F3 has been an integral part of me becoming the type of person, the type of man, I am today. This development process is a long journey, absent a finish line. This process can be frustrating as one never truly arrives at an end point. The journey is full of mistakes and learning opportunities we call waypoints, along the path of becoming the man you were created to become.
As of this past weekend in mid-May, there have been 28 GrowRuck Training Exercises, or GTE, executed during the 10-year existence of F3. These events are leadership training weekends where participants are taught virtuous leadership principles and then tested to put their learning into practice. I have participated in 3, Louisville, Myrtle Beach and this past weekend in Northwest Arkansas. All these events, both those I’ve participated in and those I have not, are uniquely their own. They have their own leadership team planning them, often times have different members of the Trainer and Cadre teams executing them and different men signing up to participate in the hopes they experience the same memory-making, life-changing moments they’ve heard about from events past. GTE’s are an excellent way to cement the development process for a man.
I’ve had those life-changing moments and often talk of the physical and mental challenges our teams have overcome. It is a fantastic way for men to learn life lessons as they’re expected to implement leadership teachings during frequent periods of high stress and limited visibility. What made NW Arkansas different?
First, I was flying in to participate in this event with my brother-in-law of 16+ years whom I’ve known for over 20. He is my wife’s brother and is also the leader of the regional F3 group hosting this GTE. In addition to the family connection, we were on the same team or as we say it, we were in the same Platoon. We often rucked side by side, each having some kind of heavy object hoisted onto our shoulders providing an additional challenge. Under such conditions, much didn’t have to be spoken. There is now a shared connection that just exists because of that experience. Sure, family vacations and Christmas dinners will now include inside jokes or “remember when” stories, but it’s the bond gained through shared adversity that grows the relationship.
Second, I was a Trainer alongside a great friend of mine, Frank. As a Trainer, you have a few primary functions during the weekend. In the beginning, Trainers rally the men and walk through the plan and expectations for the weekend. Trainers execute the Saturday morning workout consisting of leadership principles taught in F3. The major function of Trainers, requiring the most investment, is leading the 3-hour training session we call Grow School during which we teach these principles in a classroom setting and share personal experiences to support the content. This content comes from the book written by F3’s co-Founder, Dave Redding, Q Source (https://f3nation.com/q-source/). Trainers go “Under the Log” and participate like every other man. The difference here, however, is that Trainers cannot offer suggestions or advice, or serve in a leadership capacity during the event. They are to suffer and celebrate in all the same ways the rest of their team does. As I learned this weekend, this is where the magic happens.
The final element that made this weekend different was the connection made with several of the men in our Platoon. Those men know who they are as we pushed each other throughout the event, learned of very similar life experiences or, they presented an opportunity of personal investment. That’s one of the many special things about these events, it is about way more than “just” a 14-hour ruck event. Bonds are created through shared adversity.
While these and other experiences from this weekend stay with me, it is that role as a trainer I want to dig into a bit more. I’m 41 years old and have a history of surrounding myself, and in some cases, befriending, older men. I just tend to hang around guys that are a few years my senior. In doing so, I often pick up on their knowledge and listen to pieces of wisdom that stick with me. Rarely do I consider myself as a source of wisdom for other men. So, as a trainer, one is forced to be in the wisdom sharing role. Leading up to this unique opportunity, I studied and asked men whose opinion I value all sorts of questions about my preparation, what aspects I should dig in on and more broadly, their advice on how to present this material.
The training went well. While I went long on some points and rushed through others, I believe the material I presented was conveyed in a manner easily digested. I got vulnerable with the roughly 60 men in attendance in sharing how I’ve misaligned priorities, led selfishly and have eventually surrounded myself with men to hold me accountable. In the days since GTE28, I’ve had a few men contact me and thank me for sharing about my life and even talked about how it is causing them to think differently. That’s about as good as it gets.
Then, we went under the log. Frank talks about his passion of “unlocking” men for their true purpose. This isn’t a vocational unlocking but a true, life-meaning, unlocking and discovery of your purpose for living this life. Over the course of the event, under extreme physical duress, exhausted, hungry, frustrated, and possibly even regretting their choice to be there, I witnessed a few men become unlocked. They were transformed from deer staring into the headlights to men that assessed a situation and jumped into action. Their action threw their own personal comfort out the window because after all, they weren’t in this event for themselves. Sure, it’s nice to overcome something physically hard, but they kept pushing because that’s what they expected from other men in the Platoon, to keep pushing. In other words, they weren’t going to let you quit.
A man will quit on himself before he will quit on another man. We had plenty of time to ponder quitting. While carrying a ladder weighted down with fire hoses, sandbags, logs and our own ~40lb rucks, one could rationalize quitting in today’s world. But guess what? We weren’t living in today’s world this past weekend. The actions by men, most whom I’d not previously met, were inspiring. I witnessed a man in his 20’s take over the lead role and absolutely crush it. We completed every challenge with time to spare, knew the expectations and found ways to support the team. I witnessed a teenager lead men 2-3 times his age, including his own father. As soon as one becomes concerned about the generation behind you and its ability to engage, he put an end to that thought. It wasn’t perfect but you’d be hard pressed to find another 15-year-old with the courage and fortitude to take that on.
I witnessed a man puking on a field come back and excel during this event. I witnessed a man who’s never led even a small workout go on to lead us through a mock casualty exercise. I witnessed the silent courage of countless men focus on everything else but their own personal suck, just so that they could be a motivating force for others.
In the end, I had a few men come up to me, face to face, hug me and thank me for the role I played. You see, I’ve always found myself on the receiving end of other men giving of themselves. This time, I gave some of myself away because I was honored to be asked and I cared about these guys before I even knew their names. These men in Arkansas, from around the country, thanked me because I cared about them. I encouraged them to press on, physically, and in their lives back home.
Imagine if we could get every man to step into an experience like this, realizing it’s about way more than carrying a weighted ruck for a few hours. What if we all had the life-changing experience to recognize we get to invest in others and be invested into, while going through shared challenges?
In 41 years, I’ve not found an environment better than a GTE where a man can fail then overcome, on his way to becoming a more unlocked man. It is a process, and a very rewarding one at that.
Maximus (F3 The Fort – Fort Mill, SC)