Why Performance and Training Matter: How Kaj Larsen Became a Navy Seal After Initially Walking Away From the Naval Academy

Why Performance and Training Matter: How Kaj Larsen Became a Navy Seal After Initially Walking Away From the Naval Academy

Written by Dr. Larry

I just watched Episode 5 of “Life Can Change in A Moment” with navy seal Kaj Larsen, and there are several things that really impressed me.


There is a fatalism out there in the world, almost a spiritual “whatever is going to happen, is going to happen” that some people believe. As if most of the things in our lives are outside our control. These thoughts can be depressing and downers.

In this episode, Kaj talks about a pivotal moment in his life when he dove at the pier in Santa Cruz to save a man who accidentally drove his car into the ocean. In that moment, his performance counts. Just like how a surgeon executes the removal of your appendix counts. We are agents of destiny, not merely pawns in something that unfolds regardless of how we show up or perform.

I remember a mentor obstetrician in residency who taught me a lesson I never forgot: my job when attending labor and delivery was to be on the lookout for the right time to intervene. There is a natural course of things that is happening right in front of us. We can allow what is going to happen, and do nothing—and some bad things will happen. Babies will die or develop cerebral palsy from birth complications. Or we can do our job to intervene, to do something about it when appropriate.

This is just how I think as a doctor. Sure, natural is better often. But sometimes, it leads to natural disasters. And I have been trained to prevent them, to do something about it.


Which makes me think of my next point, yes, it matters how you perform. But no matter how good a performer, nobody can show up and do brain surgery without training, and years of it. Similarly, I lacked the training to pull that man who drove off the pier out of the water. I can’t dive that deep, hold my breath that long, for minutes at a time. With training, and repetition I could certainly get better. I’m not a frogman like Kaj is. But I’m an ER doctor. I could have run CPR the second those divers got him out, and taken his resuscitation from there.

The inspiration here is of all the possibilities of things you can do, and I mean incredible, awesome things you can do—with training. Preparedness. From medical being a paramedic responding to emergencies, to a pilot or even someone on a suicide hotline to help people in moments of great need. Do you feel called to a certain moment, to respond, to help? What kind of training do you need to be the person that can make that difference?

Performance counts. So does training, and the decision to pursue it in advance.


I respect people that do hard things. There is a softness in the world today that I think makes us weak, frankly. I respect people who do things that are hard. Not unnecessarily hard, or arbitrarily hard, but difficult and challenging things that make you grown, that make muscles bigger, enable you to run harder or faster, that expand your abilities and mind toward a purpose. Diving. Saving lives. Whatever.

Navy seal training. Kaj mentioned more than once how it’s the hardest military training in the world, their hell week the worst week of it. His class went from 246 to only 26 completing the training. Intense. Could I do it? I’m drawn to the challenge. No, I’m not enlisting in the Navy. But the unwillingness to do the hard things—gives an obvious advantage to those who are willing to do them. Anything hard things in your life that you are avoiding that would make you and your life better? That’s a yes for all of us in some way, I’m sure.

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