How to Start Over


For the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you. —A Hindu saying

Change is difficult. Humans are creatures of habit.

But reinvention is a deeply American ritual. And if you think about the American Dream for a second, have you ever noticed, that as much as it’s been mythologized as being about material improvement, the Dream itself is actually about a much deeper need, a form of salvation, not strictly in a religious sense, but in a human one?

So here we are, two guys in pursuit of it. We’re trying to combine our skills, ideas, and interests and find a way to make a living out of them. We’re looking for a chance to create something great, and so in this post we want to talk about how we’re starting over after our time in the Marines and some of the concepts that we’re applying during this period of our lives.

One of the first things we did when we got out of the Marines was to begin healing physically.

We didn’t sustain wounds or anything like that, but it’s no secret that body armor wrecks your lower back, walking with heavy packs destroys your knees, and Meals Ready to Eat aren’t exactly organic. Combine that with a perpetual sleep debt and the vagaries of life in the field, and it should make perfect sense why Marines—and grunts in general—are known for aging in dog years. We were no exception.

As part of the healing process, we’ve redefined how we think about fitness. In the Marines, it was evaluated in purely physical terms. Our concept of fitness is more holistic. It encompasses nutrition, exercise, sleep, and emotional well-being. We see it as the foundation for everything else we want to do in life, so we’ve taken a systemic approach. We aren’t rushing it. Our philosophy is to create a sustainable set of habits that can last a lifetime. It’s the opposite of the fads, crash diets, and tricks you read about in the tabloids.

It all starts with nutrition.

If you want to be healthy, if you want to experience consistently high energy levels, if you want to actually see results from your time in the gym, the most important factor is what you eat.

We went paleo, what some people colloquially refer to as “the caveman diet,” although calling it a diet is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more of a lifestyle, a way of applying principles that are in keeping with the hunter-gatherer environment in which humans evolved. We eat foods similar to what our ancestors ate. These also happen to be the foods our bodies evolved to optimally process. Meat. Vegetables. Fish. Fruit. Nuts.

That means no grains, no beans, and no dairy, but it’s easier to focus on what you can eat than what you can’t because admittedly it’s been difficult at times for us to give up ice cream.

Paleo has been life-changing. We had been hearing about it for a while, we had even rejected it at first, and then, when we finally decided to try it, we immediately experienced incredible results.

Next comes exercise.

Similar to the weird crash diets you find in the tabloids, fad exercise routines are everywhere. We do none of that stuff, and relative to what we used to do, we’re actually working out a lot less than before but feeling and looking much better.

Part of the difference comes from having better goals. The Marine Corps defined physical fitness very specifically. Your performance was measured on a test consisting of a three mile run, twenty pull-ups, and a hundred crunches. But most of the difference comes from improved efficiency.

Our workouts fall into two categories.

Most of the time, we make sure to just generally be active, to walk whenever possible, to take the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.

And then, two or three days per week, we focus on exercises that stimulate the most significant hormonal response, things like lifting heavy weights or a brief, but intense, bout of sprints.

The idea behind this is that until young adulthood, the default state of your body is growth, but as part of the aging process you eventually begin to decay. Your goal is to stimulate the hormones in your body that promote growth.

Sleep and recovery are an integral part.

The most intense rebuilding happens while you sleep. It’s mental and physical. If you shortchange yourself, you’re just contributing to your own decay.

Meanwhile, so many common sleep problems are really just sleep hygiene problems. Watching TV or reading in bed, having caffeine late in the day, drastically changing your sleep schedule from the week to the weekend—they all make it difficult to fall asleep and get quality sleep.

Different ages require different amounts, and no question, it can be difficult to get the eight or nine hours necessary for young adults. Trust us, we empathize. But the key is to think of it like an investment in your long-term well-being and find a way to make time.

All of this ties into emotional well-being, which is crucial to taking on the challenges and risks of trying new things as you define your life’s work.

Daily life is made up of thousands of individual decisions about how to allocate your time and resources. Everything in this post so far has been about setting up a healthy framework on which you can make those decisions. But as you get those aspects in order, you have to actually decide what your life will be about.

Holocaust survivor and legendary psychologist Viktor Frankl asserts that life is fundamentally a quest to find meaning. He believes you can find it through your efforts on a great project, through the love and care you give to raising your family, or through the manner in which you face adversity, hardship, and suffering. In his view, these will be questions that life throws at you, and answering them is your life’s work.

This brings up an important point: “life’s work” is a loaded term. In popular usage it refers literally to work, your vocation. It means so much more, and as Frankl points out, it can be all encompassing.

But right now, in our own lives, “life’s work” is more in keeping with the first form from Frankl’s triad. Our usage reflects the way Robert Greene uses it in Mastery in that it’s specific to vocation. We’re trying to figure out exactly what it is we want to do.

Clayton Christensen, in How Will You Measure Your Life?, has a concept of strategy that we’re using to help frame this moment. He classifies strategy in two forms: emergent and deliberate.

Emergent strategy is one that coalesces based on day-to-day decisions and opportunities that present themselves. Deliberate strategy is one that you decide on in advance based on opportunities that you predict. It’s a constant give and take between the two forms.

We’re currently weighted towards emergent strategy because we don’t know the exact opportunities we’ll uncover, and that’s a key part of starting over. But there are certain deliberate aspects—for example, creating healthy habits—that we’ve put in place, so that when we find a worthwhile opportunity that fulfills us, we’ll be able to pursue it deliberately.

Change is a time filled with risk, uncertainty, and the fear that comes with the unknown. But it’s also a time to reevaluate your priorities and figure out what’s really important, what you’d like to discard, and what you’d like to do next.

If you prepare, if you carefully frame your thinking, and if you use these moments well, new beginnings can be an inflection point.

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