The Art of Manliness is intentionally and rigorously politically neutral, and I’ve never before had a politician on the podcast. But then, never before has a previous guest gone on to become the governor of a state.
I’ve previously had Eric Greitens, a former Rhodes scholar, humanitarian worker, and Navy SEAL on the show to talk about his book Resilience. Last year, without any prior political experience, Greitens successfully ran for governor of Missouri, becoming the second youngest governor in the country.
Recently, I met Greitens at the Governor’s office at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City to have a very non-partisan, high-level discussion about public service and the duties of citizenship. We discuss why he decided to run for elected office, and why he incorporated service projects in his campaign stops around the state. We then discuss how the governor’s study of ancient philosophers informs his idea of public service and how Stoicism comes in handy in the rough and tumble political arena. Governor Greitens then shares what he’s been reading to be an effective leader and statesman, how he manages being a young father and a busy governor, and why you should get over your cynicism about politics and throw your hat in the arena.
- Why people resonated so deeply with his 2015 book, Resilience
- What it means to live well
- What Greitens believes “vocation” means
- Why you’ll never find your vocation by looking for it
- Why he decided to run for governor
- How his family responded to his running for political office
- How Greitens decided to run for the office of governor with no prior political experience
- Why public service can bring people together
- How ancient philosophical texts have influenced Greiten’s governing and leadership style
- The ways Greitens used his own advice in Resilience during his campaign
- The lessons Governor Greitens takes from Teddy Roosevelt
- The importance of reading biographies
- Every man’s uneven courage, and why we should do things we’re afraid of
- Is getting into politics worth it anymore?
- Why criticism is inevitable when working to serve people
- Governor Greiten’s reading habits, and why it’s as important as exercise to him
- What Greiten’s learned from his recent reading of an Alexander the Great biography
- The governor’s favorite biographies
- How Greiten’s balances governing and raising young children
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- My first podcast episode with Gov. Greitens
- The Mission Continues
- Why Every Man Should Study the Classics
- The Best Way to Find Your Vocation
- AoM’s “Vocation” series
- Meditations on the Wisdom of Action
- Reflections on a First Reading of Marcus Aurelius
- AoM’s original Teddy Roosevelt comic: “I’ll Make My Body!”
- Podcast: The Virgin Vote
- Teddy Roosevelt on Citizenship
- A Citizen’s Bill of Responsibilities
Connect With Governor Greitens
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded with ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Now, the Art of Manliness is intentionally and rigorously politically neutral, and I’ve never had a politician on the podcast before, but then never before has a previous guest gone on to become the governor a state. I previously had Eric Greitens, a former Rhodes scholar, humanitarian worker and Navy SEAL on the show to talk about his book Resilience, that’s episode #105 if you want to listen to that, it’s a good one. But last year, without any prior political experience, Greitens successfully ran for Governor of Missouri, becoming the second youngest governor in the country. Recently, I met with Greitens in the governor’s office of the Missouri state capital, in Jefferson City, Missouri, to have a very non-partisan, high level discussion about public service and the duties of citizenship.
We discuss why he decided to run for elected office, and why he incorporated service projects and community projects in his campaign stops around the state. We then discussed how the governor’s study of ancient philosophy informs his idea of public service, and how stoicism comes in handy in the rough and tumble political arena. Governor Greitens then shares what he’s been reading to be an effect reader and statesman, his role models for public office, and how he manages being a young father and a busy governor at the same time. We then end the show talking about why you should get over your cynicism of politics and throw your hat in the arena, no matter your political or party affiliation. Really interesting podcast, after the show’s over, check out the show notes at aom.is/governorgreitens.
Eric Greitens! Welcome back to the show.
Gov. Greitens: Thanks, Brett, good to be on with you and all of the Art of Manliness podcast listeners. I had a lot of fun last time we were on and I’m looking forward to talking with you today.
Brett McKay: Right, last time you were on, you’d just published your book Resilience. That was 2015, and I got a phenomenal response from that podcast and the message you have. I’m curious, what was the response you got from that book that you published?
Gov. Greitens: We had an incredible response to Resilience, from people all over the country every walk of life, because the fact is everybody has to deal with pain in their life. Everybody has to deal with suffering. Everybody has to deal with hardship, and I think what people liked about the resilience book was that is was just letters, me talking to my buddy, a friend of mine who is a fellow Navy SEAL who’d run into a really tough time, and what people often said to us was they said, “Look, if your buddy, who was a Navy SEAL, who’d been through the hardest military training in the world, if he was knocked down by these things,” it gave them a sense that the pain that they’re facing is something they can move through. They can move through that to build wisdom. You can move through suffering to build strength, move through fear to build courage, and we’d had a really, really great response to it.
Brett McKay: Well, since then, that episode we did, you’ve been a busy man. You turned into Candidate Greitens, in Missouri. You ran for governor, and then now you are Governor Greitens. So let’s talk about that, because I think it’s really interesting. What I’d like to do is stay very high-level with this talk about, because, as you know, I know you’ve studied the classics, ancient history, ancient philosophy, with your background in … One thing I found, this is the Art of Manliness podcast, if you look back to the ancient Greeks and the Romans, part of their ideal of manhood or manliness meant you were active in the public arena, in the public sphere.
Gov. Greitens: You provided some sense of service to the community, absolutely, yes. Yes.
Brett McKay: Right. So let’s talk about this. Before this time, you had a career dedicated to service. For those who aren’t familiar with you, can you give us the background of what got you to running for governor?
Gov. Greitens: Yeah. So, you know, big picture background, I’ll just say I was very fortunate to grow up in Missouri, wonderful family, good teachers. I first started doing service, actually, as a kid, doing service projects. Later in college, I started doing international humanitarian work that brought me to places like Bosnia, Rwanda. Ended up writing a dissertation on how international humanitarian organizations work with kids in war zones. Later, as we talked about on the last podcast, served as a Navy SEAL. Did four deployments overseas to Afghanistan, Iraq, South East Asia, the Horn of Africa, and then when I came home from Iraq, I came home after my team had been hit by a suicide truck bomb, I was very fortunate. My wounds were minor. I was taken to the Fallujah surgical hospital, treated there. I was able to return to full duty 72 hours later.
But a lot of my buddies were hurt far worse than I was. My friend Joel, who was standing right next to me when the truck bomb went off, he ended up being casualty evacuated all the way back to the United States. So when I came home, I started an organization called The Mission Continue, to help returning veterans to come back home and to reintegrate successfully, to start their own businesses, to get quality private sector jobs, and you know, that was my trajectory. I’d run a small business, I’d worked to help veterans, I’d served as a Navy SEAL, done humanitarian work, but I’d never been involved in politics before.
Brett McKay: So where does this desire to serve come from? Where do you think it comes from?
Gov. Greitens: Well, I think it comes from a sense that if we’re going to live well, we have to live for more than ourselves. If we’re going to live well, we have to find a way to be of service to others, and in fact, you know, what a lot of the ancients talked about was the fact that in order to become your full self, you can only find that through serving others. It’s only in the act of pushing yourself, challenging yourself to make a contribution to your community, to your family, to your country, that you actually realize your full self, you know? We don’t talk as much today about the idea of a vocation, but a vocation is something that even you go back a couple of generations about, people use that word a lot more.
And the best definition of a vocation that I ever heard was from a guy named Rev. Peter Gomes, and he said, “Your vocation is the place where your great joy meets the world’s great need.” And I think what we all have to do is find out how we can do the things that bring us a sense of joy and fulfillment and purpose and are meeting the needs in the world.
Brett McKay: How did you go about finding your vocation?
Gov. Greitens: So this is actually a really important point. One of the things I always say to folks is that people often say, like, “How do you find your vocation? How do you find your purpose?” And one of things that I say is, “Look, you’re never going to find it by looking for it, because it’s not lost.” Alright? There’s sometimes this idea in the culture that somehow your vocation is sitting out there, and you can just sort of discover it. Actually, what the Greeks understood, and I think what Rev. Gomes and others were getting at is that you create your vocation, and you create it by pushing yourself. You create it by challenging yourself. You create it by doing things that you were once afraid to do, and you find ways to engage them.
And as you do that, you actually change as a person, so that the act of creating your vocation is part of developing yourself while at the same time coming to understand the world. And it’s a much healthier way of thinking about how you find your purpose, how you find your vocation, because, you know, what it says to people is, “You don’t have to look around to figure this out. What you do have to do is you have to start acting.” Start serving in your community. Push yourself. Go on, challenge yourself to tutor a kid who’s in third grade who’s having trouble reading. Challenge yourself to get involved in a community. Challenge yourself to, you know, help people at the local food bank, to mentor a kid through big brothers, big sisters. As you push yourself, as you engage in that kind of action, you develop yourself, and you’ll come to a place where you really find and build your vocation.
Brett McKay: So public service, served in the military, a Navy SEAL. Started a foundation, you were private citizen Greitens. You decided to run for the governorship of Missouri. Was this something you’ve always wanted to do? Like elected office? Is this something you saw yourself doing as a kid, or was there something that caused you, like, “That’s what I need to do next?”
Gov. Greitens: Well, look, the real moment for me actually came during Ferguson in Missouri during 2014. I’m sure a lot of your listeners watched this, they saw the tremendous disaster, the real tragedy of what had happened during Ferguson. Now, the short story is, you know, I saw what was happening, called my buddy Harlan, we’ve been friends since we were 14 years old, and Harlan picked up the phone and he says to me, “I know why you’re calling, and yes, I’ll go with you.” So Harlan and I go down to Ferguson. Now, side story, I’d been working with a lot of police officers since I came back from Iraq. In Iraq, I was the commander of an Al-Qaeda targeting cell. Our job was to capture mid to senior level Al-Qaeda leaders in and around Fallujah. Fallujah’s obviously a rough neighborhood. I’d come back from Iraq and started working with a lot of police officers, so I actually knew some of the guys on the St Louis City Police Force, St Louis County Police Force.
So we go down to Ferguson, and the thing that was so striking, Brett, was that as soon as I walked onto the streets, you could feel, you could tell there was no leadership. Our governor wasn’t present, the chief law enforcement officer of the state, the Attorney General, wasn’t present. There was no direction. And I just walked through the crowd and I talked to people, and I asked them, “Hey man, why are you out today?” People were angry, they were confused. They heard these rumors that were running through the crowd. You talked to our law enforcement officers, they’d come out to this incredible difficult, dangerous situation, and there was no guidance. There was no leadership.
So you had protesters who wanted to be heard who were ignored, you had police officers who needed to be supported who were abandoned, and I just saw that if we’d had someone who’d shown up with any kind of command presence, and courage, and calm, and clarity, we could have had peace. Now, it’s not like I left that night and decided to run for governor, but I went home and I talked to my wife, and I was like, “I can’t believe that there’s nobody out there.” There’s no one who’s out there who’s actually leading, and it just brought attention to the fact that we need to have people who are outsiders who are willing to come in and spend part of their life serving in public office.
Brett McKay: So what was that conversation like with your wife, saying that you were going to run? Because, you know, she gets a job too, like she’s along for the ride as well.
Gov. Greitens: Well, yeah, this is a family endeavor, 100%.
Brett McKay: It’s a family endeavor. So what was that like?
Gov. Greitens: Well, first of all, you know, we have now, we’ve got two young boys, Joshua who’s three years old, Jacob who’s a one year old. Jacob was actually born during the campaign. So we were like, we don’t want to do anything easy, Brett! We wanted to make sure that we had a brand new baby a couple of months right before the primary! But look, I think what Sheena had always known, when we got married, I’d already served in the Navy SEAL teams, I’d done the humanitarian work. When we got married, I was running The Mission Continues, and you know, what we were doing at The Mission Continue was I was traveling around the country, recruiting volunteers, building a program to help veterans reintegrate successfully. She knew how important it was to me to make sure that I was finding a way to serve people, to fight for people, to make a difference for people.
And she had seen a lot of the challenges that Missouri was facing. She obviously saw what Ferguson was facing, and we sat down, I think like a lot of couples do, and we just talked about what this would mean, like how we would get through it. But absolutely, 100%, this was a decision that we made together, because we knew that it was going to affect not just us and our kids, but you know, it does affect your whole family. It affects your parents, your friends, everybody.
Brett McKay: So as you said, you had no political experience at this point. Going for the governor, that’s a big, big job. You know, most people would be like, “Okay, I’m going to start as a state representative, maybe insurance commissioner.” Why did you decide to just go for governor, and what was that experience like not having any political experience before then?
Gov. Greitens: Well, look, the thing is, as governor, you can get things done, right? And I got into this because I wanted to get things done. Part of the reason I love this job is that you can wake up every single day and do good things for people, and that’s why I wanted to do this. I didn’t want to do this to get involved in politics, I wanted to do this to get involved and fight for people, and to make a difference. You know, simple things like changing the foster care system in the State of Missouri. Got 13,000 kids in the Missouri foster care system. We are making a difference for them, we’re making a difference for parents and foster care. We’re supporting our National Guard, supporting our law enforcement, bringing jobs. The point is that I knew that as governor, I could make a difference. I knew that as governor, we could really change the direction of the state.
Brett McKay: Was there anything that surprised you about the campaigning process, being an outsider?
Gov. Greitens: Well, I mean, one of things that was I think one of the most pleasant surprises was that we were told by all of the insiders that this was impossible. I mean, they literally went back and looked at Missouri history, and they’re like, “We’ve never had someone who’s come in from the outside and who’s run for governor and who’s been successful,” and so we had all of these political types, the career politicians, the insiders, the lobbyists, all of us telling us that this was going to be impossible.
And then they’d come out with polling numbers, like in the beginning I can remember there’s this poll that came out, and I was running in a primary, and there was one candidate had 30% and another had 25% and another had 20% and I was at 2%, and that was in a poll with a margin of error of 4.5%, right? So we could even have been negative, and they said, “This is impossible, you’ll never be able to do it.” But the fact is, we were successful, and what the happy surprise was, the happy thing that we found, was that so many people wanted to get involved, but they wanted to know that they had a candidate and a cause that they could believe in.
And we had thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands of people around the state who volunteered for us, who then donated to us, who went out, who put out yard signs, who knocked on doors for us, who’d never been involved in politics before, and you know what? Those folks are still with us. They’re still helping us to drive change every day.
Brett McKay: So one of the, reading about your candidacy, one of the unique things you did, you did service projects. You don’t really see that with other political campaigns, what was going on there?
Gov. Greitens: Look, the most important thing that I found at The Mission Continues, and this was true when I was doing humanitarian work, it was true when I was a Navy SEAL, is that you’ve got to find ways to take action. You’ve got to find ways to take action to solve problems, and I also found that when people started to work on a problem, you often found that a lot of these ideological fights and political fights kind of, you know, faded to the background, because people were working together.
What we always did, at The Mission Continues, was we always brought people together to do service. So this wasn’t something I started when I was in office, it was something I’d been doing for years, and we would bring hundreds of veterans, and non-veterans, and family members out, and we’d do, you know, a church clean up project. We’d do a school rehabilitation, and when you brought people together, and they served together for a day, they left with a completely different understanding of the person who they’d been serving with.
You know, a lot of our veterans, when they first came home, you know, people honored them, but they were also afraid. They were, “Oh, man, these guys have post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury.” After you spend a day doing a school rehabilitation with somebody, and you’re painting next to them and you’re building next to them and you’re working next to them, you leave with a different sense for who they were. And we’ve brought that not just into the campaign, but actually into government. I mean, one of the things that we did, when we were just … This was probably a couple of weeks into office, we got the word that there was a terrible act of cemetery desecration at a historic Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri. About 156 headstones had been knocked over, bashed with hammers, defaced, it was a really terrible act.
So we heard about this on Monday, we went out on Tuesday morning to Facebook, and we communicate with a lot of people around the State of Missouri, and around the country, on Facebook. We put out a message on Facebook saying that on Wednesday, I said I’m going to be in that cemetery, and I’m going to be there and we’re going to clean that cemetery up. And we’re going to demonstrate that this act of vandalism isn’t going to define who we are as Missourians. Later that day, I called the Jewish Federation, I called the Archbishop, I called the Missouri Baptist Convention, we called local imams, we invited everybody out to join us in service. By the time I showed up to that cemetery the next day, Wednesday afternoon, there were already thousands of people there. There were Jewish day schools who’d canceled school so that their kids could come out and serve. We had young people from colleges, fraternities and sororities that came out, private companies that had let workers off to come out and join us. Thousands of people.
And I just got up in the back of a pick up truck, grabbed a megaphone, and I just said to the crowd, I said, “Look, when terrible things happen, we’re not going to let those things define who we are as Missourians. In fact, what we’re going to do is we’re going to use these as opportunities to come together and to be stronger,” and then people went out and we cleaned up that cemetery. We beautified it, it looked even better than it had before the vandals had taken their actions. So I think it’s really important, in any leadership. In any leadership, whenever you’re facing a tough challenge, find ways to bring people together and get them to serve together. If we do that together, if we start making a difference together, we will find ways to work together and to solve problems.
Brett McKay: So you are a student of the classics. I’m curious, with that background, did you have an ideal of statesmanship, leadership, based on that background, that you brought to your service as governor?
Gov. Greitens: Yeah, you know, well, one of the things that I talked about in the book Resilience that you mentioned is that it’s really important to have models in your life. It’s really important to have role models, and a lot of the ancients always talked about this. Seneca talked about this, Aristotle talked about this, and in fact, this was my boxing coach’s philosophy in college, was that you have to have role models. You have to have people who you can look up to, because they help you to see how you can serve yourself.
And the analogy that I would often use, and I’ll give you two kind of quick stories on this, the analogy I would often use with veterans was I would say, “Look, if somebody comes to you and handed you a giant trash bag full of jigsaw puzzle pieces, and they asked you to put it together,” I’d say, “What would you ask for?” And the veterans would say to me, “Well, I’d ask for the picture,” right? And these are men and women who might have lost a limb, they might have lost eyesight, lost hearing, they, you know, lost limbs.
They’re in a difficult spot, and what I always said to them is, “Life hands you pieces. You have to find a picture,” and what we would do at The Mission Continues is we’d work with incredible veterans who’d come back home. You know, my buddy Tim Smith, the very first veteran I worked with here in Missouri, a guy who came back home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he’d get up in front of this group and talk about his own struggle and the fact that today, he’s running a business called Patriot Commercial Cleaning, right? He runs his own business, he hires other veterans, he’s hired 50 other veterans. He was a role model for all of those veterans who were there.
In the same way, for me, I always look back on people who I admired. I admired, for example, Marcus Aurelius. This is a guy who, you know, faced incredible hardship in his life, but also provided strong leadership, and also left a legacy in words that we’re reading thousands of years later, and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations still provide sustenance to people thousands of years later. So I always, whether it was Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, I admired leaders who I thought of as leaders of action, willing to do hard and difficult things, who were also willing to think and to reflect on not only their own service, but what that might mean for other people.
Brett McKay: We’re going back to the stoicism theme. I imagine you had to call upon the Meditations during your campaign, because, yeah, it’s the part of the jostling of being in the arena, as Roosevelt said. So was there a moment where you had to read, you know, Meditations or Seneca or something to kind of put things in perspective?
Gov. Greitens: Yeah, so it was actually helpful. I mean, a lot of the stuff that I’d written about in Resilience I used during the campaign. So I’ll give you some specific examples, like in Resilience, I write about the importance of friends. Anything that we’re going to do well in our life, we have to have a good group of friends around us. During the last couple weeks of the campaign, my buddy, who’s a Navy SEAL, went through BUD/S with me, he came out and he literally joined me every single day, during the last five weeks of the campaign.
And we’d wake up early, you know, sometimes five, six o’clock in the morning. We’d find even a crazy hotel pool and do this insane underwater workout that he’d developed, okay? That was, first, it was fun, it got your mindset in the right direction, good exercise in the morning, but then this is also a buddy who’s with me, who’s keeping everything in perspective, making sure that we keep a sense of humor about this, and making sure that in midst of all of these different distractions, all of the different things, with people criticizing you in the media and whatnot, that you keep your focus on the people who you’re there to serve. And good friends can be really helpful in that way. That was just one of the things that we did during the campaign that was essential.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned Teddy Roosevelt. He’s sort of like the patron saint of the Art of Manliness.
Gov. Greitens: Yes!
Brett McKay: I’m curious, I mean, is there a moment from Roosevelt’s life that you’ve looked to, where you’re like, “I want to aspire to that.”
Gov. Greitens: I think there’s so many moments in Roosevelt’s life, and I think one of the things that is important for all of us to look back on is remember Roosevelt’s early life. Remember those moments where his mother and his wife both pass away, and this is a time of not only tragedy for him, but also a time where he felt lost. And then what did he do? Like this is when he goes west, and you and I were talking about how in a vocation, you create yourself, you challenge yourself, you push yourself. He was willing to do something that he hadn’t done before. He was willing to challenge himself, and the Teddy Roosevelt who we think of now, as a guy who was a boxer and had spent all this time out west, this is not who Teddy Roosevelt was as a kid. Teddy Roosevelt actively created himself. He understood that we all can create ourselves through a process of challenging ourselves, but it’s important, when we look at Teddy Roosevelt, to realize that he wasn’t always that guy.
This was a guy who was often lost, this was a guy who was, not just as a kid, but when he first got into public service, was often laughed at, was ridiculed, was always a source of tremendous criticism, even when he was the President of the United States, and I think it’s important, this is one of the great values of really good biographies, so when you really understand those stories, and for all of us in our own journeys, when we reach those places where we are feeling a little lost, when we have been criticized, when we’re dealing with all this, you look back at your heroes and you realize they’ve all had to do the same thing. Nothing comes easy.
Brett McKay: So were you like Roosevelt as a kid? So Roosevelt, he’s this archetypal figure of American manhood. Led the charge up San Juan Hill, but as you said, he had to get to that point, and as a kid he was sickly, and he was a nerd, for all intents and purposes. And there’s nothing wrong with being a nerd, but that’s what he was. Were you like that? Did you have to learn how to be brave and did being a Navy SEAL come natural to you or was that something you had to work into?
Gov. Greitens: We all have to learn how to be brave. Everyone of us has to learn how to be brave, and I think this is actually a really important point, because I think our culture often teaches the wrong lessons about courage. So I’ll give you just one quick story. You know, when I was boxing, I knew this guy who was once a trainer to one of the heavyweight champions of the world. He tells me this story that one day, the heavyweight champion of the world calls him on the phone, and the heavyweight champ says, “Hey, man, hey, you’ve got to get on the phone, you’ve got to talk to this guy for me. I need you to talk to him!” And the trainer said, “Well, who is it? Who do you need me to talk to?” And the heavyweight champ said, “I need you to do this for me, you’ve got to do it,” and they trainer said, “Well, who is it? Who do you need me to talk to?”
And the heavyweight champ of the world says, “I need you to talk to my gardener.” “Your gardener?” And the heavyweight champ of the world says, “Yeah, he’s got this bill and he’s trying to overcharge me.” And the trainer said he realized at that moment that the heavyweight champion of the world was absolutely terrified to confront his gardener over a bill, and he said to me, he said, “Eric,” he said, “That’s when it really dawned on me that we all have uneven courage.” I mean, this guy’s the heavyweight champion of the world. No-one would question, right, his willingness to step into the ring, his kind of physical courage against some of the most dangerous fighters in the world, and yet he’s afraid to confront his gardener over a bill.
And the point he made, and he’s right about this, is that we all build certain kinds of courage in our life. And we build that courage by doing things, by confronting our fears, and we all have uneven courage. And so what we all have to do, in order to grow, is we have to push ourselves to do those very things that we’re afraid of, right? And you’ve got to, you know, the first time I stepped into a boxing ring, of course, I’m afraid to get hit in the face. I mean, who wouldn’t be, right? First time, you know, you’re in the Navy SEAL teams, and they tie your feet together, and they tie your hands behind your back, and they make you jump in the pool. Of course you’re going to be afraid!
But the SEAL team training teaches you to address that fear, to deal with that fear. When you decide that you’re going to run for public office, nobody likes having a newspaper right terrible things about you, right? But again, this is one of those things that you just have to learn that you’ve got to do, and so I think that the key lesson about courage is we all have to recognize courage is not something that you necessarily have to have. It is something that you have to be willing to create. You have to be willing to push yourself to build that kind of courage, and you can build those virtues. And that fundamentally is one of the big differences between the way our society thinks and the way that the ancients thought. The ancients recognized that virtues were excellences that you built, and you built them through practice, you built them by following role models, you built them by having the right friends, you build them by having the right mentors. We often think that you either have these virtues or you don’t.
The great news is, you know, you read Seneca, you read Aristotle, you read Thomas Aquinas, right? All of these guys, they had points of difference, but what they all agreed on was that you have the power to shape your own character.
Brett McKay: I love that. Well, speaking of character, there’s a lot of folks who argue that, okay, a politician has two lives, there’s a public life and a private life, and what he does in his private life is his business and his character, but do you think that’s true or false, that character or your private life doesn’t matter, it doesn’t reflect in your public action?
Gov. Greitens: No, I think that everything that you do is reflective of your character, right? And the work that you do, the life that you live, is reflective of who you are. And the fact is, the virtues that we develop, they’re important for me in my role as a father, right? Teaching Joshua and Jacob. They’re important for me in what I do as an athlete. They’re important for me in the work that I do as a governor, and so while you have, it’s required that we all build different kinds of courage, right? Ultimately, all of these things do reflect on your character.
Brett McKay: I read a recent survey, amongst millennials, I’m in that cohort, and it said that most millennials, like the vast majority, would not ever run for public office, and it’s because of, you know, from the outside it looks like a circus, it’s easy to be cynical. One of the other things people gave is like, “I don’t want to be attacked,” or, “I don’t want my family to be attacked,” and just the scrutiny, especially in the social media age. What do you say to those young people that aren’t happy with the way things are, and they want to make a change and do something more besides doing a hashtag on Twitter, but they’re afraid of stepping into the arena. It doesn’t matter what party you are, right? What do you say to those young people?
Gov. Greitens: I say step in. I say make a difference, and I say the fact is, and this is again one of the virtues of reading biography, reading history, if you want to make a difference, if you want to do anything worthwhile and worthy and difficult, you will be criticized. That’s just the fact. You know, I had the opportunity once, I worked in one of Mother Theresa’s homes for the destitute and dying in Varanasi, India, and what’s interesting, you know, you read a good biography of Mother Theresa, and you read that in the beginning of her work, when she is working to help the destitute to die with dignity, she was criticized for it.
There are all of these people who are criticizing Mother Theresa for the work that she was doing, and this wasn’t just at the beginning of her life, it continued throughout her life. And I actually wrote in Resilience, to my buddy who’s a Navy SEAL, I said, “Look, you and I aren’t Mother Theresa, but what this should do is give you a lot of courage, because you have to recognize that if you do anything worthwhile, you’re going to bring out critics,” and for me, I also think that the experience of having been a Navy SEAL, the experience of having done humanitarian work helped put a lot of things in perspective.
So when I was 20 years old, I was living and working in refugee camps, with Bosnian refugees. Kids who lost their parents during the ethnic cleansing. I worked in Rwanda with kids whose parents had died during the genocide. I worked in Cambodia with kids who’d lost limbs to landmines. In the SEAL teams, I’d obviously taken on difficult, dangerous missions, and unfortunately, I, like almost every veteran who served in the global war on terrorism, you lose friends, and so when I think about public service, and I think about, you know, yeah, of course, every time we put something out on Facebook, there are going to be people who write nasty things to us. Is that going to allow me, am I going to be so afraid of what some person might say on social media that I’m not willing to go out and help kids in the Missouri foster care system? Am I going to be so afraid of what somebody says on Twitter that I’m not going to go out and fight for jobs for people?
At the end of the day, that would be just selfish, and the reason why, again, we talk about philosophy, the reason why the ancients put such an emphasis on courage was because you had to have courage in order to be of service to others. You had to have courage in order to do your duty in the community, and what I’d say to millennials, and to anyone who feels that way, is, “Hey, it’s absolutely natural and it’s fine. It’s normal to feel that kind of fear.” Nobody wants to be criticized. Nobody wants to have a newspaper editorial written about how bad the thing is that you’re doing, but if you’re really going to help people, you’re going to be criticized. So get used to it. Do hard things, do difficult things, and find a way to serve other people.
Brett McKay: So now you are governor. You’ve been at it for a year. I just got done reading a book about George Washington and his reading habits throughout his career. He was a self-educated guy. A lot of people don’t know that about Washington. He didn’t get any formal schooling, and the author talked about how Washington would change his reading depending on his station in life. So he read, when he was General of the Continental Army, he read a lot of military treatises, and when he became President, his reading habits changed. I’m curious, A, do you still have time for reading, do you make time for reading, and what are you reading to be an effective executive?
Gov. Greitens: Yeah, so I make time for reading. I think that making time for reading is just as important as making time for exercise. It is essential if you’re going to lead well, because you have to always find ways to not just act, but also to reflect, right? If you’re going to be a wise leader, and again, the ancients talked about this, there’s something, you know, this idea of phronesis, of practical wisdom, there’s a certain wisdom that comes from action in the world. It’s not something that you can get from books, but it is something that is aided by reflection. So you have to take action, and you have to think about it.
So, you know, every day, we were out doing stuff. We’re supporting law enforcement, we’re meeting with firefighters who just went down to Texas and we’re saving lives and we’re thanking them. We’re meeting with the folks on our public safety team, talking about how we can respond to emergencies. We’re meeting with a team talking about our agenda to make this the best state in the country for veterans, or to help kids in foster care. So we’re always acting, but then you also have to make that time for reflection, and again, for me, I’ve always found that biography is really helpful, because it helps to put your own struggles in perspective. So right now, I’m finishing a biography on Alexander the Great. Really, really good biography. I’ve just finished the Andrew Roberts biography of Napoleon. Before that, I read a biography of General MacArthur. Really, really good biographies, good stories.
And parallel with that, I’ve actually been reading some Ernest Hemingway again, which I hadn’t read for long time. I mean, some of these books I hadn’t picked up since college, but I was moving a box of old books and I saw some of the old Hemingway stuff. I pulled it out, and it’s just good to do that kind of reading. It prompts good reflection.
Brett McKay: Well, like, which Hemingway did you read? Was it Farewell to Arms?
Gov. Greitens: So actually, no, I pulled out, this is, again, everybody’s kind of first Hemingway in high school.
Brett McKay: Old Man And The Sea.
Gov. Greitens: Old Man And The Sea, right.
Brett McKay: Right.
Gov. Greitens: It’s just this classic story about a guy who’s engaged in one of the fights of his life. And it’s difficult, and it’s hard, and you know, he’s got to reflect on his own purpose, in the middle of this tremendous battle against terrible odds.
Brett McKay: So from that Alexander the Great biography, what lessons on statesmanship or being an executive did you pull?
Gov. Greitens: So, look, I mean, one of the great things about the Alexander the Great biography is if you think about the Macedonian conception of generalship, it was very much a conception of generals who went to the front lines. So Alexander was clearly the leader, he was clearly the general, but he was also, in many ways, first among equals. This was a guy who himself was the first guy climbing the ladders as they were assaulting cities, right? At the very front. And everyone saw that kind of front line leadership. In the same way, you know, and this is something I’ve been doing not just in the SEAL teams and The Mission Continues, but I also do as governor, I think it’s important to go to the front lines. You have to go to the very place where people are hurting. You’ve got to go to the very place where there are problems. You’ve got to go to the very place where there are challenges, and you have to be present.
So when there is a tornado, and it hits the State of Missouri, we go, and we visit with people, and we ask them what they need. We talk to our first responders, we figure out what they need. We had historic flooding, in the State of Missouri. We went down and we visited county courthouses that had been underwater, and people who lost their homes. We just had another big incident in the State of Missouri around a trial. We had to support our law enforcement officers. We went out and we met with all of these men and women on the front lines, to shake their hands, to be there with them, and so that’s just one kind of lesson that comes from that, but it’s just an affirmation of how important it is that you have leaders who are willing to go to the front lines.
Brett McKay: You love biographies, I love biographies. I’m always looking for new recommendations. What is your all time favorite? Like two favorite biographies?
Gov. Greitens: Man, that’s a good question. God, that’s a good question.
Brett McKay: I’ll do the Tim Ferris thing. If you were to gift a book?
Gov. Greitens: Yeah.
Brett McKay: He does that a lot. What book would you gift to somebody, if it was a biography?
Gov. Greitens: Man, if it was a biography, see, the thing is, this is going to sound like there’s not just one answer, but what I always try and do is recommend books for people given the specific place where they’re at in their life. It’s kind of like how George Washington was saying his reading changed. I actually recommend different biographies for people who are at different points, and specifically what I try to do, and this sounds like Washington had the same philosophy, is, you know, if somebody were saying to me, for example, “Look, I want to be a writer,” then look at a great biography of Hemingway. Look at a great biography of F Scott Fitzgerald. Like see how much trouble these guys had putting together their masterpieces. If somebody said, “I want to be a great general, I want to be a great leader,” read biography of General Marshall. Read one of the biographies of General Eisenhower and General Marshall in World War Two. So what I try and do is recommend books that I think are going to help people given who they want to become.
Brett McKay: I like that. So let’s talk about being a dad, and being a busy executive. So you’ve got two young kids. I imagine there’s not too many other governors who have, well, how old are your children? One of them is one years old, right?
Gov. Greitens: Yeah, so Jacob’s one, he’s actually 17 months right now, and then Joshua is three years old.
Brett McKay: Right, are there any other governors that have young children like that, or are you pretty much the only one?
Gov. Greitens: You know, I don’t know if anybody has kids who are that young. There might be a few who have a couple of younger kids, but most of them, most of the governors are older than me.
Brett McKay: Didn’t have a kid while campaigning.
Gov. Greitens: Yeah. Most of them did not have a kid a couple of months before the primary, right!
Brett McKay: So I know we have a lot of dads listening. You obviously have a very busy, packed schedule. How do you make time for family?
Gov. Greitens: So one of the great things, actually, about this job, is that we’re very disciplined as a family about creating family time. So you know, our schedule is pretty simple. Almost every morning, I get up early with my buddy. I go, we crush our workout. I get back, I get back just a little bit after, it’s usually just a little bit after the kids have woken up, and then I spend the morning with them. I wrestle with them, I play with them, I read books to them. I was doing it just this morning, with Joshua. We were reading a couple books. Berenstain Bears and Critter books. So we were doing that, doing that with them, and I make them breakfast, with Sheena, and then, you know, like this morning, I took Joshua to preschool. Then dropped them off and preschool then came over here to the office. Then I always try to get home for dinner.
Now, occasionally we will have times when I travel, and when I’m traveling, and if I’ve got an evening event, I’m not able to make it back for that. But most of the time, Brett, even if we have an event, say, at the governor’s mansion or something like that, I will end that event with enough time for me to go upstairs and put the boys to bed, to read to them, give them a bath and put them to bed. I just think it’s really important that they get that time. I was so lucky. My dad really made being a dad a priority.
So my dad, my grandfather, my paternal grandfather, was a World War Two veteran, who served in the Navy. He died when my dad was six years old, and so my dad grew up without a father. He had a single mom and two sisters, who worked as a shoe saleswoman, who raised my dad. And I remember waking up, and I’d see every day, my dad would wake up at four something in the morning, to either take the bus or the car pool to work, so that he could be home early to be with me and my two brothers. And over his dresser, he always had that picture of my grandfather, in his Navy uniform, with his World War Two medals, and so my dad really treasured the fact, the opportunity that he had to be a dad. And I’m so grateful for that, and I know that my most important mission in life is to be a great dad to my kids.
Brett McKay: So governor, this has been a great conversation. Before we leave, any parting words for our listeners about, just based on the experience you’ve had campaigning, being a governor, for people who are still on the fence of getting active in public life?
Gov. Greitens: Yeah, you know what? I’d say to everybody, find a way to get involved that makes a difference. And it doesn’t have to be in electoral politics, but get involved in your community. Find a way to get engaged. You know, Aristotle talked about politics as the art and science of creating and sustaining human communities. So how do you find a way to do your duty to your country, your duty to your community? Find a way to push yourself, to challenge yourself, and what I would say is a lot of times, people doubt whether or not they have something to offer, and everyone does. Every single one of your listeners has some kind of wisdom, some kind of experience, some kind of ability that other people need. Find a way to challenge yourself to get involved in your community. Challenge yourself to get involved in this, and you will find a way to make a difference, and as you do, we will all be stronger for what you’ve contributed to all of us.
Brett McKay: Well, Governor Eric Greitens, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Gov. Greitens: Yeah, you’re welcome, Brett. Great to be on with you, man, thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Governor Eric Greitens, he’s the governor of the great State of Missouri, and if you haven’t already, check out his books, Resilience and The Heart and the Fist. They’re both available on Amazon.com and book stores everywhere. You can also find out more information about the foundation he started and founded for veterans. It’s The Mission Continues, go to themissioncontinues.org to find out more information about that. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/governorgreitens, where you can find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com, and if you enjoy the podcast and got something out of it, I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, that’d help us out a lot. And if you’ve already done that, please recommend the show to your friends. That’s the best way to get the word out about this show. The more the merrier.
As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: February 22, 2018