by Nick Cianci, Development Officer at Hamot Health Foundation
David Goggins is perhaps the toughest person alive.
From a childhood dominated by abuse, racism, and learning disorders, Goggins advanced to a storied career in the world’s most elite military units. He has completed more than sixty ultramarathons and holds the world record for the most pull ups completed in twenty-four hours (4,030… if you want to try).
Goggins’ book Can’t Hurt Me is a 364 page case study in elite mental discipline. But it is a chapter on Goggins’ limits that spoke to me as a nonprofit professional.
While completing the grueling Delta Force training, Goggins and his mates were offered a rare day off. Rest wasn’t an option for Goggins; he opted for a twenty-mile ruck— a fast-paced hike through rugged terrain with a weighted pack, entirely alone, well before dawn.
Solitude was nothing new to David. By the midpoint of his career, he had faced years of opposition from less ambitious peers who pushed him to cut back on training and dial down his intensity. He grew to be defiant and isolated. His breakneck pace had built a man who was nearly superhuman, but also, alone.
He was uncommon.
But that morning, trekking deep in the Appalachian Mountains, Goggins could see a human figure on the horizon. As the gap between the individuals narrowed, the figure proved to be “Hawk”, another member of his unit. The two men stopped to check in with each other.
Hawk was also on his day off. Hawk was also alone. Hawk was halfway through his own ruck. Thirty miles. In that moment, Goggins came to a powerful realization:
“There’s someone else like me. I’m not the only one.”
For most nonprofit professionals, it’s unlikely you’re clocking thirty-mile hikes or completing military training. Instead, your impact is made from behind a desk, at the front of a classroom, or on a neighborhood block. But like Goggins, we carry a heavy load with heart and determination. The journey has the highest of highs— those infinitely meaningful moments where we’re rewarded to see a life changed by our efforts. We do it for these moments.
But much of our time is not spent in the warm and fuzzy. If we’re honest, we know we’re often broken down…
When the funding runs out. When the finish line seems to move. When the red tape nearly strangles us. When the comment section is quick to diminish our success. And the questions begin.
Why do I do this?
Am I moving the needle?
Should I keep going?
And sometimes, despite our best efforts to do good for a classroom of 30, a community of 30,000, or a nation of 300 million, we feel alone. Uncommon.
Perhaps it was the challenges of the past year that brought out the best in many, or maybe just good fortune, but I feel I’ve been blessed with the antidote to the fear and frustration that can follow a battle against our world’s most daunting challenges:
All of you.
I want to be a force for good in this world. And I’ve grown to know more and more people who want the same— the people you bump into on the trail, often unexpectedly, whose work inspires you to keep pushing forward. The people who remind you, “There’s another one of us. I’m not alone.”
I think of a generous benefactor, who, while humbly reflecting on a major donation, told me, “This really isn’t even my money. It’s just my job to make sure it does a lot of good in the world.”
I think of the 20-something year old who watched as her grandmother declined and died during the pandemic but was so struck by the compassion of our hospital team that she took a job at the hospital— in the COVID unit. And if that wasn’t enough, she became our foundation’s newest donor, dedicating an ICU room in memory of her grandmother.
I think of my newest colleague at Hamot Health Foundation. Formerly a loyal board member with decades of experience in banking and insurance, he walked away from his successful 9-5 for a job at our foundation. Our impact had become the most important cause in his life, and he could no longer see himself doing anything else every day.
I think of friends and mentors— MFF’s own Tony Cohn, Wendy Steele at Impact 100 Global, Jesse Backstrom of the University of Chicago Department of Economics, Nick Fellers with the Suddes Group, our team and board at HHF— people who set an example with their ambition and creativity as they strive to do good.
And I think of you.
If you’ve read this far, you are uncommon. You are a person who will stop at nothing to make a difference. You’re committed to your craft and devoted to your cause. Odds are, you don’t hear it enough— your clients, students, patients, donors, coworkers, and communities appreciate the impact you create every day. And I do too.
To know that someone else is working towards the same destination drives me up the next mountain, and powers me through the next valley. We’re all running in the same direction, and your course inspires me.
The world needs uncommon.
I’ll see you on the trail.