Advice from Sebastian Junger on achieving a remarkable life

The September issue of Outside magazine has an inspiring interview with author-documentarian-bar-owner Sebastian Junger that speaks directly to an uncluttered pursuit of a remarkable life. Junger, most famous for The Perfect Storm, was once an extreme minimalist who slept on the floor until he was 40, and he continues to live quite simply in New York City with his wife.

A few highlights from Junger’s interview “The Path of Most Resistance,” which will be online when the October issue hits newsstands:

The things in life that aren’t exciting, if they’re a hassle, I just don’t do ’em. Like, I could go out and buy a shaving mirror, or I could use the back of a CD.

Everything I do, I just assume I’m going to fail. It all seems impossible. But I’m very scared of failure — you know, everyone is — and that sense of impossibility gets me to crank up the turbines. Everything mentally and physically at my disposal I pour into a project.

The people I know personally who cannot sit down and chill out for a while are people who have not really come to terms with their emotional, inner story. They’re staying a step ahead of it. I did that through my twenties and thirties. In my forties, I stopped working so hard for a bit and confronted a certain amount of stuff about myself. I think that one of the impetuses for working outrageously hard and traveling constantly and always being on deadline is that your personality can’t catch up with you.

Also in the magazine, tangentially related to Junger’s interview, is advice from Eric Greitens about how he manages to get everything done. Greitens is a former Navy SEAL commander, Rhodes scholar, has a Ph.D., and a laundry list of additional accomplishments and activities. Speaking about how he does it all, from page 24:

It’s all about energy. Whether you’re leading a nonprofit organization, running a private company, doing something outdoors, or conducting military operations — you have to build habits that keep your energy high. This is my formula: (1) Vigorous exercise: Six days a week, I walk out of a gym, a dojo, or off a track pouring with sweat … (2) Good fuel: When I eat clean, quality food during the day, my energy never sags. (3) Good partners: Working with a team of positive people keeps your spirits up. (4) Balance: I pray every day, and I also laugh, a lot. You won’t have focus without balance. (5) A goal: A worthy challenge will take care of your motivation for you.

21 Comments for “Advice from Sebastian Junger on achieving a remarkable life”

  1. posted by Rachel on

    Interesting points made by both men. I agree with Junger that people who have a “go-go-go” mentality must be avoiding getting in touch with their inner selves.

  2. posted by Lain on

    Love that interview. The #5 from Greitens hit me — knowing my “why” makes everything so very clear. Then nothing else — my lack of energy, the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, etc. — matters.

    Thanks so much!

  3. posted by Lose That Girl on

    The geek in me is screaming, “Sebastian! Don’t get that CD covered in water and shaving cream!”

  4. posted by Radon on

    Good points. People I’ve known who always have to have music playing or the radio or TV on, who can’t handle any amount of peace and quiet around them, are people I can’t relate to. They’re people who can’t deal with something internally, and seem somewhat emotionally stunted. It’s as if they surround themselves with the clutter of unnecessary constant media, that they’re not even actively engaged in or enjoying.

    The other good point is that negative, judgmental people literally drain the life out of you. After leaving a job working for a bullying, micromanaging, ungrateful control freak who complained about everything and everyone and created a grim work environment, my energy levels and mindset returned to normal for the first time in years. I thought it was me — my diet or fitness or clutter — but it wasn’t.

  5. posted by Beverly D on

    OK there’s probably something wrong with me, but I don’t understand a word Junger said. It’s a bunch of words strung in a row to me. Now Greitens, on the other hand, has a linear brain that I relate to. I completely agree that if you want to do something, find your motivation, get rid of the obstacles, surround yourself with postive people, and DO IT. There is a law of physics that energy begets energy, so the more you use the more you get. I love that his first rule is about exercise. But not do something because it’s a hassle? Huh? Life is full of hassles, get over it. Assume I’m going to fail? Never, I have to have the confidence that I will succeed to even get out of the chair. Sorry, I don’t get Junger.

  6. posted by chacha1 on

    I think I’ll have to track down that issue for DH. He’ll enjoy it.

    Dr. Greitens’ policies are excellent.

    Incidentally: big George Clooney fan, but “Perfect Storm”? The book was much superior to the movie.

  7. posted by Jerret on

    I bought this issue of Outside because of this interview. The first thought I had afterwards was, “What in the world have I done with my life?”

    He talks about having to “step out of himself” for The Perfect Storm. If you’ve never read it, he truly did go full bore with it.

    I AM a fan boy.

  8. posted by mdfloyd on

    My first thought when I read these excerpts is that they both probably have wives and/or secretaries — it’s so much easier to get things done when you don’t have to worry about non-exciting things like clean underwear or making dinner.

  9. posted by Mletta on

    I hear you mdfloyd. My thoughts exactly. You can’t lead a life focused soley/exclusively on just what you want to do without somebody doing the daily “maintenance” as it were, no matter HOW minimal you are. (I know one such high performer. He has two personal assistants, one house manager, two agents, one personal finance manager, and assorted other consultants, etc. who literally “run” his life while he’s out and about. He’s honest enough to admit that he requires this level of assistance so that he can solely focus on the “big stuff.”)

    Makes you wonder how many more people could life such lives if they weren’t bogged down by everyday life.

    Also, how does this single-minded life affect one’s relationships with others? (Haven’t had a chance to get a copy of the article yet. Maybe it addresses this.)

    The single-minded folks I know are rarely have many true relationships (whether family, friends or one-on-one partnerships) and/or spend little time being present and actively engaged in them. They may know a lot of people but it doesn’t mean they are really interacting with them, other than on their own terms. People take time. And attention.

    I think it’s great that people are fully engaged in their life and that they are doing something they want. However, I draw the line (my personal decision) at what takes away from my ability to be fully present (as needed by them, and not just me) in the lives of those I care about. Is it difficult? Yes, but that’s why we have our twenties and thirties when we can be all about “me” so that we can then experience that full involvement with self-development, exploration, etc.

    But then, most of us, choose (need?) more “balance” in terms of integrating real life, with social interactions, responsibilities, etc.

    To be honest, people like Junger may be admirable in many ways, but I’m honestly more impressed with everyday people who manage to show up for dull, boring, tough jobs (with horrible bosses and lousy companies) and then show up for their friends and families in countless ways every day. And for the millions of men and women who stay home to run households and hold families together.

    My sister-in-law, who has an autistic child, is far more exemplary, in my opinion, in terms of leading a “remarkable” life. She took a child who they said would never speak and never have any semblance of a normal life and she trained and then worked with him (along with others) and today he is functioning at an unbelievable level (despite issues that remain). She has also maintained a marriage, a household, held several jobs simultaneously and is the center of a large extended family. Nobody does her laundry, shops, cleans her house or provides any services. She cannot afford it.

    She is active in her son’s schools, the leader of many volunteer activities and the first to help others.

    THAT, folks, is a truly remarkable life and frankly I’m just so much more interested in heralding these folks. THEY are the backbone of society.

    If you live your life well with respect to those around you, no matter what you do, or accomplish (does everything have to be a headline to be worthwhile? NO!), you are REMARKABLE.

  10. posted by Greg Hartle on

    Love this post. Junger is a cool dude and amazing reporter/writer. I just finished his book, WAR, a couple of months ago. Great read!

  11. posted by Jen on

    Mletta: Well said!

  12. posted by TMichelle on

    I found Radon’s post ironic,

    “Good points. People I’ve known who always have to have music playing or the radio or TV on, who can’t handle any amount of peace and quiet around them, are people I can’t relate to. They’re people who can’t deal with something internally, and seem somewhat emotionally stunted. It’s as if they surround themselves with the clutter of unnecessary constant media, that they’re not even actively engaged in or enjoying.

    The other good point is that negative, judgmental people literally drain the life out of you.”

  13. posted by Mary C. on

    I totally agree with Mdfloyd and Mietta! I guess a single woman with no children could focus like some of these men do, but that means she has to commit to great personal sacrifice in a way that the men don’t.

  14. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Mletta and others — Stop for a second and reconsider your positions. Things like child rearing are, at least for most caring parents, what matters most in the world. My son IS part of my remarkable life. Working so that I can earn money to care for him IS what I want to do. I keep house so he has a safe place to live, I make meals so that he has good food to eat, and I do all of this because I WANT to. He is not a burden, he is a blessing.

    You’re hung up on the idea that being responsible is somehow a punishment — and it’s not. If you want a remarkable life, you’ll need to make this shift in your perspective. In my opinion, you’re LUCKY to have a house, commitments, and responsibilities.

    What matters most to Junger might not be what matters most to you, but that doesn’t make it “wrong.” It just makes it different.

  15. posted by MatCoes on

    @mdfloyd et al. Sebastian has not been married very long, and certainly had no assistant before Perfect Storm.

    His success is due to doing interesting things, then sitting down and doing the hard work that writers do; writing.

    The man also has a very rounded life. Magazine articles never portray a full person, they can’t.

  16. posted by GayleRN on

    Erin, your youth and lack of life experience is showing. All of life requires making choices, you cannot possibly do everything. You don’t have that kind of time. For a more mature view, why don’t you ask your Mom what part of her potential she sacrificed for your sake.

    All we are saying is that somebody still has to spend their time making sure that the basics are done. The time spent on this is gone and cannot be used for other more glorified pursuits.

  17. posted by Erin Doland on

    @GayleRN — How old do you think I am? I’m flattered that you believe I’m so young, but being almost 40 I would have to disagree with you on the “lack of experience” topic. Besides, it’s not years that make a person “experienced.” I know of many people quite younger than me who have fought in wars, been homeless, had to beg for food, suffered at the hand of an oppressor. Age isn’t what makes a person experienced.

    Additionally, as a woman who struggled for years to adopt her child, I find it depressing that someone does not see parenting as a “glorified pursuit.” I cannot think of anything more glorifying than being a mother, to be honest. I’ve been profiled in the New York Times, brought supplies to families behind the Iron Curtain when it was still the Soviet Bloc, written legislation that unanimously passed a state’s legislature and greatly improved the lives of working women, and on and on and on — and NONE of these accolades comes close to the privileged I have of being a mom.

    I’m tired of parents complaining about their choice to become parents and whining about how awful it is. How glad I am to know that my son never has to read on the internet that I don’t believe he is a “glorified pursuit.” He is THE most glorious pursuit of all and there is nothing I want more in this world than to be his mother.

  18. posted by mdfloyd on

    On ABC news the other night there was mention that women (some women) are now making 7% more than men. This is in contrast to women traditionally making 80% of what men make. The women? They were all single, no children, and under 30.

    If someone wants to be a parent, that’s fabulous — go forth and be the best parent possible. That wasn’t what I was complaining about.

    I get annoyed at magazine articles that feature people like Junger who happily proclaim they only do what they love and they make their own opportunities and carve their own paths, etc ad nauseum as if they do all this alone. The reality is that there are people in their lives helping them with the laundry and balancing the checkbook and running to the grocery — doing the background stuff.

    How often do we read stuff like this and stop and ask who’s supporting this person, either financially or domestically? The silent assumption is that there’s a nice lady at home taking care of the hearth and children. If the star of the article is a woman you can bet there’ll be space devoted to the husband and his contributions.

    None of us can do it all, and none of us can do it alone.

  19. posted by Alicia on

    I’m sorry to be nitpicky, but the cd-as-shaving-mirror thing sounds plain silly to me. I can’t get past it. Is it an old cd that he doesn’t listen to anymore, or is it part of his music collection? Does he store it in the bathroom, or does he put it back in its case after use? Does he listen to it sometimes, and if so, does he remember where he put it after shaving? Does he prop it against something, or does he hold it in his left hand while he shaves with the right one? It all sounds like much more of a hassle than just going out and buying a damn shaving mirror! This may sound like quibbling, but that first comment really makes me distrust anything he has to say about his lifestyle and organisation habits!

  20. posted by Rae on

    Folks, take what you like or need, and leave the rest.

  21. posted by Matt on

    I have shaved using a CD as a mirror. Its terrible. First of all you do not get a clear reflection, second, you have to hold it up if you cannot find an appropriate place to balance it. Thirdly it has a very small surface area not good for those with large heads.

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