Why Jocko Willink is My Favorite Optimist

“Jocko Willink is one of the scariest human beings imaginable.”

Tim Ferriss

If you search the internet for information about Jocko Willink, you’ll find that he is almost fetishized in his badass, tough-as-nails persona.  The man is a mountain of grit.  After a 20 year career as a U.S. Navy SEAL he transitioned into civilian life, bringing his intense focus and experience with him.  He currently runs Echelon Front, a leadership development consulting company, with fellow former SEAL Leif Babin.  Together they published the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.  Willink’s straightforward, ownership-fueled approach to life has earned him the title of My Favorite Optimist.

This is a man who can get himself through anything and knows it.


He also knows that you can get yourself through anything.  Wife left you?  Family member died?  Lost your job?


According to Willink, every situation you’ve been through in life and every one you’ll encounter in the future is a good thing.  It is an opportunity – and this isn’t some silver lining mumbo jumbo.  Every bad thing that happens to you is a chance to stand back up and get some.

As I’ve said a million times before, if you tilt your perspective the right way you’ll see the whole damn cloud is made of gold.

How, though?

It comes down to one thing: remaining open to possibility when you are in pain.

As Paul Zak says in The Moral Molecule, “It turns out the brain processes social pain exactly as if it were physical pain.”  Social pain is equivalent to emotional pain, and as we already know, pain is an indicator that something is wrong.

Pain is a neon arrow lighting up in your brain, and it’s pointing to your next project.


The wonderful thing about Extreme Ownership is that it is a thorough account of how everything in your life is your fault.  An example from my own life: when I was transferred to another territory in a job without my permission or previous knowledge, it was 100% my fault.  I walked into a staff meeting, completely unaware that my life was about to change, and my manager announced that I would be taking over a territory 90+ minutes from my home.  This was the first I’d heard of this change.

At the time, I was furious.  This meant chronic back and neck pain from an additional 10 hours a week in traffic.  I lost hours every week with my son, due to the commute.  It also meant that the relationships I had spent several years building with my clients in my existing territory were to be hucked in the garbage, and I had to start over entirely.

Did my manager make the decision?  Yes.  BUT.

Had I given her every reason to believe I am flexible, a team player, and (at that point) had no hard-and-fast boundaries?  Also yes.  And because my life is my responsibility and no one else’s, her decision was wholly, entirely, completely my fault.

Now, how is this an optimistic perspective?

Read through that example again.  Who, in this scenario, has the power to preempt change?

I do.

I could have set firmer boundaries for myself from the beginning.  Instead of bending over backwards for the company and helping whenever I was called on, I could have focused more on my job, making myself actually indispensable to that region.  I could have developed myself, in the eyes of my manager, as someone who doesn’t get jerked around.

Flexibility is great, but being a doormat is 100% unacceptable.  To become a doormat, first you must lay down in front of the door.


If you take full ownership for everything in your life – including every action others make that has any effect on you – you will find that you have the power to make some serious change.

Go do the work.  I wholeheartedly recommend his book.  Listen to his podcast.  Need help?  Email me.

Get out there and own yourself.






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