In this episode of Return to Base podcast, we welcome Alden Mills. Alden graduated from the United States Naval Academy and went on to serve as a Navy SEAL before leaving the military, inventing “The Perfect Pushup,” and authoring two bestselling books: Be Unstoppable: 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything and Unstoppable Teams: The 4 Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership.
It was no accident that Alden learned the secrets to being unstoppable. From being the kid with two left feet to scoring goals on his own team in every ball sport imaginable and rowing crew at the Naval Academy, Alden learned to achieve despite great adversity. Lucky enough to receive a billet into BUD/S training out of college, Alden suffered through self-doubt, persistent cadre, and uniforms that literally ripped his skin from his thighs to become a Navy SEAL.
Upon leaving the service, Alden attended business school and became a successful entrepreneur and CEO of Perfect Fitness, the 2009 Inc. 500 fastest-growing consumer-product company.
Alden founded BeUnstoppable.com in 2021 to help people master the code to succeed at anything, and he is a sought after keynote speaker.
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Return to Base Podcast Ep. #2: Alden Mills: Becoming Unstoppable
Cliff: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Return to Base: Episode 2. We’re here with Alden Mills. Very excited to present him as our guest today. He’s a former division one athlete. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a Navy SEAL, an inventor, an Inc 500 CEO and the bestselling author of books “Be Unstoppable” and “Unstoppable Teams.”
Please welcome Alden Mills. Hey Alden, how’s it going?
Alden Mills: Hey Cliff, how are you?
Cliff: I’m doing fantastic. It’s finally sunny down here in Tennessee. Not too [00:01:00] hot, not too cold, fall’s coming and I like that. You’re up in California, correct?
Alden Mills: Yeah. I’m over in Northern California Marin County area.
Cliff: AweSome. I have a special place in my heart for California.
Even though I’ve lived in Tennessee for a long time. And I don’t plan on going back to California, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m a San Diego boy!
Alden Mills: A lot of people will say that. You’re a San Diego guy?
Cliff: Yeah. I bet I used to go down there and watch the SEALs run on silver strand and think, man, that looks freaking miserable.
So, I got all that, right, division one athlete. You were in crew, is that correct? And graduated from the Naval Academy. And I was reading in your book a little bit about your time at the Naval Academy and crew. And I thought that story was fascinating, because for those who haven’t read and shame on you, but for those of us who have Alden [00:02:00] mentions that it was an unorthodox team. Ended up achieving great results because of the, I would say because the mindset, not just the physical framework was there, but there was a certain mindset of those at the Naval Academy. Is that right?
Alden Mills: It is, you know, and I, what I would highlight them this and this, by the way, applies to all the service academies, right.
The service academies bring people in. There’s no red shirting. You’re there for four years. You can’t bring in people from other countries. There are only Americans there. You have height and weight standards. You have academic standards. So, in the world of rowing, taller people, really helpful, right? People from the Netherlands, from Serbia and Croatia, New Zealand, Australia, heavily recruited to a lot of places that we raised against and they [00:03:00] are multiple year post-grads a lot of them show up at 21 years of age. And here you have this. The Naval Academy crew who gets a small handful of recruits of which I was one of them, but the large majority of the folks in the boat, they don’t know how to row when they first show up. And yet year after year the Naval Academy crew with other sports as well would show up in the national championship and be competitive.
Right. And So, that was the story. That’s the kind of context behind the story of like, well, how do these. Seemingly uncoordinated, inexperienced teams come together and vie for national championships. And that always came down to first and foremost, that mindset.
Cliff: Right. And, you know, I think that it’s an interesting sport to participate in given that you ended up becoming a SEAL. Every single perSo,n on that boat, it’s called [00:04:00] a boat, right? Every perSo,n on that boat has to pull their weight or the mission fails. You fail.
Alden Mills: And not only that, it’s eight oarsmen getting eight blades in the water in exactly the same time. From a teamwork perspective. It is probably the highest form of teamwork.
You’re going to find in a sport. There’s no high point score, right? There’s no real MVP in the boat. Every single perSo,n has equal amount of importance and it’s only the fastest boat wins by who can act as one as the better boat.
Cliff: Yeah. That’s a fantastic way to look at it. People many people say that like football for instance is the ultimate team sport.
Cause everybody has to pull their weight. But obviously crew is not as popular of a sport but I can see crew being, way up there past [00:05:00] football for where it is, as far as important as working as a team is because like you said, one blade out of place. You’re not going to win and there’s not a, there’s not another play.
It’s one race.
Alden Mills: That’s it, you know, I would want to be clear from a team perspective. I don’t think there’s anything higher up there. From an athletic endeavor. You know, we are definitely not the most coordinated athletes. Like we sit on our butts and go backwards for long periods of time. And what we are really good at is learning how to suffer.
But it was a perfect entree to go from rowing into the Special Forces world.
Cliff: Yeah, no, let me back up a little bit. So, obviously you went to the U.S. Naval Academy, that’s a process in and of itself. You have to get a recommendation by a congressman, correct? What led you to consider the [00:06:00] Navy and to consider the United States Naval Academy.
Alden Mills: I was one of these kids that got sent away to boarding school at an early age, right? Um,
Cliff: Not Hogwarts?
Alden Mills: No, no, not Hogwarts. At times. It probably felt like that though. Grew up on the east coast and the schools were going to hell in a hand basket for us. And my parents decided like, hey, I think you’re going to need some discipline.
And I ended up being that kid who was kind of born with two left feet. Any ball sport, I seemed to only score on my own team. I scored on my team in So,ccer and lacrosse and hockey, basketball. I was terrible. I saw this sport of rowing and I was like, oh man, I love this. Like I just immediately gravitated toward it.
And then as I started getting better at it, I started [00:07:00] getting recruited. Originally, I thought it was going to go row with some Ivy league school, but I always just kept looking at the Naval Academy and I kept saying like, oh, this is a different path. And it was during my time in junior year, I heard about this force called SEAL team.
And what SEAL team stood for and what they were all about. Now, I grew up on the water. I was that kid who got a certified scuba dive at the age of 12. I would wear my mask and fins and watch the show flipper and sea quest. Like, I love those things, right. I just loved those water junkie. At the 11th hour, I ended up getting dropped from this Ivy league school.
And the Navy came knocking and I was, I’m going to do this. And I was the first kid in a long time from this boarding school go to the Naval Academy. I loved it. It was alSo, the best of [00:08:00] times, worst of times there some discipline that I had to get used to, but that kind of service really fired me up.
Cliff: Interesting. Now, timeframe that we’re talking about is 1990s being in the Naval Academy?
Is that correct?
Alden Mills: Yes. 87 and 91.
Cliff: That’s an interesting time to be joining or volunteering for the service as change of administration. The cold war for crying out loud being done. And So, it’s interesting that you chose the SEALs and, we don’t need to get into operational specifics, but I’m sure they kept you plenty busy even though there wasn’t the quote unquote big muscle movement type wars.
Alden Mills: Yeah. I have this vision and this really kind of brought us home. We have this trophy room. At the Naval Academy boathouse and in the trophy room is large TV. And the coach [00:09:00] said, we’re going to stop what we’re doing for training for a moment. I want you to all come in here. And this was a senior, I was captain, and the crew turned the TV on and we were watching the invasion of Iraq. And he said: Hey, you know, those guys that you rowed with last year? They’re right there.
They’re there in that Marine Corps division. You know, these guys they’re there. That’s why we’re really here. Yeah. We’re here to win some races, but the real races are those out there. And when that kind of process hit home, it really kind of emboldened you, and kinda hit you with the reality. Hey, this is what we’re really training for.
And so, when we went off in the SEAL team, I went head in and. I ended up volunteering for this group that drives combat classified, combat mini submersibles, and did two tours driving these little mini subs all around the world. I loved it [00:10:00] before I went to a conventional team, which would be, they call it relatively conventional SEAL team two.
Right. We, you know, we did a lot of clandestine stuff.
Cliff: Yeah. That’s fantastic. And coming out of the cold war was a perfect opportunity to show off some of those unconventional skills that quite frankly, we’ve gotten away with or gotten away from a bit during the global war on terror, unfortunately.
So, you finished the Naval Academy knowing full well that, you’re not going to go be an F 18 pilot.
How tall are you? Anyways? 6’3”? Yeah, that would be a tight squeeze, but I think you could still do it, but you know, you’re not going to be an F 18 pilot. And you volunteer for SEAL training. Did you have a backup plan as to what happens if you wash out during BUDs or were you just So, focused and committed that you just knew you were going to make it?
Alden Mills: The big first backup plan was whether I was going to get a billet out of the Naval Academy [00:11:00] it was touch and go. I was the last one to get a billet and in part that’s because of my class rank and my number of demerits, I consider myself top 10% of the bottom fifth. So,, the backup plan. Was, I was going to go to an oiler out of New Jersey, get qualified as quickly as I could, and then transfer in the SEAL team.
I did not have a backup plan if I dropped, quit, got medically dropped from SEAL Team.
Cliff: Yeah. And for those that don’t know, obviously there’s a significant wash out rate in the SEAL team in SEAL training BUDs from injury, and some folks just not being there 100% mentally. Same with me. I trained with Special Forces. Uh, I went to the Special Forces Qualification Course and got my Green Beret, and a lot of folks end up just quitting.
And you’re like, why? But hey, [00:12:00] if that’s what you want to do, I’m glad you quit is the way I looked at it.
Alden Mills: And that was the same attitude. I think everyone else had too. Right. They want those that are all in all the time.
Cliff: That’s right. That’s right. And So, let me ask you this. So, you’re in SEALs.
You’re obviously you’re in, you’re an officer. So, you enter I guess BUDs as an Ensign, is that correct? You’re expected to lead pretty much right away. Did you ever think to yourself while in BUDs that you were applying some of the leadership present or leadership principles and lessons that you learned from crew say, cause all these things are building blocks, I think, to a total person.
And I imagine that you had some lessons in leadership that you learned from your time with the Naval Academy and rowing crew.
Alden Mills: Cliff, that’s all I had. You’re a hundred percent correct. [00:13:00] Every time I got myself wondering, what am I going to do now? The first thing I would do was think back to, okay, what did I do when I was captain and the crew? The times where I actually thought about quitting there’s one time in particular.
During hell week it’s Tuesday night, hell week is this time period for the listeners. You’re not sure about it. It goes from Sunday to a Friday. They give you a total of three hours of sleep for that week. Ironically, they think once you go through hell week, you’re like a Navy SEAL, but it’s only this six weeks of training, right?
It’s an initial culling process. And our class had gone from 122 down to 18 and there’s one officer, me, and 17 unlisted and they pulled me. And they say, sir, why do you think So, many people are quitting? I know it was a winter hell week. So, I thought, well, it’s cold out or whatever. And they’re like, no, sir.
It’s because you are a terrible leader. [00:14:00] They’re all quitting because of you. So, we want you to go over here, ring the bell, and we’re just going to mold this class and then enroll it into another class.
When you get faced with those kinds of question marks, that’s the first thing that you go to. It’s like, okay, well, what am I doing wrong? Like maybe they’re right. I, you know, and you’re so tired already. You’re kind of questioning yourself. Everything that I had was going back, not to some book I read, but to what I had experienced or learned from others in another sport where I was being pushed to my limit, right.
Where we get pushed to our limits is where we really learn who we are and what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work.
Cliff: That’s absolutely right. They say fire, hardenes steel, right?
Alden Mills: Iron sharpens iron.
Cliff: Iron sharpens, iron. That’s it. In the SEAL teams, let me back up. So, you finish, you [00:15:00] finished BUDs having already faced at a significant amount of adversity.
And do you feel that conversation from, it was probably a Chief or something, that who came up to you and asked you, asked you to ring the bell. Can you put a pin in that conversation in your life and say, wow, that might’ve changed everything because it sounds like, well, what he did was he, he put you to a point where he was giving you an opportunity, a way out, but he was also, testing your leadership.
Alden Mills: Yeah, there are these moments. I call them pivotal moments where you’re at this Y in the road and you have this decision to make, we had this, he was a warrant officer and right before we started SEAL training and he talked in a deep southern accent.
“You know what my job is to create a conversation in here” and he took his index [00:16:00] finger. Right? Put it up.
“It’s to create a conversation to get you to decide what you’re going to focus on. You going to focus on the pain of training or you going to focus on the pleasure that training provides you?” He goes on to say, “you know, 80% of you got to focus on the pain, you know what. Well, cause you want to be a SEAL on a sunny day. And your country don’t need SEALs on sunny days.”
Yeah. And I thought about that conversation, and I got that conversation a lot. Yeah. Okay. You can put a pin on that particular night because they almost had me for a second. They got me thinking like, oh my God, am I really that bad of a leader? I’m an ensign, of course I’m a bad leader I just started. The best leadership I got was from all my NCOs who had done many deployments before me.
And they’re like, let me show you how this works over. They took me [00:17:00] under their experience wings and they brought me along. And there was times where I got forced with a medical drop because they found out that I’d been taking asthma medication because I had been declared an asthmatic and I was sneaking it and I got busted.
My lungs started bleeding and they’re like, you shouldn’t even be here. They rolled me and they put me back and they gave me another huge out. And I said, no, no. Okay. I’ll stop taking the medicine. But I got to figure out a way to get through this, you know? And then there were times where you’re thinking, I don’t know if I can do this 20 mile run in the middle of the night or this long swim.
Like those conversations come to me all the time. But after a while you get used to that voice. I and first chapter on Unstoppable Teams, I talk about that conversation about leading yourself and about, I call that voice the whiner. And the more you hear that whiner chirping away at you, where the more, you know, you’re on the right path, pushing yourself out of that comfort zone and familiar. Moving forward into a place [00:18:00] that’s going to make you a stronger, better person.
Cliff: Yeah. That’s interesting. You know, you mentioned something earlier, too about the suffering. I always love that word suffer. I coach youth sports for instance, and I remind the kids that there’s a few things that we do together.
We win, we lose, and we suffer. And if you ask the kids after practice, the other coach says, “Hey kids. What did coach teach you?” And they all just said, “just suffer.” But there’s something about the suffer, the suck, right? That is almost addictive in a weird way because you start feeling all right. I, you know what, I know what that feels like, and I know what the endorphins and everything else that I’m going to get when I get through it. And a leader in the Special Forces Qualification Course, one of my NCOs that told me. He said, “Hey [00:19:00] that sucked. Didn’t it?” I go, yeah. Yeah, it did suck. “You’re welcome. You’re going to have so, many fun stories because it sucks So, bad.”
Alden Mills: I love that.
Cliff: He’s right. And he’s absolutely right. And as a matter of fact, you know, all the fun stories I kind of have, uh, throughout my military career, hardly any of them are though good things. I want to remember. It’s the times it really sucked.
Alden Mills: Made you feel alive, right?
Cliff: Yeah. That’s right.
Alden Mills: The pain and the pleasure that comes afterwards that lets you know, you’re alive. I’m lucky are we to be able to feel these feelings? Yeah.
Cliff: That’s a good way to put it. I don’t want to put you on the spot here, but in your time in the SEAL teams or even in training, you have a funny little story or something that you remember as oh, [00:20:00] wow.
That was hilarious. Oh my God.
Alden Mills: Yeah, I got, I got all kinds of
Cliff: PG 13.
Alden Mills: I got some that are way out of PG 13, but okay, this is PG 13 and they will, it will go to show everybody that we all have moments. In hell week they decided that we were going to TNE. That means test and evaluate in our case. That means we’re going to be Guinea pigs. These tri-shorts. Tri-shorts are nothing more than a pair of kind of like long jockey underwear, right?
Like boxer briefs, but they stick to your life. Right. We call them tri-shorts. And these under the UDTs. Yeah, they’re under the, they were under UDTs. They were under your BDUs. Cause we basically were, are being used the whole time. Right? Right. Our battle dress uniform, [00:21:00] our cammies. And back then we were wearing these World War Two outfits.
The idea was that we’re going to wear these things. So, we wouldn’t get so badly chafed and everyone wouldn’t get cellulose infections in their thighs, and then they would get medically rolled back and then have to go through. Oh, we could get, but what they didn’t appreciate was they never give you time to urinate.
So, you would just urinate in those dry shorts constantly. And because you’re wet all the time, nobody ever knew that you were standing out right. Or you’re waiting for the next person. You’re like, oh, you’re just relieving yourself the whole time until it was Tuesday in the middle of the night where you finally have to go number two for the first time and they bring you in and they’re like, you got 10 minutes to go to that.
One by one, we get into the bathroom, we’re lined up, get to the John and you just like, oh, I got, I really got to go and rip those [00:22:00] freaking trash shorts off. And when you did, you ended up ripping off huge chunks of skin that had melded into the tri-shorts with all that urine, because it had just eaten away.
And then you’re totally raw and flushing. You’d hear guys one after the other crying, like little babies, right? We’re like, ohhhhhh, as we’re trying to have a bowel movement in the bathroom and isn’t it come out. And I got tears running down my face and I see this guy and he’s in my class and he’s a stud and he looks at me and he’s got tears all over his face. When I walk out this door, I am quitting.
This is the most pain I’ve ever had. And they knew exactly what they were going to do now. Because there was a guy that they heard what was going on and get the surfs out right afterwards, all this route. [00:23:00] Right. And I looked at him and I grabbed him. It was the only time we got to look at each other because you’ve got to see a mirror.
I looked in the mirror and I said, Gary, look. I’m in as much pain as you I’ve just cried like a little baby. I got no eyes. It’s the same thing with me. Go do me a favor. Just stick it out until the sun rise. It’s all I ask you to do. And let’s check in. We cry some more because we get put right in the surf, and he went on to become the honor man of our class.
Number one student of the class right here. We all had those moments. Yeah. There was that moment right then and there that I will never, ever forget. And every time I put my underwear on, I think about that moment
Cliff: Or every time you have a bowel movement, right. And by the way,
Alden Mills: Doesn’t matter how bad it is because never as bad as that, [00:24:00]
Cliff: That’s right.
That’s right. Hitting the surf with skin ripped off has got to be a bit frightening for those who don’t know. There’s a, I don’t know if you call it a jet stream or would that version of a stream in the water, but it goes to there right from Antarctica and lands directly on Coronado beach in the Pacific Ocean.
It doesn’t matter if it’s July or August, it’s still going to be cold.
So, yeah, moving on. You did a few years in SEALs held three commands in the SEALs, three platoons. And eventually you decided to transition out of the military. What led you to make that decision?
And what was your plan as you were preparing to make this transition?
Alden Mills: You know, there were a couple of things that led me make the decision. One of them had been, I had been so, fortunate with these [00:25:00] three platoons. I had some other opportunities to go on to some other SEAL team. So, it was like, you know, If I go to these other shield teams, I’m going to go in and I’ll stay for another four or five years, I’ll be there for 12.
Then I might as well stay in for 20. And I had felt so lucky to have all these different experiences. I think it’s time for me to go and do something else. And it was also, at a time where we were still, quote unquote in time of peace, even though you’re doing mostly clandestine work, that it was all clandestine work and.
I went. I applied. I went to business school and I remember sitting in the business school class. I jumped out, I’d done a high altitude, low opening job on literally like a Friday. And then on Monday, I’m sitting in a quantitative skills review program at Carnegie Mellon, surrounded by engineering. And I’m thinking to myself, good [00:26:00] God, what have I done?
Cause you know, from 18 to 30, I’d been in the military and now I’m with these civilians. And I can’t understand like why they’re crying because they think they fail the test. When I know I failed the test, I remember telling them all the time, like you got nothing to cry. You don’t have to worry about your parachute, not opening.
You don’t have to worry about running out of air. You don’t have to worry about somebody shooting you or the bomb going off. Like it’s just a test. I want you to know they’d look at me. Like I was a freak.
That was a hard transition.
Cliff: I bet. You went to business school. Did you think that you were going to leave your military life behind and just kind of keep that in your memory bank or…
Alden Mills: I did, uh, actually I did Cliff for a while as like, well, I just got to compartmentalize this and now I got to go be all in the civilian.[00:27:00]
And for a while, I really did think that. And the more I thought that the more miserable I got, because I was like a ship without a rudder, I was bouncing around. I was like, okay, I’m going to play this game of business school. And the game of business school was, “Hey, well, let’s go see how much money we can make or how quickly you can make it.”
Right. The score scorecard went from being the best teammate you can be to how much money can I get for myself? The scorecard in the military and the Special Forces groups and all these places you and I served, it was all about selflessness. And then all of a sudden you get dressed in an environment which all about selfishness.
And I was really. Wow, like depressed, right. And, and made a series of mistakes. I got caught up in it and I was like, [00:28:00] okay, well, that’s the case. I’m going to win at this game and I’m going to go take this job. And it has all these stock options. I’m going to make all this money and everything. And then I got there and I’m like, “this sucks.”
This is what this is about. And within, you know, I graduated business school in 2000 by the time. And I moved out to California. And I started a job at the end of May. And by September I had already joined the reserves. I got picked up for the Lieutenant commander in the reserves. And then September 11th happened a year later and I’m like, okay, I’m out.
I’m going back in. I still had my clearances looked at some other government agencies at the same time and all I wanted to do is get back.
I’m not making it as a civilian with my mindset.
Cliff: Interesting, and we’ll get back to September 11th in just a bit. But I do want to ask because I experienced it a [00:29:00] little bit myself. When I went to business school, I guess I had been in the army, the military, the army for 17 years or so, by the time I got to business school.
And what was your experience with, being that Navy SEAL in your class. Cause I imagine before 9/11 people almost had no idea. Other than, you know, there’s some pretty good movies from the nineties about the Navy SEALs, Demi Moore.
Alden Mills: Oh God. How could I forget? I always liked Chuck Norris movies. Delta Force.
Cliff: How did the people receive you and how was that a challenge or did you use it to your benefit?
Alden Mills: Oh, you know, did I use it to my benefit? I used it as a survival technique. Okay. I made the decision. I’m going to go to a [00:30:00] small technical school and I’ve gone to a place called Carnegie mill. And the large majority of everybody already had a master’s in engineering.
Okay. I was a political scientist from the Naval Academy, math and I don’t really see eye to eye. Yeah, Carnegie Mellon admission staff is like, whoa, you know, you don’t really have the grades. You don’t really have the GMAT scores, standardized tests, but we’re trying to diversify and we need some people with some leadership background.
So, we’re going to take a risk on you literally. That was kind of the conversation. I’m so, glad they did because I really started using that leadership to like, okay, I’ve got to go find the best team. I didn’t know how to do a spreadsheet. Like, I mean, an Excel spreadsheet. I would get this Excel dummies for dummies one-on-one it’d be like click enter.
And I did not. And I was like, oh my God, excellent was stolen. And I got to find, somebody [00:31:00] knows how to do this stuff. And then I just started building these diversified teams. And that’s when things really started to click for me, like, oh, this is a skill that I got that I can use.
Cliff: Right. There’s definitely attributes you get it’s especially when you started looking at the small projects.
This is my comfort zone. This is my comfort zone. When you have a project with five people and you have to be cross-functional and you have to be able to tell someone, hey, you need to do this and they need to hold them accountable. And that’s always hard. And in the definitely in civilian education is there’s always that person, there’s memes about it.
There’s always that person, who’s not going to show up, not do what they’re supposed to do.
But on 9/11 where were you? Everybody remembers where they were and everybody knows how they felt. If you don’t mind telling me where you were in and how it made you feel,
Alden Mills: I was on the first floor of a studio apartment at 500 stains street, [00:32:00] which is on the corner of standing in and the haze and the Haight district of San Francisco on a rowing machine working out.
And my phone starts. Going and I, I don’t watch TV when I get on this rowing machine. And so, it’s early in the morning. It’s, uh, I started rowing in like 5:45, the first plane hit, I think it 5:47 Pacific time. And. somebody started calling and calling and I’m like, ah, God, they’re going to wake Jennifer up.
So, I picked the phone up. I’m like, well, you gotta turn the TV on, turn the TV on. I turned the TV on and by the time the lag was I’m turning the TV on. I’m like, oh my gosh, plane. That’s a big plane. That’s not a small plane. And watched the second plane hit the tower. Wow. Then at that moment. I just flipped a switch and I got off the rowing machine. I called the CEO of the company and I said, I would recommend strongly not [00:33:00] to bring anybody in right now. I believe this nation is under attack and I think we need to initiate some protocols and let’s talk about what they should be. Wow.
Cliff: Uh, It mirrors a little bit, my experience. I was in Germany. I saw a plane. I saw on the news, the plane hit, and I thought, what an idiot who hits. And then by, by the time I got to my house, turn on television, and I think I turned on television. Right. As the second plane was hitting. And, that led me on a path.
I wasn’t in Special Forces, but it led me on a path to ultimately join Special Forces in a roundabout way. But in Germany I was in a little town called Mannheim, which is in Western Germany, beautiful little town, right outside Heidelberg, really, but.
Yeah, beautiful place.[00:34:00] Obviously September 11th it’s been. 20 years now and recent events, I know every veteran and especially from our era has as an opinion, or has some feelings. So, what are your thoughts about how we left Afghanistan? If you don’t mind?
Alden Mills: As one of the few times in my life where I was not proud to be an American. That was crushing. To watch that. And I didn’t serve in Afghanistan now. I lost some great teammates in Afghanistan. And matter of fact, you know, the first Navy SEAL to die in Afghanistan, Neil Roberts, he in his death is what propelled me to write the first book Be Unstoppable because I knew Neil’s son was going to get just in case letter from his father. And his son was only 18 months old. And I was like, man, I wonder what he [00:35:00] wrote to his son. And we started having kids that time. And that’s what started me writing that book. And I have to tell you that it made me think about Neil’s son. Who’s now an adult.
I’m like, how does he feel about the fact that, his father died in vain. Right? Do all of our injured vets out there who’ve lost limbs and, you know, doubt and battle with depression. How do they feel about that? And, So, piece of me is just really disappointed. Another piece of me is mad and then the third piece is like, you know, I think we’re losing sight of. We’re getting too focused on this short term. And I remember when we were serving in Bosnia and this British S a S officer, we were doing some work together and he’s like, ah, you know, mate, you yanks, you don’t have the stomach for this. I’m like, what are you talking [00:36:00] about? Because I’m not talking about the fight. I’m talking about the occupation. And he’s like, you know, you got to stay there for at least two or three generations to see peace, right. Look at what we did with Germany. Right. We didn’t do it after the first war, but after the second one we did, 70 years later, we got multiple generations of Germans growing up, seeing peace, same thing in Japan, same thing in Korea.
And. My opinion is I don’t understand why we are giving up all of this hard fought strategic points. You may argue. It’s not really that strategic in Afghanistan. The frictions of society have now shifted. We are no longer dealing with just first world issues. We are dealing and the friction of places like Iran and [00:37:00] Pakistan and Iraq, and the middle east is where the last pieces of friction of society are.
Why aren’t we shifting at least a couple of our bases from places that we’ve known been successful. I’m not saying give up all that, but start owning some of that real estate and saying, “Hey guys, guess what?” We’re all in these pieces of dirt for the foreseeable future. And we’ll be rotating our soldiers through here and we’re going to do our best.
So, no, I know it’s not that easy, but it’s really frustrating to watch how that went to. And it just look like we know what we’re doing. That’s the other thing, if we’re making a decision to leave for good, but it just very ideal and I all the veterans about the same thing.
Cliff: It’s frustrating. For sure.
I’m actually obviously I’m a veteran, but my brother is also, a Special Forces [00:38:00] veteran now retired and CW3. Served time in Afghanistan, did two trips in Afghanistan actually. I said actually, and strategically you’re right. We made a lot of mistakes along the way. The thing that always stuck out with me, if Afghanistan, if you fly over Afghanistan, sometimes you can see a village in a valley than a mountain, 14, 15,000 feet.
And then another village in a valley and it dawns on you, those people until recently, probably didn’t even know about each other. And definitely didn’t see each other as countrymen. And you know, that I think was one of the. One of those signs where you can look at it and say, well, you know, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to make this into a Western democracy or, you know, nobody knew what the plan was.
Let’s be honest. We were there, we accomplish our objective very quickly, I [00:39:00] think after September 11th. And then we mucked it up. Let’s be honest but along the way, great deal of fantastic Americans, men and women served there and many lost their lives. I know many as do you. And I think that we can’t lose sight of yeah we walked away with the strategic defeat, but we really honed, I think we really honed our fight.
Alden Mills: Not a question, without question and I totally appreciate there is definitely a debate on, Hey, how long do we want to be there? What’s the why I want to be there, but let’s also, be honest on the fact of, oh, we now have an over the horizon capability. We had an over horizon capability 20 years ago.
And we are still going to have the collateral damage that we just had. So, let’s not hoodwink anybody in telling them. They’re like, well, it’s okay. We can leave. Now. We have like, no, we still can’t do battle assessments [00:40:00] over the horizon. We’re not robots walking around saying,
“oh, look at the stuff we just gleaned from taking out this person. Oh gee, we, looks like we killed a whole bunch of villagers too”
Let’s not let’s call it for what it is. Right. And what capabilities we have and what we don’t have
Cliff: So, that’s a fair point over the horizon capability, like you said it’s almost fiction we have it, but it’s definitely not boots on the ground.
Alden Mills: It’s over the horizon destruction.
It’s what we have. And we’re very good at it. We’re not guaranteeing we’re going to destroy the right things.
Cliff: Right. Yep. It doesn’t bring about a strategic and that’s for sure.
Segue a little bit into your time after the military. Obviously you invented a piece of equipment called the Perfect Pushup.How did that [00:41:00] come about?
Reading through your resume, reading through the bullet points, of your life and career it’s like, what can’t this guy do?
Alden Mills: Uh, well, I just woke up one day and there was this idea and I just wrote it out. Six months later, it’s all done, created and quickly.
No not at all. That’s like overnight success that took 10 years, you know, and it wasn’t my first product. I started a company and I wanted to link fitness products together and use Bluetooth technology and I’ve failed miserably. And I started another company called body rev and I was going to create the world’s greatest fat-burning device.
I raised a million and a half dollars, then learned $1,475,000 worth of ways not to launch a product. I was broke, go bankrupt. You’re embarrassing yourself. Right. And I was like, you know what, screw you guys. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I know more about this than you do. And it was on the third attempt [00:42:00] when I was sitting around thinking about going bankrupt, that I’m like, you know what?
And I convinced my very small team. Give me 90 days and let’s see what could happen if we just made this thing, what would happen? I got them thinking about the positive, right? And about 87 days later, we launched the perfect pushup in the back of three magazines, outside magazine, men’s fitness and out, um, men’s fitness outside and men’s journal a little tombstone ad and we sold it.
And we’ve got another container. We’ve got another container and a couple other little sellouts still aren’t making any money. And I’m like, “Hey, we got enough money. Let’s try and do an infomercial at one minute”, because I had spent a lot of money trying to do them at 30 minutes. Right. And then things started to take off.
Yeah. But let me just remind you. I started my [00:43:00] first journey in 2002. I made the Inc 500 in 2009. And then when I made 500 is the fastest growing consumer products company. We were fourth overall, right after that came out was exactly like you talked about with taking a little pen and saying, “Hey, was that a transformative moment when you were thinking of quitting SEAL team?”
I’m like, yeah, you can take that same pin and put it on that day. That Inc magazine came out because I went from hero to zero. Three months later, because that was the beginning of what Obama called the second great depression, not to close on a huge round of funding. Didn’t happen. Three months later, the bank froze our line.
They want to call it. They want to liquidate all my possessions. Cause I didn’t have any point a million out there. And I was looking at bankruptcy for the third time.
Cliff: That’s a lot of adversity to [00:44:00] take on. And especially as a leader, you have people who are relying on you to feed their families and looking up to you.
And I imagine that even as you’re struggling to put a business together and to make a buck, those lessons from crew, those lessons from the SEALs.
Alden Mills: Right. They just started stacking and you start realizing like, Hey, maybe these things kind of happen for a reason. And then you kind of start geeking out on the idea that maybe that wasn’t so, coincidental after all.
And maybe I just got to put my head down and embrace this next round of suffering and look what I’m learning from it. Right. And old voices come to you about no, my job is, oh my God. I got to do that again.
Cliff: Are there emergency procedures and checklists for a failing business as there are when you know, you’re getting, when an instructor’s pulling your air tube or putting a kink or a knot in it, [00:45:00] right.
Alden Mills: The hard way. One of those key things is if you’re in an inventory business, you better trust, but verify who’s ordering what, and when you know what got us sideways was Walmart would say, this is how much we want. You build it and be like, okay, you tell us how high we’ll jump. Right. And then they put her froze on it and oh my gosh, we ordered more than we could afford.
And we’ve got sideways really fast. Right. Paying attention to cashflow is a really important thing.
Cliff: Yeah. Do you think that that round of adversity. Post 2008, post 2008. How did that inspire you to kind of take yourself to where you currently are? I know [00:46:00] that, among your many things that you do, you You, I suppose it’s got coaching, right?
Executive level coaching, high level coaching, or building teams fighting through adversity. Like how did that inform your future business plan or your future business model? Where you were relaying some of these lessons.
Alden Mills: When we were getting advice to file for bankruptcy. Now, for the third time I’m sitting in my office late at night.
And I’m opening the mail and I’m just like, is this how this is supposed to play out? Am I supposed to now buckle after the third time? And I opened this letter that was handwritten and like a number two pencil. And it said, dear Mr. Perfect pushup, man. My grandmother gave me the perfect pushup basic.
That meant she bought it at Walmart there, and I followed your workout plan four times or got plans three weeks long. So, it was 12 weeks and I [00:47:00] made JV football team. Thank you for amending the perfect pushup. Next year, I am trying out for varsity. Johnny number 25, And I realized that I had made a mistake.
Like the one I had made when I came out of business school and I got caught up on the civilian scorecard, how can I make, and how quickly can I make it? And right then and there, I took that letter. I moved bulletin board that we had on wheels. Put it right in front of our entryway of the company. When everybody walked in a big statement, I said, this is why we were in business. To help people go beyond what they originally thought was possible or in this case, help people achieve their goals. That’s why I really wanted to create fitness products because I was as asthmatic kid who scored against his own team.
Cliff: In Lacrosse. That’s really hard.
Alden Mills: It is not if you’re the [00:48:00] goalie and you go and it goes too far back and it rolls right out of you and rolls right into the net.
Remember, I wasn’t that fast either.
I remember that shift. That was another key shift, right? Just like we brought up earlier, that was another thumbnail shift of like being congruent with why I was doing what I was doing in the first place, congruent on my heart and my head. Being in alignment.
That’s what I’ll mean by congruency. Right? You could always tell the congruent leaders because they were transparent, they were authentic. You knew exactly where you stood with them at any given time. If they barked at you, they were barking at you to help you. They weren’t giving you some BS. They just were there because they cared for you.
And as I started going through it and saved the business, got it. Write it again, and then sold it and then worked for a larger company for a series of years. Then I took a break. I [00:49:00] moved overseas where the family sat down and was like, okay, now I’m going to write a second book. And I am going to figure out ways to teach folks that want to be taught, how to help them be unstoppable.
Because the fact of the matter is we all have this gift to be unstoppable. The challenge is we have to choose to do that. And the choice is hard at times, right? We’ve got So, many things bouncing around and lots of whiners that we surround ourselves with and the news loves whining. We’ve got to dig in there and lead ourselves and how we ended up leading ourselves directly impacts how we lead others and how we lead others directly impacts the culture of the organizations that we choose to be a part of. Same thing with the communities that we’re part.
And so, what I think VeteranLife is all about is a call to service. It’s a call to service, [00:50:00] and that we few special lucky vets get the opportunity at an early age to know what it means to serve, and then be that force multiplier within our communities.
Cliff: I love that term force multiplier. Probably my favorite term to describe special operations and you could use it for, it applies to so many things.
Alden Mills: Yeah. To me, every veteran out there is a force multiplier in those civilian world. We are those lucky few that made that fateful decision a long time ago to learn what it meant to embrace the suffer, regardless of what branch of service you are in and make a shift from being selfish, to being selfless.
And now we must continue to do that in the civilian world. [00:51:00] They are looking to us.
Cliff: That’s a great point. Your call to service, when you raise your hand continues past the time when you get your DD214, others do look to you.
Obviously, we had a big list to go down and wish we had more time to, to hit everything, but I want to be respectful of your time.
And I really appreciate you sitting down with me and talking about, how you learn to be a leader, remembering and embracing the suck. I have a big, I have a hoodie that I wear. It says embrace the suck and people always laugh at that.
Alden Mills: Well Cliff, I’m very much appreciative of what you’re doing.
This doesn’t have to be the last time we talk. And remember, you are a force multiplier with everything you’re doing here. So, keep up the great work.
Cliff: Thank you, sir. Thank you, sir. And we will do that. We’ll do that, but veteran life and in the veteran community at large, I think it’s important to get out there for all of us.
Really appreciate your time, Mr. Mills, [00:52:00] Alden. And we’ll talk again real soon.
Alden Mills: As we say out there, Charlie. Mike
Cliff: That’s right. Thank you.
Alden Mills: Take care.
Cliff: All right, everybody another podcast down. That was Alden Mills. I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you to Alden for joining us on this podcast. The return to base podcast.
Again, just a fantastic resource. fantastic success story and an interesting person to talk to. Absolutely. His website is beunstoppable.com. That’s B E U N S T O P P A B L E .com. Or for you? Military inclined Bravo, echo uniform, November Sierra tango, Oscar, Papa, Papa alpha, Bravo, Lima, echo dot Charlie Oscar, Mike.
All right. He has another website, actually. The Alden Mills website is located at [00:53:00] alden-mills.com. That’s Alden, hyphen mills, alpha Lima, Delta echo, November, hyphen. Mike india, Lima, Lima, sierra.com.
And if you haven’t already please subscribe to our podcast. Using whatever podcast service you listened to us on. We’d really appreciate it. Visit VeteranLife.com when you get a chance, read some of our blogs, make some comments, share it with your friends, until next time. Have a great day.