It’s hard for those to understand if they’re not, leadership is not for everyone. And a lot of people would default on the right decision because they just don’t want to be unpopular. And I think that’s a difference between leaders is they know that the right decision is not always the best decision for the people, for the organization. Greatest mentor of your life and what you specifically learned from them.

Joe De Sena:
So many, my dad’s not alive. My dad was an amazing mentor. Gave me, now that I’m a dad and I think about all the time he spent all those dinners talking and every chance he got just kind of oozing that knowledge into my head. It’s exhausting. And if anything, I’m falling short with my kids. And so I gotta take my hat off to dad and say, that was unbelievable. But I also had an organized crime boss that gave me incredible lessons. I’ve got an old Italian guy in Ithaca that gave me incredible lessons. So I’m so lucky and anybody listening always ask a successful elder for advice because 99.9% of the time they give it. We’re waiting to remain relevant. So

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah, we are all product of our mentors. What are those one to three tenets? I mean you’ve written books, multiple books on this, but what are those one to three keys to success for you that have led to the highest probability of success for you?

Joe De Sena:
I got a bunch of threes. The first one? Yeah, the first three I’m gonna give you, I came up with recently for my kids, I wanted to distill and say what are three things that my four kids and their friends, if you just do these three things, you’re guaranteed success. I think it’s genius cause I came up with it. Of course <laugh> one is communicate like a movie star. Especially in this world where we’re looking at phones and we’re looking at devices, learn to communicate. Denzel Washington would or Russell go down the list when they get up and give a speech. You are captivated. Gabby Reese. Gabby Reese is an amazing communicator when I’m with her. She makes you think you’re so important. So anyway, communicate like a movie star. Secondly, work like an immigrant. And for anybody out there, if either of us upset you with our words, remember what my mom said, which is sticks and stones will break your bones.

Joe De Sena:
Words should never hurt you. Communicate. I mean, work like an immigrant, right? Outwork everybody around you. Get up earlier, show up earlier, stay later. Just outwork everybody. And then number three, you gotta have gratitude like a monk. It communicate like a movie star. Outwork everybody around you have gratitude like a monk. Now, gratitude like a monk. Explain that one. Dive into that. Oh, just appreciate. Like we talked about earlier on the whiteboard, if you’re living in, even if it’s just mental and you’re living in that place where you just have to have water, food, and shelter, you just appreciate everything above that. I remember, I didn’t know I had C and I was out on a 65 mile run this summer cuz my, it’s a long story. And I didn’t know why. I was sweating. I was dying. I didn’t have my wallet. And this woman on the side of the road was selling fruit and I convinced her to gimme a little bunch of grapes.

Joe De Sena:
They were the greatest grapes ever. It was unbeliev. I still think about these grapes. And so I was so appreciative of the grapes. Now, if you’re eating grapes every day and you’re living on Park Avenue and these grapes, you’re terrible there. You know what I mean? It makes for a shitty life and it makes for folks around you don’t like being around you. So you gotta be incredibly appreciative of everything we have because anything is better than dead. That’s the way I look at it. Now, let me give you three that I got from my mob. Boss neighbor. When I was a kid, his name was Joe Messina. He was the boss of the banana organized crime family. And in my preteens, he invited me over to clean his swimming pool and he was gonna teach me how to be in business. And the first day I was there, he said, listen, he said, I told you to come over at 8:00 AM on time is late.

Joe De Sena:
You gotta be here 7 45. He said, whenever you’re, you know, gotta go to any, if I’m gonna recommend you to my friends or whatever, you always gotta be early. Can’t embarrass me. He said, secondly, if I’m paying you or people are paying you to clean the pool, you gotta go above and beyond. I want you cleaning the lawn furniture, straighten it up, the shed clean the windows. When people come home, when I come home, it’s gotta be like, oh my God, I can’t live without this kid. And then third, never ask for money, which is counterintuitive. If you’re running a business, you wanna have your hand out, you wanna collect money. So listen, if you do a good job, you show up before you’re supposed to be there. You go above and beyond, you’ll get paid. But don’t show up with your handout asking for money. And those three things have served me incredibly well in life. So

Mike Sarraille:
That’s interesting coming from a mob boss. I know, I love that. At the end of the day, the mob is still a business. Just like, yeah, maybe one of the oldest, Joe, when all is said and done, be that 40 years from now and the time comes, man, as you look back, what’s gonna be the legacy for you? What’s the legacy that you wish or want to lead behind?

Joe De Sena:
So here’s a great one. So I get a lot of time to spend an ancient spar in Sparta, and I had a Cambridge Pro professor meet me at the ruins, which is not really much of a ruins because the Spartans didn’t believe, they didn’t believe in legacy. What they believed in was we gotta do a great job in the here and now. And if we do a great job in the here and now, legacy just happens. But if you spend all your time working on leaving a monument or leaving this thing or leaving that thing, you’re not doing a great job in the here and now. So I would say I just wanna do a great job now and whatever happens, happens. But this is counter, this is counter with the ancient Spartans said, and maybe I’ll piss them off and they’ll roll over in their graves. But I do wanna build a monument, an ancient Sparta for the three with 300 tombstones around it. So maybe that’s what people will remember me for.

Mike Sarraille:
Are you working with the government over there to try to get it done?

Joe De Sena:
Yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
That’s awesome. That’s awesome that that’s again, that story, whether they wanted a legacy or not has inspired millions. I remember

Joe De Sena:
Seeing that. I know,

Mike Sarraille:
I remember our whole recon platoon went and watched that together. And when we went to, and this is San Diego, the theater had other marine platoons and navy sections. It sold out for weeks. Amazing man. Amazing. Yeah. Well, Joe, I can’t thank you enough again for the nuggets that you’ve left, all of us, for everyone, just go to spartan.com and your next adventure is just one click away.

Joe De Sena:
I will, I’ll go one further. Anybody listening, anybody watching this? It’s on us. Whether it’s a spart and a tough utter, a deca Highlander, just commit by, let’s say by when will this come out? When do you think this will come out? Okay, so commit by year. No, no commit by year end. As long as you commit by year end, send you an email they want in, they wanna challenge themselves. And it’s on us because I know how powerful it is. And I know you’ll become addicted because everybody does. And we’ll have some fun.

Mike Sarraille:
That’s a huge, huge offer there, Joe. And I know for the listeners, they will be thankful and grateful. Well Joe, thanks for joining us. For all the listeners, thanks for joining another episode of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior podcast. I’m your host, Mike Sarraille. We’ll see you again.

Episode 40

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 40: Jeff Osterman
In episode 40, we spoke to Jeff Osterman, former collegiate basketball coach and president of FullCourt Dreams.
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Episode 41

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 41: Dr. Gabrielle Lyon
Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior With Mike Sarraille is a podcast that inspires individuals to live more fulfilling lives by having conversations with
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Episode 42

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 42: Dr. Jason Wersland
In episode 42 of the Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior Podcast With Mike Sarraille, we spoke to Dr. Jason Wersland, founder of Therabody.
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Episode 43

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 43: Lamar Stevens
In episode 43 of the Men’s Journal’s Everyday Warrior Podcast With Mike Sarraille, we spoke to Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lamar Stevens.
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Episode 44

Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 44: Taye Diggs
In episode 44 of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast, we spoke to actor Taye Diggs about his show, 'All American.'
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