Business Lessons I learned in Ranger School. Lesson #1: Keep Grinding

U.S. Army Ranger School. One of the toughest (and best) courses the military has to offer. 61 days of pure pleasure - very little food, even less sleep, and intermittent hikes up and down mountains, through swamps, wet, cold, and generally miserable. An event filled with many life lessons.

During the first few days of the course, Ranger students are given a Physical Fitness Test. There’s nothing particularly challenging about it. The standards are fairly simple for anyone in the sort of physical shape one should be in to attempt a course such as this. 49 push-ups in 2 minutes, 59 sit-ups in 2 minutes, a 5-mile formation run in 40 minutes or less, and 6 chin-ups, at a minimum, must be achieved.

It was a particularly cold February morning on Fort Benning Georgia. Students were lined up nervously at various stations on the frost-covered field to complete the exercises. Ranger Instructors were positioned at the head of each line to grade the students. It was a well-oiled machine, designed to test each student’s physical fitness, but also, as I would soon learn, their mental ability to keep grinding.

I found myself standing in one of several lines with a handful of other hopeful students, ready to complete the push-up event. Per Army standards, to complete a proper push-up, your chest must lower to the point where your arm breaks a 90 degree angle, and you must push back up until your arm is fully locked and extended. You may reposition your hands during the event by sliding them around the ground, but if you lift your hands at any time during the exercise, the event is terminated, and you fail.

As I stood in line, second from the front, I watched over my shoulder as a student began his timed exercise in the line next to mine. He knocked out 48 perfect push ups. Fast. All the way up and all the way down. Textbook pushups by any standard. “48, 48, 48,” called out the instructor after every repetition. No matter how low the student went (by now he was slamming his chest against the ground on each repetition) nor how obviously he returned to the locked-out starting plank position, the result was the same: “48, 48, 48.” Finally, the student had enough. “What the fuck?!” he yelled, as he jumped up and confronted the grading instructor. “Time!” yelled out the senior instructor running the event. The 2 minutes had elapsed, and this student had gotten up before the event was over. “48,” barked the Ranger Instructor. “You failed.” The student stormed away in disbelief.

When it was my turn, it was the same result. “48, 48, 48.” No matter how many proper push-ups I did. “Was this really it?” I thought. “Was I going to get dropped from Ranger School because I couldn’t ‘pass’ the push up event? Are they just trying to weed people out? Did I draw a psychotic Ranger Instructor who’s wife had just left him for his best friend and cleaned out his bank account on the way?”

“48, 48, 48.”

“Time!” yelled out the senior instructor running the event.

I hopped to my feet and looked down at the Ranger Instructor, who was scrawling something on his grading sheet.

“49. Pass.”

“Next!”

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As this lesson demonstrated, perseverance can win the day. There are many stories of successful entrepreneurs who almost quit. Entrepreneurs who were doing all the right things, over and over and over again, yet making no headway and feeling like their efforts would never pay off. They were frustrated, but they didn’t quit. They kept grinding, and soon after found massive success. So remember, the next time you get frustrated and are about to throw in the towel, stick with it. Your 49 may be right around the corner.

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