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How Failures Can Drive Success - IF...

Stew smith

We All Fail at Some Point. It is What We Do Next That is Most Important

Have you ever felt like your life is a complete train wreck? I have. Let me tell you about my story and what helped me turn it around.  

Once upon a time, there I was - a freshman (or Plebe) at US Naval Academy.  I had just finished my senior year with above average grades, played a sport every season, was team captain for a few teams, student-athlete, leader in some clubs and feeling pretty good amount myself at 18 years old. To be honest, I was pretty cocky, but a big piece of humble pie was being served waiting for me as a Plebe at the Naval Academy. 

Big Dreams - New Ones Found

I had dreamed of playing football for Navy and later becoming a pilot. Top Gun was a pretty cool movie in the 80’s and I was sold on serving in that capacity!  But just getting through Plebe Summer quickly seemed like more of an impossibility than a stepping stone to reaching those dreams. And becoming a Spec Ops candidate was not even on my radar yet. 

Every day, I thought about nothing else but just passing the basic Navy fitness test (yes, I failed situps) and wanting to make the football team after Plebe Summer.  Failing a fitness test was discouraging and did not help my confidence going into the first few weeks of Plebe Summer and into the semester. 

I remember leaving my hometown and recall a few doubters of my journey. I was determined, some might even say that I was obsessed with joining the Navy and serving my country. Though some said I was a wishful dreamer with little chance of success. I did remember this in my lowest of lows when I failed the PT test, my first chemistry test, and did not make the football team. Proving people wrong was soon to be a source of daily energy I needed. 

Quickly, I realized I needed to up my game when faced with people doing much better than me. I remembered how hard I had worked to get to the Naval Academy. I was now going to have to work even harder. In essence, what I was doing was realizing that there is a phase two in this journey – getting THROUGH the training.  I did well on phase one of this process and got accepted INTO the training, but all I could think about now was how this next phase required even MORE work. I still was not sure I had that next level of effort in me.    

Then one day something happened that would change everything... 

After a miserable half of a semester, I came home for Thanksgiving. When talking with my mom, she must has sensed something was wrong and started asking questions.

Eventually, she asked, “How are you doing there – was it was you expected?” With tears in my eyes, I had a laundry list of things to say: 

  • I am doing horrible
  • I miss you guys so much
  • It is way harder than I ever expected

She said something magical after that needed release and hug a mom could only give. “You can always quit and come home.” In that moment and without hesitation I said, “I can’t quit.” Then she said, “Well then – quit crying and let’s figure this out.” 

She helped me create somewhat of a strategy that gave me some much-needed confidence to finish my first semester strong. I was ready to UP MY GAME with a plan, but mainly because I not only couldn’t quit – but I could not fail. I really needed to figure out how I was going to work through this. 

Upping my game meant how I was going to specifically address my weaknesses and get through the academy (both physically and academically). This was a long nearly two-year struggle, but it worked, and I grew out of it a stronger more resilient person. It took a lot of work and a series of successes and more failures, but by junior year, I had figured it out and was on the right track, but: 

It took: 

  • Asking for help from both classmates and professors.
  • Working out before school doing some classics I still do now (PT Pyramid Story) Boy – do I have a story about my first group SEAL prep PT I attended.
  • Studying nearly 40 hours a week on top of 20 hours of semester classes.
  • Doing work on weekends too. 
  • Giving up on a football dream and starting a new one with rugby.
  • Finding people who were mentors a few years ahead of me so I could see how they were “getting THROUGH the Academy”.
  • I discovered the people I was drawn to were those seeking SEALs or Marines at the Academy – many on the rugby team. They just seemed to be working harder than everyone else in EVERYTHING they did. I needed to be like that. 

Navy Rugby1990 Iron Sharpens Iron 

In that moment, I made a commitment that no matter what it took, I was going to figure out how to make this work!  At that very moment, I resolved to go "all in". 

Fast forward to the end of the semester, I wound up maxing my next PT test, not failing any classes (though I was not honor roll), and I made the rugby team.  Still working hard 18-20 hour days, I was on the right track to dig out of the initial failures from my first few months at the Academy.  But the work was not done… 

New Goals – Even Harder Challenges

I guess my observations of those ahead of me took away the impossibility factor out of what SEAL training was. Knowing guys who were working as hard as I was get through BUD/S opened my eyes to the possibility that maybe I can do this. I am not sure the moment I thought I was even capable to become a competitive spec ops candidate, but I remember saying, if I am going to become one, I need to start preparing NOW (nearly two years in advance). I had to turn a powerlifting football body into a leaner spec ops candidate who could run, swim, and PT all day. I figured triathlon training was a good way to make the transition as 2/3 of the cardio was non-impact and I was starting to get a lot better at running because of rugby. I still was calling any timed run and swim long distance like the 1.5 mile timed run and the 500yd swim of the Navy SEAL PST so I had a long way to go.

Getting scores that met the standards by other USNA candidates took a solid year of doing nothing but running, swimming, biking, and calisthenics.  When I say I did Calisthenics and Cardio for a year – I did and did not touch a weight. I had to make that sacrifice from something I loved and been doing since I was 12 years old because it's one thing to say you're committed to pass classes, graduate, serve my country in any capacity - becoming a special ops candidate was a whole new level of challenges. 

I knew I needed to bring it up a notch and found several other weaknesses I needed to improve (running, swimming, higher repetition calisthenics than before) and much more. I wanted to not even consider quitting but I needed to learn to be in a competitive mindset because I soon realized that I would never think about quitting if I thought about winningTrain to compete was my new mindset.

Fast Forward to Senior Year 

Crushing the PST was now possible, and I did well enough to be selected to go to BUDS, but compared to my other classmates in the PST going to BUDS after graduation, I was an average runner / swimmer, but above average on the PT exercises.  Because I had a solid strength history, I never worried if I was strong enough as I maintained my lifting strength even though I did not lift much. I never once wished I had lifted more weights prior to BUD/S - it was all running for me. But we are all different - depending on your athletic history, build, and strengths / weaknesses - you may need to lift / gain weight. 

After getting selected November of my senior year, I now had 8 months to prepare for arriving at BUD/S.  From my previous experiences, I focused solely on getting THROUGH BUD/S for that time and worked on longer 4-5 mile timed runs, longer swims with fins 1-2 miles, and mixed in some overhead presses, but that was it.  My leg days were calisthenics squats and lunges that I would mix with soft sand runs and hill days. 

And that's the story of how I transformed from a Freshman at US Naval Academy who failed his first PT test to a BUD/S candidate. Just passing and graduating was no longer my standard once I learned how I needed to up my game to not only meet the standards but exceed the standards.  What a difference four years made. Becoming a Spec Ops candidate was the furthest thing from my mind until I figured out how to just work harder and focus on transforming weaknesses into strength.   

Pretty much everything I write comes from those experiences of failures, attitude adjustment, hard work focus, weaknesses turned into newfound strengths, and eventually goal achieved. There is no such thing as an overnight success and the road of failures and successes does not end with this story arriving at BUD/S.  Dozens more failures and eventual successes have occurred in my life through my time in the service and beyond.  Truth is, you will continue to meet these challenges and fail, learning from every experience, and moving forward to become stronger IF you just keep trying and never give up.

In the end, it comes down to you quitting or not. Here is a great article if you are on the fence about quitting or staying the course I urge you read this article - Quitting or Not Quitting - The Choice is Yours.  

Start with Fitness

Get on a plan -Get Started Today and Let Fitness be the Catalyst That Drives the Rest of Your Life!

What many people do to start out is the Calisthenics and Cardio program to build a foundation of fitness with muscle stamina and endurance, then the next phase can add some weights if you prefer. 

But one of my latest creations is called the Calisthenics and Cardio - No Equipment Needed Guide For Body Weight Exercisers and maybe a good option for people of all fitness levels to stay home or get outside and train.


Who Is The Tactical Fitness Coach / Author Stew Smith?

 I'm the former Navy SEAL that military recruits and special ops candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

Check out the Complete List of Training Programs (Spec Ops, Military, Police, Fire)

We Have Answers For Beginners to Advanced Spec Ops Level Training Programs (see below)



DO NOT RELY ON THE MILITARY TO GET YOU INTO SHAPE AT BASIC TRAINING.  You will get into better shape for sure during your training if you arrive in lower fitness form, but you need to arrive with a foundation of physical fitness that is specific to your future job in the military / fitness tests / training. If you show up out of shape, you could end up failing standards or injuring yourself causing longer delays or removal from training altogether. 

For You Special Candidates (Get in Shape LONG Before You Join) 

High Intermediate Military / Advanced Spec Ops
Building Programming:

Which Program is Right For Me?
It Depends...Special Ops Candidates

The Pipeline of Training Options: 

EBOOKS (Special Ops– Most of my programs tend to focus on getting TO and THROUGH a specific tactical training program.  So you may see a mix of all the seasons in some of these books, but if you are training long term, you can take advantage of Seasonal Periodization and save yourself some of the over-use, long term pains that tend to follow many of the tactical preparations - especially on the spec ops level of training. 

Start training today with workouts that focus on the specifics of getting to and through tactical profession training from firefighter, police, swat, military to special ops. We have programs to help you get TO and THROUGH training. We also have training programs to help you with training as you age in these professions (Tactical Fitness 40+ series).


Lifting Cycle Programs For Those Who Need a Strength Focus

You may have seen my Winter Lift Cycle that I discuss in the Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization article as well as have our actual lift programs we have done over the years in the following books.


It is not all just calisthenics and cardio at Stew Smith Fitness

Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, Navy SEAL Weight Training Workout, Weight Vest Workout,  Stew Smith's Fall Winter Cycle, Warrior Workout #2Maximum Fitness

These programs as well as my online coaching programs have Winter Lift Cycles in them as part of our Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System. But, do not get these lift cycles confused with ACTUAL strength / power lifting programs, these are strength / power programs that also have a focus on cardio fitness maintenance BECAUSE you need to be good at all the elements of fitness and develop into an all-round Tactical Athlete.  

Most Recent Spring / Summer & Fall Winter Programs:
(click to read more)
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Stew Smith Fitness Membership – You have access to years of workouts for both beginner / intermediate and advanced / special ops levels of fitness. Each week you will receive new and unpublished workouts being tested by Navy SEAL veteran / Stew Smith CSCS and his local group of future tactical professionals in both basic training and advanced spec ops training programming. The latest videos, articles, and other programming will be part of the weekly data feed to members as well. We go through the Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization program one week at a time.

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If You Need a More Personalized Approach to Fit Your Needs, Goals, Time per Day, Days per week, Facilities, Abilities, etc...Try Online Coaching

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At - List of Products and Services

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