Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 45: Speaker, Author, and Ottawa Tribe Member D.J. Vanas

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 45, we spoke to D.J. Vanas, an enrolled member of the Ottawa Tribe and a former U.S. Air Force officer. He’s a thought leader, producer, and author, whose most recent book is called The Warrior Within. As an in-demand speaker, Vanas has addressed more than 500 tribal nations, corporations, and organizations, including Intel, NASA, Subaru, Disney, the Mayo Clinic, and the U.S. military. He teaches audiences of all sizes how to employ traditional warrior principles to remain resilient, lead with courage, and perform at their best.

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 to the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Sarraille. We’ve got a guest, a brother from another mother, I’m talking about D.J. Vanas, who’s a published author, former military officer in the Air Force by way of the Air Force Academy, which, uh, I was not smart enough to get into. So I actually had to go the honest man’s route and enlist first. But, DJ, you have some great concepts, and I know you do keynote speaking in, you’re an author, and you talk to a lot of companies on the warrior mindset, and you also talk about tribes. We’ve let the audience know, I’ve got a book called The Everyday Warrior and I do talk about—there is a difference between a war fighter and a warrior. Not that they’re necessarily, uh, mutually exclusive, but, uh, you know, there’s a lot of people out there in the, the private sector, and that’s never served day in the military that are more warriors than some of the, the, the war fighters I did, uh, serve with. So, uh, first off, you’ve got an interesting story, so we’ve gotta get into this. Um, as I read it, uh, you came from very meager, uh, beginnings, man, and you are self-made, uh, born on Indian reservation. Walk me through your early life, uh, up to, up to now for the, uh, the listeners.

D.J. Vanas:
Gotcha. Yeah. Uh, no, happy to be here, Mike. And no, I wasn’t born on a reservation. I was born in a community that’s having, you know, a lot of tribal members in that community, but my parents were teenagers in poverty when they had me. And, uh, by the way, I’m, I’m a, you know, proud son of an enlisted man, 21 years in the Air Force. There

Mike Sarraille:
You go. En I knew there was something I liked about here

D.J. Vanas:
Straight. I had my head straight. Um, but no, I, I, you know, from humble beginnings, you know, and my parents, you know, they’d make one meal and eat it all week. They read to each other at night for entertainment because they didn’t have a TV or radio. I benefited from that tremendously. Uh, the first book that was read aloud to me, and, and, you know, my parents at the same time was Mario Puzo’s, the Godfather.

Mike Sarraille:
You’re kidding me.

D.J. Vanas:
That’s, that’s, you can’t make this stuff up. So that’s probably why I’m so weird now. But, um, but no, I, I slept in a dresser drawer the first three months of my life. That was my crib. But it made it surreal to come from that kind of a background and then show up many years later to be a keynote speaker at, at the White House, you know, and it was a pinch me moment of, you know, whatever you have, you leverage the heck out of that. And it goes in alignment with this, this warrior concept, um, which is to use our creator given talents and abilities, uh, and develop those through a lifetime so we could become an asset or a benefit to the tribe that we served. That’s the way that we look at warriors in our tribal communities.

D.J. Vanas:
And that term has nothing to do with what we send TV or on movies. It’s not that Hollywood, you know, stereotypical image of, you know, the sweaty chiseled figure that we see so much of. It’s somebody who has dedicated their lives to serving someone else, uh, leading by example. It was somebody who is benevolent in service, somebody who is motivated by love, somebody who asked a question, not what can I get, but what can I do for someone else? And at the end of the day, fought for something bigger than their own personal welfare. That’s what the whole role of a warrior was about.

Mike Sarraille:
That that seems to be in stark contrast to what we’re seeing today in, uh, in society.

D.J. Vanas:
Yeah. Sometimes what we see to, oh, go ahead. Sorry.

Mike Sarraille:
No, no, no. I was gonna say, I read a great article, it was from one of the former commandants of the Marine Corps, and, uh, he said, you know, one of the biggest differences between the military community in the civilian community, he said, if he had to boil it down to anything, is that the military understands the concept of tribe and, and teamwork and being part of a collective group where civilian society puts a precedence on individuality. And, and, and people, you know, people like to think that, well, hey, the military creates all these robots. No, we still want people to be people. We still want people to have the personalities. You know, one of, one of my favorite, uh, country western, uh, stars, Willie Nelson said, let people be people. It’s their greatest strength. So we still do have that in the military, man. We have some big personalities, and you know that to be true.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. Um, but those people know when to put their needs aside for the good of the, uh, the tribe. And, and I’ve gotta ask you, brother, uh, I know some people, it, it strikes a chord. I use the term tribe as, and it’s a, it’s a, a form of endearment to, to, you know, native Americans because their concept of tribe it, I think it’s something that in one of my favorite books is Tribe by Sebastian Young, uh, younger, I, I think it’s a must-read one for veterans getting out, but I had such an appreciation and respect for Native American culture in their sense of community compared to what we see in mainstream society.

D.J. Vanas:
Yeah, yeah. And, and the tribes leaned on each other. You know, I mean, tribal, you know, tribes have gotten a bad rap because you have to ask yourself, what does your tribe represent? Is it representing, you know, something, something negative, something toxic? Or is it representing something benevolent, something good, something that’s ultimately gonna have a positive impact with other people’s lives? You know, that that’s really the question. Our tribes go back. I mean, that, that’s why I lean on that word, regardless of, you know, how things have been perceived lately because our tribes are what allowed us to endure. You know, I I, I write very adamantly in my book, warriors never Fought Alone. Why? Because that’s dumb. You know, you’re only gonna ever accomplish a certain amount in this life when you’re out there lone wolfing it, doing it all on your own. You know, um, you have to tribe up with those warriors who are on the same path as you, because you want to become brave and courageous.

D.J. Vanas:
You have to surround yourself with bravery and courage. You wanna become a complainer, a gossiper, a negative, or a toxic person hang out with set. They’ll teach you those, the ways of that tribe. So we get to determine what tribe we’re a part of. I mean, we’re born into some of them, but I’m a big believer in the ones that we create, you know, who we hang with in time is who we become. That birds of a feather flock together thing. Yeah. It’s so important to remember because that’s, that’s, you know, truth. And, um, we can be, and when we’re surrounded with the right people, we become the best version of ourselves, who we were meant to be in this world.

Mike Sarraille:
Not, not to to, to dwell on this too much, but you, you just hit something where Holly Wood loves to really focus on the individual Rambo. Yeah. Rambo the lone soldier out there, the lone and unafraid, as we say, uh, mowing down the enemy when in reality you and I know, uh, he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes against, you know, a a a group of 10 or 20 fighters. It’s the same thing with Medal of Honor winners, which, and I’m not taking anything away from Medal of Honor winners, uh, medal of Honor winners saved my life by jumping on a grenade. Uh, but it, it, you know, they, again, it goes back to society loves that, that sense of individuality and Oh my God, this, this person did something amazing, but that person wasn’t alone.

D.J. Vanas:
There’s individual moments. Yeah. There’s individual moments that where courageous, you know, courageous actions and bravery come into play. And, and that shouldn’t be discounted, but that the, what gets discounted or forgotten is the fact that it was done in the context of a tribe. Usually those people do a moment of bravery, something so selfless and sacrificial because they love the person they’re next to. It’s not because they’re out there by themselves. It’s because they’re shoulder to shoulder with the people that they love and care about and would give every anything for. And so that’s one of the things I write about in my book, uh, the Warrior Within, is to, to kind of deconstruct that romantic idea of that warrior who’s out there by themselves. They don’t need anything, anybody. They don’t deal with fair fear or pain. All they need is the next worthy challenge. All that is baloney. You know, our, our tribal members, you know, our, our warriors were special because they dealt with all those things and obstacles, and they were outmatched numbers and technologically, and, but they still found a way to rally because they relied on each other, and they, they knew that their role was to feed and protect their people, not to feed and protect their ego.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. And man, it’s amazing what we can do when we’re part of a team. Yes. And everyone wants to be part of a team. Um, you know, let me ask you this. Can you be part of multiple tribes?

D.J. Vanas:
Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. Yes. And we should be, you know, there’s different components of our life. You know, we can, we can have tribes for certain things, you know, when we’re, when, when we’re doing, you know, our self-development, when we’re doing the stuff that makes us better men, better people, we can have a group, you know, a tribe that we work out with, you know, in the gym, and we talk sports and, you know, we can definitely have multiple tribes. Um, but the, the key part is be conscientious about who we tribe up with, because it matters. Yeah. I mean, this is who we surround ourselves with, makes us a better, stronger, sharper, more resilient, more courageous version of ourselves, and ultimately hope, hopefully that’s what we’re trying to become.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. They’re definitely, you know, cuz there, there are positive tribes, let’s be honest, like, like the US military, you’re part of a positive tribe that Yeah. Uh, what people don’t understand is we are, uh, trained in the art of war, but we’re actually in the profession of peace. But then Isis, the Hell’s Angels, tho those are tribes as well. Um, but in your opinion, you know, I know Isis, Al-Qaeda, they, they preyed off the young impoverished, uh, uneducated, but they gave them a sense of homecoming and belonging. Yeah. Um, and, and I know reading, again, going back to Sebastian Younger in the book Tribe, um, he talked about how post-traumatic stress, uh, disorders, or, or which I hate to call them disorders, uh, symptoms were much lower amongst Native Americans coming home from World War ii, Vietnam because of the sense of tribal community and that they wrapped their arms around them. Yes. What to, to what part of of human psychology does, does, does a tribe plan, is it just that sense of homecoming and belonging?

D.J. Vanas:
It, it, it really is. I mean, that, I’m so glad you’re bringing this up because that is something that should be worthy of note, you know, is, is when tribal members went back into their communities, a couple things happened that were amazingly good. Uh, number one, they reintegrated back into a tribe, A tribe that was supportive, um, that was encouraging. They also did ceremonies, Mike, where they actually got to purge all this stuff that they collected, you know, so that it didn’t morph into ptsd, but could become what we know now as post-traumatic growth Yes. Where you actually learn and grow and become better as you go through those hellish hard times. Um, so there was a, a, a couple of dynamics that were really powerful in that moment that, um, I, I think are critical. You know, when we talk about strengthening ourselves, that’s one that we shouldn’t discount.

Mike Sarraille:
When you say perjury, are you with the use of peyote or ayahuasca or things along those lines? No, not

D.J. Vanas:
Necessarily.

Mike Sarraille:
Ceremonies necessarily. Not

D.J. Vanas:
Necessarily. Our tribal communities use that. It’s a small percentage of our tribes. Yeah. That’s, that’s part of it. But just the, the general ceremonies in general, like a sweat lodge or a, uh, wiping of the tier ceremony or a, you know, there’s a lot of different ceremonies. We have over 575 federally recognized tribes, but there are, there are ceremonies that we go through to get rid of the toxins that accumulate in our, in our bodies. Spiritually

Mike Sarraille:
At the cellular and spiritual level.

D.J. Vanas:
Yes, exactly. To get rid of that stuff. And, and I was part of a, a, a PBS documentary, uh, called The Warrior Tradition. And what it did is highlighted all the different, you know, how our tribes honor the warrior path, especially when it comes to military service. And that was one that got brought up in there that makes us unique and special in that regard, is we took care of our people when they came home, um, even through Vietnam, which was a terrible conflict to come back from because people were shunned and spit on and criticized. But that did not happen in our native communities. When our members came back home, they were truly home and they were healed.

Mike Sarraille:
The, uh, y you know, I’m, I went to Mexico and did the, the psychedelic therapy or psychedelic the ceremonies you want to mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, call it in a very, uh, established environment. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, the environment was, was they were very meticulous and, and deliberate about it. It was one of the most amazing experiences I regret. And I did that in June of 2000, uh, 21 when I retired in March of 2018. So I waited close to, to three years. Um, wish I had done it the week I got out, man. Yeah. Uh, that was one of the most spiritual and I began, was rough. I, I was, uh, purging mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but nothing was coming out, uh, for, for pretty much the whole night. But, uh, you know, there’s, they’re getting a lot of great, uh, results outta that. And I think Dan Crenshaw just, uh, introduced a bill to get the VA to approve psychedelic therapy for, uh, for vats. Cuz it was, I began on Friday five M e o D M t, which, uh, you know, Mike Tikon talked about on the Joe Rogan pod, uh, podcast on people call the, uh, the toad. Um, that was, that was life changing, I’ll say it. And the five M MEO was one of the most spiritual experiences I I’ve ever had. Um,

Mike Sarraille:
Why do you think modern society has moved away from sort of these, these, these tribal connections? Is it the modernization? I mean, people are so nomadic now that grew up in one place, now they’re in New York, working there full-time. Uh, what in your opinion, has led to sort of this divisive lack of, of personal connections amongst, uh, modern society?

D.J. Vanas:
Yeah, great question, Mike. We’re all dealing with that. And, and I think you’re hitting the nail on the head. I think it’s the, the individualism that, you know, that we talked about earlier where there’s that attached glory to doing it all on your own. Nobody does it alone. You’re not supposed to do it alone. I was taught traditionally by, by my elders that we’re more like bees and ants than eagles. We need each other. We’re better when we’re with each other. So that’s the thing, that’s the misnomer. We kind of, we have to get rid of. We’re not a, it’s not about being out there on your own, doing it all by yourself. That’s, like I said, that’s a goofy way to operate. Number two, I think we’re all moving so fast and we’re, it, the pace is so frenetic. We’re running around with our hair on fire.

D.J. Vanas:
The speed of life is a speed of light. And I think we lose those connections. And those are the moments where we’re so anxious and overwhelmed. That’s the moment where we most need to lean out and grab our rope holders. You know, those people that are supporting us, that encourage us, um, that we can unpack ideas, you know, and have a, a shoulder to cry on at times or, or have somebody to kick our rear end when we need that. Cuz we need that sometimes too. But, but we need that. I mean, that’s where we truly grow. Uh, not on our own individually, but within that tribe that we create.

Mike Sarraille:
Let me ask you this. So, you know, there, there are, let’s say antiquated theories about being a man. Yeah. And the antiquated theories one that I’m getting at is vulnerability. Yeah. If you show vulnerability that is weakness Wow. Within the tribal sort of sense, uh, of the native, uh, American community, is vulnerability viewed as weak? Or, or is that something that, that even a warrior can come forward and say, Hey, I’m not, I’m not feeling well, I’m not feeling right in, in the community rallies around them? Or is that something that’s, that’s evolved along with, with, with sort of the military as we’ve seen it now we’re putting mental health treatments in place, but, uh, what, what, what’s your perspective on that one? I’d be very interesting.

D.J. Vanas:
Yeah. I think it’s both. I think it’s both. Uh, in our tribal communities, there was a time to be, you know, that stoic that that leader who said, you know, I’m confident, let’s move forward. But there was a time to be vulnerable too. And that’s where our ceremonies came in, where you could totally open up, you know, and, and just completely unload all of that. That has built up. That’s what those ceremonies were for. So there was a time and a place for that. As far as everybody else, you know, kind of general society, I think we’re migrating now to that idea that vulnerability is not weakness. It’s sometimes the ultimate show of courage, you know, to be able to unpack that and say, Hey, I, I’m struggling here. I need help. And the reason why is because, again, when you put the purpose of the warrior in front of us, the purpose isn’t to, to feed and protect. It’s, I know we froze up there for a second. The, the, the purpose isn’t to feed and protect their own ego. It’s to feed and protect

Mike Sarraille:
Their own. We, we were here, I got job, listen.

D.J. Vanas:
And when you keep that idea clearer, then you’re willing to go outta your way to say, Hey, I need some help. And the reason why is because I wanna be better at who I am and what I do. I don’t want sit here in the corner and keep struggling, keep banging my head on the wall when somebody next to me’s got a ladder. You know? So it’s a moment of that vulnerability where you say, I don’t got this. I don’t have all the answers. I need some help. And when we’re able to do that, I mean that’s, that’s ultimate resiliency right there. You know? Do you wanna be strong like wood or strong like grass? You know, wood can, yeah, strong wood. Wood can flex to a point under grass storms a break. Flexible grass. You can trample it, it could be flooded away, it still keeps coming back. It bends in the wind. That’s what makes it as strong as it is. And we can become that too.

Mike Sarraille:
So I, I am a firm believer, and this is coming from a guy who served in the Marine Corps in the Navy, is that if there’s one organization that wrote the, uh, uh, the manual on leadership, it’s the, uh, it’s the US Army. Uh, the Marine Corps has the war fighter manual, which is pretty damn good as well. But you know, that manual evolves. And recently they put humility as one of the top attributes, uh, of, uh, of a leader. I don’t think it’s gonna be too long before vulnerability moves up. I think it show probably a close.

D.J. Vanas:
I mean, I, I wrote in my book

Mike Sarraille:
Interview

D.J. Vanas:
A friend of mine, uh, Alex White who was a bronze star, um, uh, for valor. And, uh, he was, uh, army Special Forces. And uh, he was an Air Force Academy graduate. I mean, incredible guy worked for me as a lieutenant stud. And he had a, you know, I was interviewing him for what he went through cuz he had, he had really bad ptsd. He saw a lot of combat action. But one of the things he said is it was almost, there was a conditioning process to be, now catch this humiliated by humility. I mean, think about that. Think about what kind of vault we throw ourselves into when we have that type of mindset. And so that’s one of the things I talk about with that over romanticizing the warrior role. Even in the military, we’ve done that. You know, it’s not the bright shiny pamphlet. And that’s what puts people into crisis mode because they can’t reach out because they feel like they’re violating, you know, what they have committed to. Or it’s showing weakness. And it’s not, I mean, that’s one of the seven grandfather teachings in our tribe too, by the way, is, you know, we have courage, but we also have humility is one of the, one of those. And it’s for a reason. That’s what keeps us stronger.

Mike Sarraille:
I, I hate to put you on the spot, but that’s what you said seven, the seven

D.J. Vanas:
Grandfather

Mike Sarraille:
Teachings. What Rules? Laws. Yeah. Within the tribe.

D.J. Vanas:
Yeah. No, the

Mike Sarraille:
Second, what, what are the second grandfather teachings? Cause we gotta put this out there. Well, I just

D.J. Vanas:
Wanna make sure I get, get it right and

Mike Sarraille:
If you gotta, if you gotta pull it up, gone with you who’s different,

D.J. Vanas:
Uh, type of, uh, lists, uh, for the different tribes because everybody has, you know, little bit different. But it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s love, respect, bravely

Mike Sarraille:
Truth variations,

D.J. Vanas:
Honesty, humility, and wisdom. And I mean, those are just, you know, I

Mike Sarraille:
Mean, nobody’s gonna debate those

D.J. Vanas:
On how to build a good life. It gives you a snapshot on, you know, kind of building that image of what we’re here to do. Yeah.

Mike Sarraille:
So the love component, um, you know, I started with a, a leadership consulting firm with some seals I served with, and I, I love them. They’re, they’re, they’re my brothers. But I had to break off because I had very different experiences and I had to change what I was telling the companies. And I, you know, I had the opportunity to speak to 700 young Marines at the end of their culmination exercise. So two weeks in the field in Bridgeport, California. And I was racking my brain, cuz I started out in the Marines. I’m like, what the hell am I gonna tell to an 18 to 25 year old marine that I wish I would’ve heard back then? Because I, yeah, yeah. I fed into that l let’s call it bullshit sometimes that the Marines feed or, or the army or the Air Force or the Navy of what a warrior is that sometimes you gotta be the loud guy.

Mike Sarraille:
And, and, and, and I reflect on that, but I talked about leading through love and, and I’ve worked that even when I talked to corporate, uh, corporate, uh, partners or clients is, you know, when I’ve reflected, I look back now and I, I say I, I led or left. Yeah. One, and it took me a long time to realize this. I loved my men and women a lot more than I hated the enemy. And when you look at it, you know, like a father or a mother loves their, their, their, uh, son or daughter, the highest form of compassion is accountability. And that actually comes, I, I’m stealing that from a buddy who was a, a tank commander in, in the army. Yeah. He says, compassion, accountability is the highest form of compassion that you wanna turn somebody into a competent, good human being. But, you know, again, and, and I think we’re, we’re making strides in the right direction that, you know, love is love, vulnerability, humanity, or I’m sorry, humility.

Mike Sarraille:
These are some of the most masculine traits you can have because warriors, when it’s time to Yeah. To pick up the, the rifle, the spear, whatever your, your tool is. Yeah. It’s almost like you can flip a switch and dial down the empathy cuz you know what needs to take place for the greater good. But that’s, that’s those seven. We’re, we’re gonna publish those seven. That’s, that’s awesome. Um, let’s, let’s move because, you know, I want, I want men and, and I think right now in society, yeah. Young men are craving for coaching and mentorship. They’re craving for it. They’re, and, and we’re seeing this, this pendulum swing that hey, you know, teach me leadership, help develop me into the man. Uh, that is one, contributing to society. Who’s gonna be a great father, who’s gonna be a great husband. Um, what is, what, what near definition makes a modern day warrior in, in the public sector? And I know that is a vague nebulous question, but

D.J. Vanas:
I’ve gotta get your perspective on this most, again, going back to the seven grandfather teachings, having those elements incorporated into our character, you know, that love, that wisdom, that courage, uh, humility. Somebody who’s compassionate, we keep talking about this too. You know, it’s not about being the loudest voice in the room. It’s not about stepping on somebody’s head to get for, you know, to move forward. It’s about being compassionate with the people that you’re serving with and around. Um, if you don’t have that, who the hell cares about what kind of service you’re doing? You know, having that hu that connection to our humanity is really important. Especially lately, we’ve been so, you know, divided and there’s so much, you know, of everybody is bristling all the time. And it’s like, you know, Gandhi said it be the change you want to see, you know, be that, you know that peacemaker, you know, walk that path.

D.J. Vanas:
Uh, treat people with respect, you know, that’s another one of the, one of the teachings. But to be able to walk that way in this world, it’s not gonna make us a perfect human being. Doesn’t mean that we’re not gonna make mistakes or fall flat on her face. But I mean, you get to choose the path you walk in this life. We don’t get to choose a whole hell of a lot else. You know, we don’t choose the conditions we’re surrounded by, or the environment or, or the dynamics in the environment, but we always get to choose who we are and how we are as we go through the journey. And that’s the choice. That’s where our power is. And so, being that warrior out in the world, you know, like I said, number one, it’s somebody who is a servant. Somebody who has dedicated their lives to serving someone else well. And when you walk that path, the burning question every day should be, what am I doing today? Not tomorrow, not next week. What am I doing today to develop myself into that warrior role so I can have a deeper, more positive impact with the people that are in my tribe? That’s it. Let that be your guide point.

Mike Sarraille:
We, we, we hear that all too often, though. Hey, service to others. But rarely, again, as, as the former commandant said, you know, individuality is one of the mainstream attributes in society. Um, it, you know, people need to understand that when you take care of others, yes. You take care of yourself, especially your soul. That’s, that’s my opinion. There is a, there is a dichotomy there though. In order to take better care of others, sometimes you have to take care of yourself. I I’ll tell you, here’s where I got this wrong. So I took not the smartest man in the room. Not, not the sharpest tool, not the do list. Yeah. But some of the things the Marine Corps put out, like I took as gospel to like the letter of the law leaders eat last. And I, I remember when I transitioned over to the seals, I had this E nine who I loved.

Mike Sarraille:
He was my s e the troop chief. And it would drive him crazy cause I’d stand at the chow hall line and say, come on guys, go before me. And he flipped out on me once and he’s like, just eat with the guys. But there was a point to where I always put the guys, uh, forward. And I’m not sitting here like, oh, I’m so selfless, but I worn myself out. Yeah. Where I should have taken a vacation, should have taken time to myself. Um, for, for for, for the guys and the men and even the women listening to this who have not had great coaches or mentors or, you know, great influencers in their life that want to become a warrior. Where, where do you start with that dude? What, what’s a good starting point? Is it, is it, is it a self-inventory in, in, is it small steps In your opinion? How do you transition from just a member of staff? Yeah.

D.J. Vanas:
If you society, you know, it’s intentionality, first of all. Sure. Is this the path that you want to be on? And then the, and taking that self-assessment is critical. Um, but, but also, you know, finding the people that you want to emulate. You know, who is walking that path? You know, if I see you out doing your thing, Mike, and I’m like, I wanna be, I wanna find out what drives this guy because I like what he’s doing. I like his character. And you start having these conversations, these quality conversations with people. We never want to become like somebody else. But we, but we can always have character traits that we want to emulate. And I think it’s important. We all, we all need those role models. We all need targets to hit. Right. If, because if we don’t have that, we’re just kind of wandering around in the wandering around in the world and hoping something works.

D.J. Vanas:
That’s one way to live life. I don’t, you know, I don’t like that strategy. We don’t live long enough to do that. But, um, and I want to go back to, yeah. So I think that’s how, how we kind of progress on that path. But I want to go back to what you said too about that balance between service and self-care. Cuz this is a critical point here. Um, service is that part of the role for, you know, for three reasons. Number one, uh, services are highest calling. You know, if we are not put here to serve, why the hell are we here at all? Now, that’s a really important question. Uh, number two, services our deepest need. We all have a need and it’s a need to feel valued at some level. Uh, that we matter. That what we do matters and we can get some of that need fulfilled when we serve somebody else well, which makes us feel like a million bucks.

D.J. Vanas:
That’s the thing that people tend to forget. Um, and number three, service is a thing that outlives us. It’s our legacy. It’s what we leave behind us. You know, every elder I’ve seen in travel communities, when they walk on and they’re no longer here, they have a feast in a memorial and they celebrate that elder’s life and they don’t talk about their car or where they vacation. They talk about the moments they had an impact on somebody else’s life that was significant and profound. Um, that’s it. That’s it. But you have to take care of yourself doing that process.

Mike Sarraille:
Can’t

D.J. Vanas:
Be a warrior when you’re falling apart. So Yeah. Gotta take care of you. Yes.

Mike Sarraille:
But you, and you know, as we’re having this conversation, you know, to become a warrior, it’s coming back to tribe, is surround yourself with other warriors. And eventually it’s, dude, there’s a, there’s a great quote and I I some people credit it to Denzel Washington, but they said it’s actually been out there for a while, is, uh, if you surround yourself with five smart people, you’ll become the, the sex. If you surround yourself with five millionaires, you’ll become the sixth. Yeah. If you surround yourself with five uh, warriors, you’ll become the sixth. It also works to the, to, to the contrast. Um, dude, it’s, and dj, this is probably one of many conversations. I, I am so, I’m such a firm believer that I am who I am cuz of the coaches, mentors I had. And when I say coaches, mentors, people usually think this hierarchical, uh, you know, sort of structure of coaches above me.

Mike Sarraille:
My bosses. Yeah. And there was that, but it was usually the peers, the warriors next to me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you said something about service, uh, to others. I, you know, a big, a big transition in my life was when I found more joy in other people’s success within my tribe than my own. And, you know, uh, an example is when I, one of my buddies and I was on the operation would get a silver star, and I’m standing in the audience watching that happen. Yeah. I’d like, I was smiles in tears and hugging that dude afterwards saying, it’s almost, I’ve received the silver star. Like, just like, bro, you’re so happy for them. But I don’t think people, you know, people can’t find that

D.J. Vanas:
It’s if a joy, we,

Mike Sarraille:
We’ve all heard the phrase comparison when

D.J. Vanas:
You’re, when you’re with the tribe, joy, that, you know, going back to that, how we are shaped through our mentorship, the tribe that we’re a part of. Yeah. When we’re surrounding ourself with the right people, we’re cheering their mind, they’re cheering us on, we’re helping them out. They’re helping us out. It’s a, it’s this beautiful dynamic of mutual support and everybody benefits. And we also call each other out on bullshit. You know, that’s the other thing is having accountability. But I’ll tell you right now that it’s, it’s like looking at, at this, this arrowhead mike. Like this is just a, this is just a rock, you know, until somebody picks it up and shapes it and chips it into a useful tool that can defend your village or get dinner for the night. Right. And this is exactly like us, who we surround ourselves with either turns us into this or just leaves us as a rock. So we get to make that choice. But it’s critical. I mean, we should always be in that progression of, we’re always constantly mentoring and coaching somebody, but we’re also constantly being mentored and coached by somebody. You know, it strengthens the whole tribe when we do it that way.

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. Uh, do, is there a time that you have to level up in terms of tribes? You leave one tribe because maybe you’ve received everything you can and you need to surround yourself with a higher, and I’m not trying to to to make this a a, a a cast society. But do, do you, have you leveled up

D.J. Vanas:
In tribes

Mike Sarraille:
To where you’ve gotten enough from this?

D.J. Vanas:
Not everybody is meant to go forward on the journey. Um, the most important thing is you know where you’re headed and what you want that to look like. Um, and once you know what that looks like, you’ll start knowing who you want to incorporate in. Because some, sometimes, frankly, the people in the tribe, they don’t want to go to that next level. You know, in that stage of life they were solid and you helped them. They helped you. Yeah. But there’s a time where you start to kind of outgrow. It’s like a seed break in a chute, um, or a, you know, baby chick coming out of an egg. It’s like, there’s sometimes that threshold that we break through and we’re now in a very different place. Yes. And because of that, we need sometimes very different tribal members, uh, that we need to incorporate into, to our new group.

Mike Sarraille:
Well, dj, we, uh, okay. We end this with what we call some hard questions. Right. And, uh, I don’t think we actually had time to prep cuz we did this last minute. So if I’m stumping the jump here and I never want to stump the chump on anyone, uh, I do apologize up upfront. I’m ready. So, uh, four questions. Are you ready? <laugh>. All right, we’ll, we’ll put your, uh, air Force Academy, uh, intellect to the, uh, to the test here. Uh, sorry. Leave the military. So first one is hardest decision you’ve ever had to make.

D.J. Vanas:
Uh, 2002 as a captain, uh, to do the work. I knew When

Mike Sarraille:
Did you leave the

D.J. Vanas:
Military? Uh, it was, I was 10 years into a 20 year career, um, blue sky project, you know, to, to go out on my own and become a speaker and, and an author eventually. Um, it terrifying. You know, I grew up in a military family. I knew that stability, I knew that lifestyle. I loved it. I enjoyed it. Benefited from it, benefited from it tremendously. And to leave that structure, to go do something that had no guarantee of anything, um, was terrifying. And, but there’s, there’s two ways of learning in my tribe. There’s [inaudible] which is head learning, which is logic.

Mike Sarraille:
Dude, let me, let me ask you this. How, how many people did you have underneath your, your command as a captain?

D.J. Vanas:
Uh, I had 10 people, uh, in my team. And then I advised, um, a hundred across the country. Yeah. So I had an extended team, but, um, it was just, and then it went down to me, you know, and, but I, but I formed a new team, you know, it’s more virtual, but you still need that support structure. But yeah, it was a, it was a difficult decision, but I don’t regret it for,

Mike Sarraille:
Yeah. One second. Sometimes you can do more impact outside the military than you can within. Yeah. Um, did you love being a leader? Did you love coaching and mentoring?

D.J. Vanas:
Absolutely loved it. Still passionate about it today? Yeah. I mean, it drives my work, so that hasn’t changed.

Mike Sarraille:
I can help. Okay. So that was the hardest decision. And, and this next one, we don’t accept No, uh, no regrets. Uh, I think it’s a bullshit answer. We all have regrets. Uh, biggest regret of your life?

D.J. Vanas:
Oh my gosh. Biggest regret of my life. Um, probably not believing in myself earlier. Uh, probably not, you know, being confident in who I was meant to be earlier. Um, I think that there was times where I had a lot of, you know, internal struggles and battles, you know, in that regard that I think slowed my progression. I was in my own way a lot of times. And,

Mike Sarraille:
And when you, when you’re talking, give me an H frame, what are we talking like, teenage years post-military?

D.J. Vanas:
Um, I think post-military, well, teenage years too. Teenage years was, oh, I mean, it was a couple times in my life where I was really, you know, struggling with that. But you know, as we get older, we start getting out of our own way more and just realizing this is who I am. Um, you know, and it’s wiser. I’m doing the best, best I can with what I know. Yeah. And I’ll, and I’ll be better next week, but we’re all works in progress. So

Mike Sarraille:
Wps I’d love to say that all the way until we’re six feet under, that’s it. All the way until we’re six feet under. Okay. So what are those for the listeners, those one to three non-negotiables, those, those tenants that you live by that have led to the majority of your success?

D.J. Vanas:
Oh my gosh. Wow. These are great. I know, and these are

Mike Sarraille:
Tough. I know. Are tough. I didn’t even come up with these. These are, these are my ghost writers, man.

D.J. Vanas:
Uh, number one, understand that there is always a way forward. Always, always, always. Whatever circumstance, whatever environment there is always a way forward somehow. Some way. You have to keep that as a core belief. Uh, number two, always do what you say you’re gonna do. That’s the quickest way to build street cred. I think in any environment that we find ourselves in life. And, and number three, never go it alone. I mean, that’s one of the things that I have leaned on over and over again as far as a non-negotiable. It’s like I, I have to have my people with me on the journey. It’s just, I, I’ve been, I’ve done it alone at times. I suffered for it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, I’ve been, you know, surrounded with the right people and benefited from it in ways that I still can’t even process. So those are, those are three I think that have helped me more than anything.

Mike Sarraille:
Those are powerful words, words to live by. And usually the, the guests we have on, uh, I’m taking away and I’m taking notes, uh, as you’re saying them. So the last one, and, and, you know, we’ve, we’ve hit this throughout the conversation and it’s dear to my, you, you talked about legacy, uh, of the, you know, the travel elders, uh, I call it the legacy of leadership. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, when all, all is said and done, and let’s say 40 years, hopefully 50 years from now, DJ is at his moment. It’s his time.

D.J. Vanas:
Mm-hmm.

Mike Sarraille:
<affirmative>, how is he gonna evaluate on his deathbed whether he lived a life of purpose and impact?

D.J. Vanas:
Wow. Oh my gosh. Um, to look back at the wake you leave behind, you know, the impact in lives. You know, my, my goal is to share as many good ideas with as many people as I can while I have breath in my lungs. And I’m trying to do that every day intentionally with purpose, on purpose. And you know how the chips will fall in that, you know, the, the universe will decide. Yeah. Um, I can’t, I can’t impact, you know, I don’t have control over outcomes only on effort and I’m making ’em every day. But that’s what I want to be able to look back and, and see that I’ve touched lives. I help people. I gave them some courage and confidence when they needed it. I know where my power is and isn’t, but to get them to believe in themselves. Not anything that I can do for them, but just to get them to see their, their lives in a different lens. If I felt like I was able to do that with people, I’ll feel like, uh, my time here was a win.

Mike Sarraille:
Is is it a numbers game or is it a quality game for you? No,

D.J. Vanas:
I think it’s a quality game. Yeah. Cause it, you know, that it, it really is. I mean, you can’t count the numbers, you just kind of go on faith with this stuff. But, um, it, it’s funny how those come back to you in the end and you start Yeah. You don’t have to count the numbers, Mike. That’s the thing. Yeah. Because if you just do your work today and try to impact as many people as you can, you don’t have to count the numbers.

Mike Sarraille:
Don’t be there. You know, one, I love this man, cuz this man busted me out of, uh, uh, more trouble than I can count. But Admiral McCraven said it best in his speech. If those people you impact go on to impact one more or two more, then that’s an exponential effect. And that’s powerful. Well, dj, this is not the end, um, personally, and I think you need to write some articles for the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior and get your name out there to our, our our 20 plus million, uh, subscribers. So that is my public invitation to you. If you ever wanna submit some articles, you send ’em our way. And, and I think you have a message that, especially during this time, uh, of our age in divisiveness that people need to hear. Um, dj, you’re a remarkable person. Uh, additionally, thank you for your service, uh, to our country. Thank you. And, uh, and much more come and for all the listeners, uh, to, you know, dj, where can they find you? Where’s the best place to find you? Your books? Uh, your personal website. Yeah.

D.J. Vanas:
Yeah. Uh, native discovery.com is the best place to find me. And yes, uh, definitely wanna promote, you know, people going out and getting their copy of the, the Warrior within, uh, available everywhere books are sold. And we have an audio version too. I’ll read the whole thing to you if you’re too busy to read. I narrate it and there’s a bonus, uh, hour and a half or so, interview at the end with one of my best friends, uh, Dr. Kevin Basic, who’s, uh, one of the directors of the National Medal of Honor Institute. And we go deeper and tell more stories and, um, that’s a, uh, added bonus for that

Mike Sarraille:
Product. And Kevin is a good man. I can attest to that. Great, man. My short conversations. Okay. Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. This is the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior. I’m your host, Mike Sarraille. We will see you again.

Episode 46

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Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast Episode 46: Rich Diviney
In episode 46, of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast, we spoke to Rich Diviney, a retired Navy SEAL.
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