A few days ago, I was flying to California for a talk in Napa Valley. I had a philosophy book with me to read along the way, but I wasn't really in the mood for analyzing and critiquing a complex argument. So I went into an airport bookstore in Charlotte, where I was changing planes. I had about 4 minutes to spare, so quickly scanned the nearest book table and saw American Sniper, the book on which the new movie is based.
I'm sure you know the story. Texas boy Chris Kyle worked hard and became a Navy SEAL, and ultimately the most prolific sniper in history. He was a legend. The book is his autobiography, with an emphasis on SEAL training, and his deployments into hot spots in the Middle East. It's a well written book, an absorbing tale, and a quick read, despite its nearly 500 pages.
The most surprising thing about the book is how much Kyle seemed to love his job, and, more generally, war. A sniper? Loving his job? But his job was killing people, right? Well, in his mind, his job was protecting his friends, and keeping the bad guys from killing the good guys. He came to see his adversaries as, for the most part, brutal, drugged up "savages" who seemed to have no shred of morality, civilization, or love for their fellow man. Their hearts had been so darkened by ignorance, ideology and violence that they could be stopped from their lust for killing in only one way. It was his job to see that this way was pursued vigorously and effectively.
I've written here before on what I've discovered about success in the works of the great practical philosophers throughout history and the fact that I've distilled their advice down to seven universal conditions. You may remember them. For true success in any challenging endeavor, we need (1) a clear CONCEPTION of what we want, (2) a strong CONFIDENCE that we can attain the goal we've set, (3) a focused CONCENTRATION on what it will take to get there, (4) a stubborn CONSISTENCY in pursuing our vision, (5) an emotional COMMITMENT to the importance of what we're doing, (6) a good CHARACTER to guide us and keep us on a proper course, and (7) a CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process along the way.
As you read American Sniper, it becomes clear that Chris Kyle lived each of these seven universal conditions, or what I call The 7 Cs of Success. The surprise to me was his wholehearted embrace of number seven, a CAPACITY TO ENJOY THE PROCESS. Initially, you say to yourself, "Who in the world could ever enjoy being a sniper? Aren't there just some jobs that can't possibly be enjoyed?" But then you read and ponder what Kyle says about his love for action, and battle, and doing his job well, and you begin to understand more deeply why he was the best at it who ever lived.
Now, if you're a pacifist, you may be insisting right now that no sniper could possibly satisfy the CHARACTER condition of The 7 Cs. But I'd take you back to Aristotle, who held that character involves such things as honesty and courage and a sense of humor amid difficulty. Chris displayed all such things. And you could continue through Aristotle's classic list of virtues and you'd still be able to tick off the boxes in this guy's life.
So if you are trying to live wisely and be successful and think that your job is so hard, or unpleasant, on some days, that you can't possibly satisfy the seventh condition of success, read this book and rethink it all. Like Marcus Aurelius once said, "Your life is what your thoughts make it."
Excellence is hard. And it's tough to make it happen without commitment, character, and a capacity to enjoy the process, along with all the other conditions.