Don’t Forget to Prepare

"I could expect hard work, plenty of danger, and no recognition."

Happy Tuesday and welcome new subscribers! If you find today’s note interesting, please consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague.

This week, I am refreshing a story from when I had ~15% of today’s subscriber count. It is one of my favorites — and I have changed my emails to be more targeted with key takeaways. The story is inspired by the book Inside Delta Force.

I have a number of older articles that could be refreshed with (hopefully) better writing and new perspectives, so I will try to work those in every so often.

The next deep dive will be on the early life of Daniel Ludwig, one of the world’s richest men you’ve never heard of. I covered him briefly in the past.

He was a rather secretive person and only gave a single press interview his entire life. This interview was printed in the May 1957 issue of Fortune magazine.

I could not find the text for that interview anywhere online — so I tracked down a physical copy. I’m looking forward to sharing that in the next week or two.

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Inside Delta Force

It is important to realize that we have the ability to manufacture our own fate when we want to. We can... proceed when things look bad, or we can find plenty of reasons to quit if we don't want to go forward.

— Eric Haney, Inside Delta Force

After numerous terrorism incidents in the 1970s, the United States realized its armed forces had a counterterrorism blind spot. Green Beret Colonel Charlie Beckwith, who had served alongside the British Army's counter-terrorism unit the Special Air Service (also known as "SAS") in Malaysia, had been pushing for such a group since the 1960s.

Now that terrorism was a proven threat and the opportunity to be proactive lost, the U.S. Army commissioned its own SAS-like unit — Delta Force.

It is in the lead-up to Delta Force’s formation that we meet Eric Haney.

Uncertainty can be opportunity

Haney grew up in the 1950s in northern Georgia’s mountains. As a young boy, he experienced the excitement of electricity and indoor plumbing being brought into his family home. His parents had never entered high school, so when Haney looked like he might actually graduated from it, no one knew what he was supposed to do next.

Thus, following in the footsteps of friends and family, Haney joined the Army.

Though we may not have been scholars, we did know how to go into the military. I had grown up listening to the war stories and tales of my family and friends and I was determined to join up just as soon as I was able. I enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1970, while still in high school, with a reporting date immediately after graduation. I fell in love with the Army as soon as I met her.

I became a professional soldier, and that is what I will be until I die. The military is a profession that brands itself on the soul and causes you forever after to view the world and all human endeavor through a unique set of mental filters. The more profound and intense the experience, the hotter the brand, and the deeper it is plunged into you. I was seared to the core of my being.

About the time Colonel Beckwith was starting to recruit for Delta Force, Haney had just been promoted to sergeant first class. After eight years of near-continuous deployment with the Army Rangers, he feared the promotion signaled an imminent reassignment as an instructor training future generations.

That is not what Haney wanted. He enjoyed being in the fray — and had always succeeded there — so word made it back to Beckwith that there was an Army Ranger looking for something new.

As Haney was returning from a month in Panama’s jungles, Beckwith sent one of his men with an offer. Haney might be a fit for Delta Force, but it was impossible to know for sure. There were tryouts, and he would have to survive them. If he did, he just might be able to join the team.

He had my personnel records open on the table in front of him and he glanced at them occasionally as we talked about my career, about the units I had been in and the assignments I had held to that point. He told me this was a chance to be a charter member of a unit that would be unique in the American military — the nation's first unit dedicated to fighting international terrorism.

The prerequisites to try out were:

Minimum age of twenty-two. Minimum time in service of four years and two months. Minimum rank of staff sergeant. Pass a 100 meter swim test while wearing boots and fatigues, and pass the Ranger/Special Forces PT test. Have a minimum score of 110 on the Army general aptitude test, no court-martial convictions, and no record of recurring disciplinary problems.

About the only other thing Grimes told me was that if I was accepted, I could expect hard work, plenty of danger, and no recognition.

Haney wasted no time deliberating — he knew finishing his military years as an instructor was not the story he wished to leave behind. He signed up for tryouts on the spot and would join a group of men with backgrounds as decorated as his own all set on achieving the same goal — surviving selection.

I had almost no idea of what to expect on the morning of 13 September 1978, when I loaded my pickup, kissed my family goodbye, and set out on the five-hour drive up I-95 from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, for Fort Bragg, North Carolina— and points unknown.

I merely reminded myself that the future is always perfect. And wished it to be so.

Perseverance is great…

The tryouts were a continuous string of examples showcasing that persistent action is required in order to achieve anything meaningful. Timed long-distance runs, an 18-mile hike with a 40 pound backpack, solo navigation drills across mountains with undefined destinations, and a 40-mile mountain hike at 2am served more as a test of will than skill.

Along the way, instructors made it easy to quit. All one had to do was say they were done, and that would be the end of it. “You can just quit now if you’d like” was a favorite phrase to the overwhelmed men.

And what a beautiful metaphor for life that is. Your destination is never truly known, it requires unending effort to get there, and along the way you can easily find sources of negativity telling you to voluntarily remove yourself from the challenge.

Haney dealt with all this by not getting focused on the finish line. That mindset doesn’t work when there is no actual end. Instead, he was steadfastly focused on doing well along the way and trusting he would get where he was going eventually.

I would just keep my mouth shut, my eyes and ears open, and respond to whatever came up. It’s the system I’d always used in new situations, and so far it had served me well.

Additionally, as he attacked what was in front of him he pushed away the temptation to look around and compare himself to the others.

Some were faster. Some were stronger. Some seemed to mind the pain less than he did. But those things didn’t matter — the only thing he could control was himself. He could make himself put one foot in front of the other, over-and-over. And so that is exactly what he did.

As the truck rumbled off, I looked at the other group, but they were still sitting there. I quickly wondered which of us was going where, and just as quickly dismissed the thought. The men in the other group weren’t my concern, and as for me, I’d know the destination when I got there.

… But don’t forget to prepare

As you read through all the events, you quickly conclude you would fail. But as you consider things a bit more, you have to be even more honest with yourself. You wouldn't just fail. You would, in fact, die.

You would get lost in the mountains. You would fall off a cliff. You would try to make the 40-miles and breakdown.

Unending resolve is not enough. You must be prepared. All the perseverance you can muster today won't do anything for you if you haven't lived a life up to today that has prepared you for the task at hand — who you are today depends on who you chose to be yesterday.

Success only comes after persistent preparation. The 163 men selected for tryouts had lived lives that prepared them to grab the unique, once-in-a-lifetime Delta Force opportunity and try. Without preparation, they could not even hope to try.

This is not unique to the military — Charlie Munger consistently shares the idea that there are only a few opportunities in life that define you. To take advantage of them, you prepare.

Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts.

But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts.

— Charlie Munger

Finish lines can change

However, even with preparation, you will make mistakes. Haney did just that on the final 40-mile hike. He got lost. He went 7 miles off course in the wrong direction. And had to backtrack. And then keep going. He turned a 40-mile hike into more than a 50-mile hike, but he finished. After 18 hours, placing foot in front of foot, he made it to the finish line despite the setback.

It is rare that failure is a permanent state. After failure, you have the option to keep going. You can treat failure as only a stop on your journey. You don't have to let it be a destination. Many people treat getting knocked down as a reason to stay down. Like Haney, we don't have to.

What was the lesson here? Simple. Don’t quit. Never quit no matter what. Keep going... Keep going as long as you’re able to move, no matter how poorly you think you may be doing. Just don’t quit.

And it is important in life that you don't define failure as failure to achieve one specific goal. You can show up prepared and still not cross a specific finish line. That is alright.

163 men participated in the Delta Force trials. Only 12 were accepted into the program. Those 151 men were not failures — not even close.

They just had to accept that this Delta Force finish line wasn't one they were going to cross and instead start progressing towards the next.


As always, let me know what takeaways I missed or of real-world examples / expanded ideas from which other subscribers would benefit — Thank you!

For Investors:

1. Most of your time should be spent preparing for action, not actually acting.

For Builders:

1. Don’t overly define your endstate. Build what is valuable, take feedback, and be flexible.

2. You will hit snags and take undesired detours along the way. Expect them.

3. Not everyone who starts the journey with you is meant to make it to the end.

For Us:

1. Compete with yourself yesterday, not those around you today.

2. Ignore unwarranted negativity from others.

3. Build skills that add flexibility to your future.

4. Seize great opportunities. There will always be uncertainty.

If you found today’s issue interesting, more than anything, I would appreciate it if you forwarded this email to someone that might find it meaningful. It is a big deal to me whenever someone reads my work, and I appreciate your support.

Take care and have a great rest of the week,

— EJ

Twitter / X: @HistoryEJ

Disclosure: Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice. More detailed disclosure here.

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