The Unimaginable Path | Jonny Kim (Navy SEAL, Harvard MD, NASA) on the Jocko Podcast #221

Check out the Jocko Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “You can be born with bad cards …but you have a choice and the power to craft your own destiny” Jonny Kim
  • “I’m a firm believer that shared hardship and suffering is one of the best ways to bring people together towards a common goal, to break down barriers, to form a brotherhood” Jonny Kim
  • Jocko and Jonny agree that experiencing war is like surviving cancer–It’s a horrible experience but you come a stronger and evolved person
    • “I would never trade it for anything and I would go back in the trenches right now in a split second…but I would never wish it on my own children and I hope they never see it.” Jonny Kim
  • To help pay for tuition, Jonny got a job giving out parking tickets
    • Some people may have viewed a Navy SEAL giving out parking tickets as below them but Jonny saw it as an exercise in humility: “You should never think you’re too good to do a job and I think you should be like that in everything you do” – Jonny Kim
      • “The moment you start to think you’re better than anyone else, you have poisoned yourself. You’re on the dark path.”
  • Jonny is a Navy SEAL who got into Harvard medical school, but he still considers himself average both physically and mentally
    • His secret to success is grit and hard work: “I feel that I can stick with the goals and have deferred gratification…working hard is all I know I can do to make up for any advantages, natural or otherwise, that I don’t have.”Jonny Kim
  • As a child, Jonny never thought about becoming a doctor nor did he think about becoming an astronaut
    • He only had one goal in life: Leave a positive impact on the world
      • “That’s how I honor the brother we lost and I will never stop till the day I die, trying to fill that void because it’s a void that can never be filled”Jonny Kim
        • Becoming a doctor and astronaut fit that goal
  • As Jonny learned more about astronauts, he realized they’re a symbol of humanity and have the power to bring countries together  
    • “When you’re up there you don’t see these distinct borders between countries, you just see a lot of blue and a lot of land, and you see how fragile the planet is.” – Jonny Kim
      • Astronauts also inspire the next generations of scientists and explorers
        • “With the right attitude, with the right hard work, if you get up every time you fail, you can amount to something and you can do positive work”

Intro

Books Mentioned

  •  After reading the book, Men in Green Faces by Gene Wentz, Jonny told his mom he was going to become a SEAL

Inspiration To Be A SEAL

  • Jonny is a first-generation Korean-American and grew up in Los Angeles
    • His father was abusive and an alcoholic
      • “My father, he had a lot of demons…so much of what I’ve learned in my life has been what not to do, by example of my father.” – Jonny Kim
        • “All of those experiences, while they were terrible at the time, I wouldn’t trade any of that for anything…cause everything that happened, helped form me into the person I am today.”
  • All Jonny wanted to do growing up was to be able to protect his mother and brother from his father
  • Jonny first heard about the SEAL teams from a friend when he was 16
    • After reading the book, Men in Green Faces by Gene Wentz, Jonny told his mom he was going to become a SEAL
      • He wanted to “Be someone that could protect the people I loved and couldn’t protect themselves” – Jonny Kim

First Encounter With Guns & Death

  • One day, Jonny’s father came home reeking of booze and Jonny sensed something was off
    • His father said “I’m sorry” and pepper-sprayed his face and then pulled out a gun
      • Jonny tried to fight his dad and grab the gun from him but his father hit him in the head with a dumbbell. Jonny told his dad he loved him and that it’s not too late. His father decided not to shoot him or his mother and instead ran away.
  • After his father ran away, Jonny’s mother called the cops
    • After filing a police report, Jonny went back to his room and noticed that things had been moved around. He had a closet that led to the attic in his room and believed his father might be up there so he told the police.
      • The police went to check it out, one thing led to another, and there was a shootout and Jonny’s father was killed
  • “When my father died, I feel it was the day I was reborn into someone else” – Jonny Kim
    • “You can be born with bad cards…but you have a choice and the power to craft your own destiny”
  • Although Jonny’s father wasn’t a good person, he understands he had his set of demons and forgives his father for the wrongs he committed

Becoming a SEAL

  • Jonny was 18 when he entered Navy boot camp, he weighed 145 lbs
    • “I needed a reset button and the military button was my reset button…It was the best decision I ever made”Jonny Kim
  • Jonny played water polo in high school so he was comfortable with the water portion of BUD/S 
    • He graduated with class 247 in 2004
      • “You don’t learn how to be a SEAL in BUD/S, you just learn how to suffer” – Jonny Kim
        • “Training is nothing compared to war”
  • As a SEAL, Jonny never thought about becoming a physician or astronaut, he was 100% focused on becoming the best SEAL he could be
    • “I just wanted one goal at a time…you should be all-in in what you’re doing” – Jonny Kim
  • Jonny chose to be a combat medic not because he loved medicine, but because he wanted to get to the frontlines as fast as possible
    • “I have to give props and respect to the Army because I think that they train the best medics” – Jonny Kim

Life As A SEAL

  • After finishing medical school, Jonny joined SEAL Team 3 and soon after was sent to sniper school
    • Sniper school consisted of 3 parts: 
      • Photographic image capture: where you learn how to use an SLR camera to take facial-recognition pictures
      • Scouting: Learning how to stalk targets
      • Shooting: Shooting targets from long-range distances
        • Shooting from long-range involves a ton of math because you have to consider the wind speed, gravity, temperature, and other factors
  • Hazing is condemned by the military, but it’s still a part of the culture–Often times if you’re the new guy and people aren’t making fun of you, that means they don’t like you or don’t accept you as part of the team
    • Jonny got hazed when he first joined SEAL Team 3, but he was happy to be there: “For the first time I felt accepted…For the first time, I was home and I loved it.” Jonny Kim
  • One of Jonny’s mentors in Team 3 was the famous Navy SEAL Chris Kyle
  • “I’m a firm believer that shared hardship and suffering is one of the best ways to bring people together towards a common goal, to break down barriers, to form a brotherhood” Jonny Kim

Experiencing War

  • Even as a SEAL, Jonny was scared of going to war
    • Within 24-hours of landing in Ramadi, Iraq, Jonny, and SEAL Team 3 were returning fire on the enemy
  • Jonny’s mindset during war was that he was already dead and he simply needed to do his job
    • He compartmentalized negative emotions so he could focus on the task at hand
      • Once you accept the risks of a job, you become free to be effective at it
  • Jocko had the same mindset–Even if you do everything perfectly, something out of your control can kill you
    • “If you’re worried about things you can’t control, then you’re wasting energy and you’re not providing the correct support to the rest of your guys because you’re freaked out about what’s going to happen to you.” – Jocko Willink
      • Jocko’s biggest fear wasn’t dying, it was one of his teammates dying
        • “You can’t trade bullets with bad guys every single day…and get away with it for the whole time” 
  • Unfortunately, on one mission, a fellow SEAL 3 member, Ryan Job, was shot in the face and Jonny went to his aid and got Ryan escorted out of the combat zone
    • Due to a medical mistake by another medic, Ryan ended up blind and sometime later, died from a surgery complication
  • On the same day that Ryan Job was shot, another teammate, Marc Lee, was shot and killed
    • Throughout his deployment, Jonny saw many more operators die in combat–This experience of losing people drove him to become a physician  
  • Jonny was part of the mission where there was a blue-on-blue (friendly killed by friendly forces) and was there when Jocko gave his talk about extreme ownership 
  • Jocko and Jonny agree that experiencing war is like surviving cancer–It’s a horrible experience but you come a stronger and evolved person
    • “I would never trade it for anything and I would go back in the trenches right now in a split second…but I would never wish it on my own children and I hope they never see it.” Jonny Kim
      • Jonny did two deployments during his career

Post-Deployment & Emotions

  • The military now has decompression spots where military members spend a few days decompressing before going back to the modern world, but back in the early 2000s troops were sent home directly
    • “It took me years to readjust…get a better understanding of what I had been through” – Jonny Kim
  • The culture in the military, especially in a combat zone, is vastly different from the culture in everyday life in the US and it takes time to become reaccustomed to regular life  
  • When you get back from a deployment, your emotions are often more raw and straightforward than usual–Emotions are what make us human, but it’s also the biggest hindrance to getting things done 
    • “When you bring emotion to the table, you’re mounting defenses that make it hard to get to the core of your argument” Jonny Kim
  • One of the most important traits of a leader is knowing the emotional and social intelligence of their audience and being dynamic enough to craft their body language and tone of voice to suit the person they’re talking to
    • “How you craft your words is probably the most important thing you can do as a leader and as a follower” Jonny Kim
      • You can’t talk to a 24-year old Navy SEAL the same way you talk to a 60-year old patient at a hospital

College & Harvard Medical School

  • Jonny went to college at 24 to study math at the University of San Diego
    • He had to cram in 4-years of school into 3 years so he took winter and summer classes
  • To help pay for tuition, Jonny got a job giving out parking tickets
    • Some people may have viewed a Navy SEAL giving out parking tickets as below them but Jonny saw it as an exercise in humility: “You should never think you’re too good to do a job and I think you should be like that in everything you do” – Jonny Kim
      • “The moment you start to think you’re better than anyone else, you have poisoned yourself. You’re on the dark path.”
  • The transition from the SEAL teams to college was incredibly difficult, Jonny was also working part-time and had first child
    • He turned to prayer, friends, and mentors for help
  • After his second year of college, Jonny applied to medical school and got accepted into Harvard medical school
  • In med school, two professors pulled Jonny aside and asked him why he never opened up with fellow classmates and detached himself from most conversations 
    • Jonny realized that he didn’t want to talk about his feelings because of a lot of baggage from his past
      • “Having that conversation and that guidance to open up, really helped me become a better human in many ways which led to being a better follower, being a better leader.” – Jonny Kim
  • Jonny is a Navy SEAL who got into Harvard medical school, but he still considers himself average both physically and mentally
    • His secret to success is grit and hard work: “I feel that I can stick with the goals and have deferred gratification…working hard is all I know I can do to make up for any advantages, natural or otherwise, that I don’t have.”Jonny Kim

Becoming A NASA Astronaut

  • As a child, Jonny never taught about becoming a doctor nor did he think about becoming an astronaut
    • He only had one goal in life: Leave a positive impact on the world
      • “That’s how I honor the brother we lost and I will never stop till the day I die, trying to fill that void because it’s a void that can never be filled”Jonny Kim
        • Becoming a doctor and astronauts fit that goal
  • As Jonny learned more about astronauts, he realized they’re a symbol of humanity and have the power to bring countries together  
    • “When you’re up there you don’t see these distinct borders between countries, you just see a lot of blue and a lot of land, and you see how fragile the planet is.” – Jonny Kim
      • Astronauts also inspire the next generations of scientists and explorers
        • “With the right attitude, with the right hard work, if you get up every time you fail, you can amount to something and you can do positive work”
  • Part of the interview process for NASA was working in a group of strangers to accomplish difficult tasks with no straightforward answer
    • To pass, you don’t always have to be the leader of the group, sometimes the best decision was to be a follower instead
      • “Being a good leader is being a good follower first” – Jonny Kim
        • Good leaders also talk less than most and are thoughtful with their words
          • “The less you talk, the more people listen” – Jocko Willink
  • Part of astronaut training includes learning Russian, geology, and practicing exercises underwater that stimulate zero-gravity
  • NASA’s goal is to have a man and woman set foot on the Moon by 2024
    • By 2028, the goal is to have an outpost on the Moon
  • It takes 4 hours to get to the International Space Station but 4 days to get to the Moon

Additional Notes

  • If you want to do something great, you have to take risks: This applies to combat, business, and space exploration
  • A lot of Navy SEALs honor their friends by trying to fill the void of what their teammates would’ve accomplished in the world
    • “I felt I had a huge obligation to work as hard as I could to do the things I wanted to do because I owed it to Marc and Mikey and Ryan” – Jonny Kim
  • When it comes to learning from others: “People need to be ready to be mentored and taught” – Jonny Kim
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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