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Mod note (Andy): This comment by @"M. Blank" is a response to this thread: Is PE the Best Job in the World? and deserves to go on the homepage for those who didn't see it.

I can't answer if PE is the best job in the world but I can offer a little outside perspective that some may be interested in. Having spent the better part of the last decade in SEAL Teams and other specialized units, I found Seabird's initial post slightly amusing. If you'll humor me, I'll provide a bit of a philosophical context to this whole question of what the ideal job may be.

I provide the following background in the spirit of full disclosure and so that you can better judge what follows. My career has been pretty non-traditional. I graduated from a pretty good college and went straight into consulting. I actually had a blast with it and had an awesome lifestyle, but deep down, I had always wanted to serve in an elite military unit. So I gave up the suits, fancy hotels, and nice meals with clients for BDUs, a sleeping bag, and a diet of MREs. Some thought I was foolish to give up the consulting career, and others thought joining the military was a waste of my talent.

There have been many twists and turns in my career... 9 deployments and more than 50 months overseas conducting national priority missions in over 20 countries. I never envisioned it being a career, but I got pretty wrapped up in the post-9/11 world. Now that things are slowing down, I'm plotting my next move. I'll be heading to a top MBA program this year and then likely transitioning back to the business world. Again, many think I'm out of my mind. I'm fairly senior, well on my way to retirement (and all the benefits that come with it), and by some accounts, too old to transition.

So what have I learned from all that...

I can't answer if PE is the best job in the world but I can offer a little outside perspective that some may be interested in. Having spent the better part of the last decade in SEAL Teams and other specialized units, I found Seabird's initial post slightly amusing. If you'll humor me, I'll provide a bit of a philosophical context to this whole question of what the ideal job may be.

I provide the following background in the spirit of full disclosure and so that you can better judge what follows. My career has been pretty non-traditional. I graduated from a pretty good college and went straight into consulting. I actually had a blast with it and had an awesome lifestyle, but deep down, I had always wanted to serve in an elite military unit. So I gave up the suits, fancy hotels, and nice meals with clients for BDUs, a sleeping bag, and a diet of MREs. Some thought I was foolish to give up the consulting career, and others thought joining the military was a waste of my talent.

There have been many twists and turns in my career... 9 deployments and more than 50 months overseas conducting national priority missions in over 20 countries. I never envisioned it being a career, but I got pretty wrapped up in the post-9/11 world. Now that things are slowing down, I'm plotting my next move. I'll be heading to a top MBA program this year and then likely transitioning back to the business world. Again, many think I'm out of my mind. I'm fairly senior, well on my way to retirement (and all the benefits that come with it), and by some accounts, too old to transition.

So what have I learned from all that...

1. Nothing is quite what you expect it to be

Some parts are better. Some parts are worse. Nothing is perfect all the time. To illustrate... If you think all SEALs are PTing 4 hours a day, diving by day, jumping out of planes by night, and shooting until his hands bleed on the weekends, you are wrong. SEAL officers have to deal with personnel issues, budgets, training plans, gear accountablility, pack outs, and deployment matrices. You also spend a lot of time briefing up your chain of command on various issues. Probably sounds like a lot of other management jobs... Not real sexy 24-7. Things aren't much better on deployment for more senior folks. You'll spend countless hours in video teleconferences coordinating operations, reading email traffic (hundreds of messages a day), and yes... building countless power point briefs and pitching operations. The crazy thing is that the more elite the unit the more of this crap there is. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you think about it, combat ops are pretty straight forward. If you are going to do a high end operation outside the combat theaters, however, there is far more political risk. Greater political risk means a lot more planning, due diligence, and salesmanship. It's absolutely critical, but nobody decides to go into this line of work so that one day that can build rad power points. My intent is not to bitch here, because God knows, I've loved it and wouldn't trade my experiences for all the money in the world. It's simply to point out that even the coolest jobs have their very uncool moments.

2. Different strokes for different folks

I know people that left Ibanking and dropped out of college to join the SEALs. I one guy who left the SEALs to become a Chaplain, a few that went to B-school, and another that decided he wanted to fly helicopters in the Army. I know guys that left the Agency to sell timeshares, become teachers, and travel the world. Don't feel like you need to take the well beaten path. Of course, it's okay to follow the masses, just don't be the dude that blindly follows. Those that do end up really unhappy. This is blatantly obvious but I'm amazed at how many people lose sight of it. Just determine what is best for you, and if need be, blaze your own trail.

3. Most of you on this forum are bright, motivated and accomplished

You have options. Understand that there's always an opportunity cost, but there is no need to dwell on it. Life is short, and it is precious. Stay focus on the things that matter most. If you do, you won't have time to worry about all the stuff that you can't get to.

4. There's only one thing you should fear more than failing, and that's not trying

Whether it's making a dramatic career change or just taking the next step, don't be afraid to go for it. For the most part, we regret the moments that we didn't have the courage to take a chance. What's the worst that can happen to you if you approach the beautiful girl at the bar? She strafes you. You're blinded by hot oil as smoke pours into the cockpit. Plummeting to earth in fiery death spiral, you manage to eject. Worst case... you have a good story to share with your buddies. Now if you don't go after her, you'll think about it all week and wonder what if. The worst part is every time you succumb to your fears and insecurities, it gets harder to make the move. So in the immortal words of one of my former instructors, next time you see fear walking down the road, run over to it and give it a big ole bear hug. You will feel better for it.

5. Stop talking about doing it and do it

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. With the energy it takes to talk about doing something, you can take the first step.

6. There are three types of pursuits

Those that you "want" to do. Those that you "can" do. And those that you "should" do. Stay away from doing things simply because you can. It's lame. There's no challenge in it, and we grow by being challenged. Focus on the things you want to do, especially while you are young and have few responsibilities. I'm not talking about frivolous pursuits. I'm talking about doing things that will bring a lasting happiness. Maybe it's running a marathon or starting your own business. Maybe it's writing a book or traveling the world. We all know instinctively what these things are. Spend as much time as possible doing those things or working towards them. As you get older, it becomes more difficult. You will get married, have kids, become consumed by your work. Unfortunately, life only becomes more complex. So don't wait. Later in life, you will find that you will spend a lot more time doing what you "should" do. "Should" is ok too. "Should" is about making sacrifices for the betterment of the whole so there is nobility in it... it's just not usually as much fun as "want." In a perfect world, you find a place where can, should, and want intersect.

7. Find yourself

For those you who dig literature (and I don't suppose there are many of you out there), there's a good line about work from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Marlow says, "No, I don't like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work--no man does--but I like what is in the work--the chance to find yourself. Your own reality--for yourself, not for others--what no other man can ever know." I think this sums things up. Of course we'd all rather be at the beach surfing. And yes... money matters. But the real value of work is not found in your paycheck. It's found in the challenge and the personal growth that results.

So why do I share all this? Most of you have probably figured this out already. Some of you have found a way to actually apply this to your life and are now living the dream. To you, I say congratulations. It's no small feat. But after lurking on this site for a while (your musings have provided good data points for me as I wrestle with my own decisions), it seems to me that as many, if not more, are stuck in limbo. For some this means that you are standing on the outside of the IB, S&T, PE, VC, or consulting Fortress and trying to figure out how break, sneak, or bribe your way in. For others, you're stuck inside that Fortress and looking for a way to break out. To you all, I say be courageous, stay strong, and keep fighting. It's important to believe that you'll find your way.

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Comments (73)

  • Red Barchetta's picture

    Solid post & thanks for your service!

    All the world's indeed a stage, And we are merely players, Performers and portrayers, Each another's audience, Outside the gilded cage
    - Limelight (1981)

  • AndyLouis's picture

    M. Blank:

    6. There are three types of pursuits. Those that you "want" to do. Those that you "can" do. And those that you "should" do. Stay away from doing things simply because you can. It's lame. There's no challenge in it, and we grow by being challenged. Focus on the things you want to do, especially while you are young and have few responsibilities. I'm not talking about frivolous pursuits. I'm talking about doing things that will bring a lasting happiness. Maybe it's running a marathon or starting your own business. Maybe it's writing a book or traveling the world. We all know instinctively what these things are. Spend as much time as possible doing those things or working towards them. As you get older, it becomes more difficult. You will get married, have kids, become consumed by your work. Unfortunately, life only becomes more complex. So don't wait. Later in life, you will find that you will spend a lot more time doing what you "should" do. "Should" is ok too. "Should" is about making sacrifices for the betterment of the whole so there is nobility in it... it's just not usually as much fun as "want." In a perfect world, you find a place where can, should, and want intersect..


    GREAT advice, thanks M. Blank
  • Whiskey5's picture

    really an excellent post, thanks!

  • higherground's picture

    Thank you, very motivating!!!!!!!

  • CaR's picture

    Thank you for your service. Well done

  • JustJoshinYou's picture

    Thanks! This post really brightened up my day.

  • In reply to CaR
    Cruncharoo's picture

    CaR:

    Thank you for your service. Well done

    This to all my hatin' folks seeing me getting guac right now..

  • M.Tod's picture

    Thank you for this post.

    A part of me has, for some years now, wanted also to be a part of the elite forces. I can't really explain why, but deep down I am strongly attracted to it. Right now, however, I am more concentrated on the "shoulds" rather than on the "wants". I didn't think it was possible to transition from business to special forces, but your story gave me a hope that some day, maybe, I will follow your steps.

    Wish you all the best.

  • Going Concern's picture

    One of the best posts on the site...bookmarked and silver banana'ed.

    "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

    "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."

  • In reply to Scott Irish
    happypantsmcgee's picture

    Scott Irish:

    The chili mac MREs almost make it worth the deployments.

    Great writeup, good luck w/ the MBA


    Chicken and Salsa or bust. 7 out of 8 meals on a 4 day patrol were chicken and salsa, still didnt get tired of it.

    If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

  • Scott Irish's picture

    Good point on chicken and salsa, one of the few I could stomach more than a few times on a field op. Just stay away from the Country Captain Chicken,

  • D M's picture

    M. Blank:
    You have options.

    Yea I don't think a lot of people on here are getting this through their skulls. Great post, thanks

    "You stop being an asshole when it sucks to be you." -IlliniProgrammer
    "Your grammar made me wish I'd been aborted." -happypantsmcgee

  • coleslaw's picture

    Awesome advice and more importantly, thank you for your service. SEAL's are unbelievable and I hope you enjoy the next phase of your life/career.

    "Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly"

  • PaperTrail44's picture

    Best post on here in a while. I'm 23 and trying to break into finance but always think about joining the service now or at some point down the road. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

  • In reply to PaperTrail44
    happypantsmcgee's picture

    PaperTrail44:

    Best post on here in a while. I'm 23 and trying to break into finance but always think about joining the service now or at some point down the road. Thanks for the words of wisdom.


    Do it now. Only gets harder the more time you put it off.

    If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

  • APAE's picture

    Absolutely love this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us here and sacrificing your time, energy, and commitment by serving to protect our nation.

    Most people do things to add days to their life. I do things to add life to my days.

    Browse my blog as a WSO contributing author

  • In reply to PaperTrail44
    TheKid1's picture

    PaperTrail44:

    Best post on here in a while. I'm 23 and trying to break into finance but always think about joining the service now or at some point down the road. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

    I am 23 and trying break in as well. Thinking about joining the military and then MBA. At least with the military they will pay a portion of my undergraduate tutition better than nothing.

  • In reply to TheKid1
    PaperTrail44's picture

    Our thought processes are similar. If I can't find at least an entry-level opportunity I may seriously consider the Military-->MBA route and go from there.

  • LBJ's hair's picture

    Great post, love the Heart of Darkness line. And thank you for your service.

  • In reply to PaperTrail44
    TheKid1's picture

    PaperTrail44:

    Our thought processes are similar. If I can't find at least an entry-level opportunity I may seriously consider the Military-->MBA route and go from there.

    Have you thought about a MSF? I was thinking about that route but I wouldn't apply until 2014 for a start date in 2015 and be done by 2016 and I'll be 26 and then I have no idea when I would be able to do MBA.

  • RE Capital Markets's picture

    Good read, plus 1.

    Man made money, money never made the man

  • In reply to TheKid1
    PaperTrail44's picture

    I've definitely turned over all of the different options, possibilities and order in which I might do those things. I'm currently studying for CFA Level I which I hope to pass in December. My motive for taking Level I was to hopefully avoid the costs of a MSF while leveraging the CFA into a position where I can garner experience that would be credible down the road when applying for MBA. At this point I'm looking to pass the CFA this December and have been digging for any entry-level opportunities in the industry...I'm hoping to be in one of those roles by the January to early February time-frame and I'm giving myself a year after that to work, gain experience and network while in NYC. If I don't have any traction or I'm not even in a position that would warrant being called a "stepping stone" toward a decent career then I will be giving my local recruiter a call and shooting for special forces.

  • Nomadchimp's picture

    Have to admit that it is one of the best articles that I have read on WSO. Thank you for your advice and sharing your experience with us. You mentioned that, in life you should "trying" or take risk. I definitely agree with that and definitely one of the paths to successful life.

    "It is our fate to be tormented with large and small dilemmas as we daily wind our way through the risky, fractious world that gave us birth" Edward O. Wilson.

  • Klax0n's picture

    Thanks for this great post!

  • In reply to PaperTrail44
    TheKid1's picture

    PaperTrail44:

    I've definitely turned over all of the different options, possibilities and order in which I might do those things. I'm currently studying for CFA Level I which I hope to pass in December. My motive for taking Level I was to hopefully avoid the costs of a MSF while leveraging the CFA into a position where I can garner experience that would be credible down the road when applying for MBA. At this point I'm looking to pass the CFA this December and have been digging for any entry-level opportunities in the industry...I'm hoping to be in one of those roles by the January to early February time-frame and I'm giving myself a year after that to work, gain experience and network while in NYC. If I don't have any traction or I'm not even in a position that would warrant being called a "stepping stone" toward a decent career then I will be giving my local recruiter a call and shooting for special forces.

    Good luck with the CFA. I had a similar time-frame as well. I recently got a B.S data job that I am going take for the time being so I have cash and keep on applying.

    I was thinking of joining the Navy SEAL and my brothers friend who's a marine talked me about of joining the SEAL's and go with Special Forces as well.

  • NYU's picture

    Great post. Question about the SEALs (if this is the right forum)

    Can you explain the difference between a color and a number?

  • In reply to TheKid1
    PaperTrail44's picture

    Thanks man. I'm having trouble even finding a data job or one similar, but have to admit I've shifted my focus towards the CFA as it gets closer.

    A good friend of mine who went straight to the Marines after high school advised me the same way, saying special forces over SEALs, but it all depends on who you talk to.

    Good luck to you as well man.

  • ErnstBlofeld's picture

    I admire anyone who drops a solid career to try to become a SEAL or other special ops stud, but let me point out there are lower impact ways to do military service. In particular, reserve service can be combined with a career and is usually much easier to get into, complete training and excel in. Stories of people's experience in spec ops (like M. Blank's) tend to suffer from "survivor bias" -- sometimes literally -- in that you don't hear, for example, stories of guys who started BUD/S but quit, got injured or got the hook and spent the rest of their hitch as deck-swabbin' sailors.

    SEALs, etc., are an elite in part because so many aspirants fail. Whereas one can serve as a tanker, infantry grunt or some other useful and psychologically fulfilling reserve role without excessive agony in training or too much change to the life one now has (unless/until one gets deployed). It is difficult to serve in the reserves for those with hardcore finance jobs, but it can and is being done by many. And you will find that the professional network of military reservists and vets is much better than any from some college or fraternity.

    Bottom line, if interested in military service, look beyond the spec ops pathways. There are many other honorable and sometimes cool ways to serve. Just make sure your contract specifies your job involves trigger pulling, so you don't end up in cooks & bakers school or mowing lawns somewhere. Also, I have one final piece of advice which is stay out of helicopters.

  • diablo2man's picture

    great post. one of the best I read on WSO

  • Mach 10's picture

    Really good post. Thank you.

  • NS-Fin's picture

    Amazing post. I'm glad WSO put it on the homepage.

  • alutampa's picture

    Fantastic post.. Thank you for your service!

  • Nico91's picture

    Great post. I saved your article. I'll read it every day.

  • DV's picture

    Hi M.Blank,

    May I know how you managed to train to be fit enough for the SEALs while working in consulting? I've been thinking about doing something similar myself.

  • S3V3N30's picture

    iBooked marked this one!! Thank you for your service and this post, Good luck with the MBA!

    Wise Men Listen & Laugh While Fools Talk

  • In reply to HBS1985
    Stringer Bell's picture

    Haha, best comment. Some the things OP said in passing makes me think he could have been at DEVGRU (aka SEAL Team 6) which if Wiki is to be believed is one of SOG's feeder sources for new operators. With this guys education and consulting background, have no doubt he's likely gotten some offers to attend training at "The Farm".

  • In reply to NYU
    Stringer Bell's picture

    Non SEAL, but have read a lot on it. Color = DEVGRU/ST6 Squadron designations: e.g. Red Squad. (one that took out UBL), Gold Squad. (one that had the tragic loss with Extortion 17), etc.; Number = "regular" SEAL Teams: e.g. SEAL Team's 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

  • clerville's picture

    Hooyah. Always good to have a SEAL on deck.

  • Ravenous's picture

    Good post, thanks.

    What separates a regular SEAL from ST6? This might be a ridiculous question but I'm curious to know.

  • In reply to Ravenous
    Stringer Bell's picture

    There are a few good books on this ("No Easy Day" is probably the best source), but in short, DEVGRU (ST6 was disbanded many years ago and was the predecessor of the unit) is the Navy's dedicated counter-terrorism unit and is it's sole contribution to the Joint Special Operations Command ("JSCOC").

    The difference between "regular" SEAL Team's and DEVGRU is many, but basically, DEVGRU selects it's personnel from the regular SEAL's who have over 4-5 years experience as SEAL Team members, near perfect service records / reputations and w/ 2 or more combat deployments. In short, they try to take the best guys out of the already elite SEAL Teams. They also take on a few support type personnel who are EOD tech's, cryptologits, and Air Force PJ's / combat controllers.

    Once selected and successfully screened, the prospective DEVGRU candidates go through another training program called "Green Team". Here, they learn advanced close quarter combat, shooting techniques and other counter terrorism skills similar in fashion to what the Army puts Delta Force candidates through.

    Mission wise, DEVGRU, although has regular deployment cycles like regular SEAL teams, are on call at all times to handle counter terrorism missions globally at a moments notice (Captain Philips rescue is perfect example). DEVGRU, along with Delta, are assigned missions specifically at the request and needs of JSOC vis-a-vis from the President, where is regular SEAL Teams fall under the needs and command of SOCOM.

    Since units like DEVGRU are highly classified and I wasn't in it, all this is speculative and if you're further interested pick up one of the many books on it (they're super easy reads).

  • In reply to DV
    MikesMess's picture

    Build a database of exercises that are easy to do anywhere (e.g., CrossFit's "Barbara" workout). http://www.sealfit.com/sof-workouts/ posts workouts five days/week; excepting the swim days, many of which can be done anywhere (sometimes a little creativity will be required). Stew Smith authored an excellent book on SEAL prep, The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness - chock full of workouts, and a complete prep plan for men beginning at any fitness level. Buy a pullup bar for home, and TRX if you travel a lot. Create rules for yourself, such as 20 pushups every time you open the fridge, or 10 pullups every time you use the bathroom. Observe a healthy paleo diet, and limit your alcohol consumption. Talk to a recruiter, and get involved in your area's SWO Candidate program, if available. If you live anywhere near CT, get involved with RDAC - they hold weekly PSTs, workouts, and track your progress. Sign up for events requiring an extraordinary level of fitness/diligent preparation (e.g., GORUCK Selection; SEALFIT's Academies & Kokoro camp). The financial and work time-off commitments ought to serve as excellent motivators. Develop mental toughness - it is as important as your physical preparation.

  • MikesMess's picture

    M. Blank - thank you for your service. First time in years I've posted to WSO.

  • In reply to M.Tod
    LR1400's picture

    M.Tod:

    Thank you for this post.

    A part of me has, for some years now, wanted also to be a part of the elite forces. I can't really explain why, but deep down I am strongly attracted to it. Right now, however, I am more concentrated on the "shoulds" rather than on the "wants". I didn't think it was possible to transition from business to special forces, but your story gave me a hope that some day, maybe, I will follow your steps.

    Wish you all the best.

    There are former SEALs/Spec Ops people who run prep programs. I went to one, very short, but run by an ex-SEAL. It was all I could have imagined it would be plus some. Me and one other person out of 10 or so stayed through the duration, the others quit. I was 19 and the other guy was around the same age. The others were older. All we did was run on the beach, carry logs up and down sand dunes, do a ton of calisthenics, swim in the ocean, etc. all day. Slept in tents on the beach and were given an mre per day and a few hours sleep.

    Go try something like that before you drop your career and pursue something else that may not be for you. I was attracted to it too because I liked the idea of being the best, etc. but you can get that itch scratched in other ways that are less risky to your current career and future health.

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