11/20/2012 05:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Former Navy SEAL and Author Arms Civilians With Tools to Combat Fear, Forge Self-Confidence

David Rutherford knows a thing or two about self-confidence and teamwork. After all, this former Navy SEAL, who served eight years with responsibilities that included combat medic, operator and instructor, has taken his rigorous military training and passion for helping people and morphed these elements into his latest adventure, deploying it much closer to home -- as an author and motivational speaker -- helping people forge their self-confidence. Rutherford, who was also part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, is teaching civilians how-to be their best, by unlocking their true potential and combating their fears -- using the arsenal of lessons that he uncovered while a part of the SEAL teams.


I read that you had always wanted to play football in college and a top goal of yours was to win the Heisman Trophy. When that didn't come to fruition, I read that you felt like you may have lost your purpose. How did you end up finding your way, getting back on track, and what did you take away from the experience?

It's awesome that you started with that one. That's the key because that's where this whole thing started. It literally happened in my fourth year of college at Penn State. I was an art major, I was getting a poetry minor and I had long hair, a huge goatee. I had moved myself so far away from my friends who were still playing lacrosse (I originally got recruited to play lacrosse at Penn State) and just had isolated myself in this bout of depression because of never facing that goal and never going after it because I was too afraid to try and walk on the team. So it was in April of 1995, I woke up one Sunday morning and, you know, I didn't have a glass of Jack Daniels to wake up with, I didn't roll out of bed with a bad attitude. For some reason I said, 'All right, I've got to be productive today,' which was a rarity. And so I had this mountain of piled-up clothes, like I hadn't done laundry in months, and I went to the laundry mat and simply put my stuff in and I'm sitting there and I'm just watching it go round and round and round and I was hit with an epiphany. In that moment something came over me and told me that, 'It's time to change your life right now.' And so the funny thing was, though, I'm a lawyer's kid and so, like any good lawyer's kid, I've got to be analytical and have my approach and so I wrote down what my choices were; I could stay in school and finish my art degree, but I couldn't stand working 50 hours on a painting, going in and having somebody just destroy it because my brushwork was bad; it's too personal. My second one was, at the time, I had this fascination for Harley-Davidson and tattoos, so I was like, all right, 'I'm going to move out to LA, I'm going to get a tattoo apprenticeship and I'm going to join the Hells Angels.' I figured in terms of the lifestyle trajectory I was on, I probably would have been dead in about six months, so I was like that's probably not a good thing. The third one was to join the military and to pursue this truth that I recognized that self-confidence is everything and being a part of a team had really given me all the things in my past to be successful. So, in that moment, I basically decided to join the navy and join the SEAL teams, which, in essence is the pinnacle of self-confidence and living the team life.

Most people can't grasp what it's like both physically and mentally to be part of the team of SEALs. What was your experience like, and, if you could give me a brief snapshot into a day in your life as a Navy SEAL, what did it look like?

I think that's the fascination right now. People hear, they see the bin Laden raid; they see what my friends just recently did in Benghazi. People are like 'Well, where does this come from?' And so it's good to think about it in terms of the daily routine. A day in BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training), you know, you're up at 4 a.m., you're in mustering with your classmates at 4:30 a.m., you're reporting for Grinder PT at 5 a.m., you get hammered for two hours, where you're doing 1,000 push ups, 1,000 flutter kicks, 100 pull-ups and 200 dips. Meanwhile, they're spraying you down with freezing cold hoses, you have to jump in an ice bath, then you run a mile to chow, eat chow, run a mile back, get on the beach, do four hours of surf passage in 15-foot surf, then you come back, then you run a mile to chow, a mile back, then after that, you've got a two-mile ocean swim after that, then you run a mile to chow, a mile back, come back and then you get beat down by the instructor because you didn't do something right that day, so you've got surf torcher for an hour in the 58-degree water and then afterward, you finish up, you debrief with your class, then you've got to clean all your gear, shine your boots, press your uniforms and do it all the next day for the next seven months. So that's just training. When you're in the SEALs teams themselves, it's a whole other level. People think, 'Oh, once you get through the training, it's easier.' It's the complete antithesis of that. When you get to the teams, you're pushing yourself harder and faster and doing more unbelievable things. A typical training operation is you plan for two days, prep your gear, you get on a C-130 with your rubber boats, fly out over the ocean, push the boats out, jump in the middle of the night, chase them, drive 70 nautical miles over the horizon, rendezvous with a 140-foot Cutter, put your boats on the Cutter, plan for a 12-hour cycle, get off, drive 120 nautical miles back over the horizon, put on your dive apparatus, do a five hour-dive, rendezvous with a local guard force, get weapons, assault a target for five hours, recuperate hostages, put them on aircraft, go back, debrief and then clean all of your gear and then get ready to do it again in a few days. So, that's a typical day. That's what we do, and so the intensity of that is very difficult for people to translate. And that's why Froglogic, and what I do is, I try and give a snapshot of that in a way where people who are civilians can understand and employ that mindset.

You served this country for eight years and have done so many honorable things. I guess this seems like a fairly straightforward question, but I'm just curious; How did you find your path to becoming a motivational speaker, trying to help so many others? I understand you want to reach 10 millions people in 10 years. Was it one of your experiences from your time overseas that sparked this idea? Or was it something else? A combination of the two?

It was one experience in particular. I had done my first platoon in SEAL Team 1, was in my second platoon. The needs of the Navy called and said, 'Hey, we need a medical instructor at SEAL Qualification Training,' which is now a 29-week program. So you go through BUD/S seven months, then you do a 29-week program that's almost as intense, not in terms of the mental hammering, but physically for sure and it's also mentally taxing. So I went and became an instructor there, but when I went there, I was a one-platoon wonder and so your reputation in the SEAL teams is based on how many times you've gone overseas, how many deployments you have.

So here I was going into a situation where I was going to be in front of young men who had just finished the hardest military training on the planet and I had one platoon under my belt. How was I going to instill confidence in them with the skill sets they needed to develop in order to go and face combat whenever that was going to be? So, I reacted and what had become habitual behavior. I rebelled against it and really didn't present myself as I should until finally one day one of the greatest mentors of my life, this guy Bruce, who was my senior chief at the time, he called me in and said, 'All right Rut [a nickname Rutherford was given], guess what? I'm sending you to captain's mast.' The captain's mast is a bad thing. You don't want to go see a captain. If you go see a captain, bad things are happening. I was like, 'Whoa, what did I do wrong?' He said, 'Your attitude is the worst attitude I have ever seen in my life. You come in here everyday and you give these kids half of everything you are. You don't deserve to wear the Trident, so I'm going to take it from you.' I told him my story and he said, 'That sounds like a bunch of whiny excuses. Listen, you have a job to do; your job is to get those people ready for war, period. I don't care how you do it, what you do, but you need to find what your strengths are because you lack the experience downrange and figure out how-to inspire those kids.'

So, what did I do? I got some good mentors, some good advice from some guys I really respected, and I recognized what I have always been good at; playing quarterback my whole life, being a captain of all the teams that I was on and all that, I was a motivator. I had an ability to get people fired up when they were against the wall. So, I turned to that, and really dove into that, and after two years of doing it, I discovered this passion for teaching and this passion for inspiring humans. Think about it, when you're training a human being to go run into combat, there's some massive psychological hurdles that need to be addressed in order to get a person to say, 'Who cares, I don't care what the enemy is bringing at me, I'm going to go straight into the face of it.' So, a part of that is forging their concept, their ideas and their self-confidence psychologically, and so I really honed in on that skill. You never imagine this is going to happen. You never wake up with the intention, 'All right, I'm to go get in front of hundreds, thousands of people a year and motivate them to be better human beings.' You don't just say that, especially coming from being a SEAL. It's a pretty giant leap. And I don't have a story in a specific environment like Marcus Luttrell with his book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 , and him surviving that one particular episode or that last book that came out, No Easy Day, and his experience on the bin Laden raid. I've got some great experiences, but nothing of the magnitude like that. What I do have is -- I do have a profound understanding of the human mind and how it needs to be motivated to face great adversity.

Can you talk to me a little bit more about Froglogic and the Eight Simple Missions?

When I first came up with came up with the concept, I was in my second trip in Afghanistan working for a big security company doing counter drug operations with the DEA, so we had gone into this compound in a particular area and we were trying to find this big smuggler, and I'm sitting there and I'm watching 30 kids in this compound with their animals right next to where they sleep, using the bathroom wherever. They had no shoes, no clothes. Some of them were missing limbs from landmines. There was malnutrition, no school, no education and no hope, and so I'm seeing this and in that moment I got hit again with, 'I had to change missions in my life.' I had to accept this calling that I was getting, to try and do something, trying to start over and figure out how to inspire those kids, and not only those kids, but kids all around the world; to develop, to forge their self-confidence in that harsh environment. So I stepped back for a minute and came home and began to do research about our country and at that time, in 2006, teenage girls suicide rates were spiking, the obesity thing had finally made it to the forefront of the news and really saw this dramatic shift in the way our children were growing up and I was like, 'I've got to do something here.' So what I did was I extrapolated eight core concepts that I used pulling myself out of that abyss in college, making it through those unbelievable days in SEAL training and in the SEAL teams and I figured out what the eight missions that people need to do everyday to forge their self-confidence. Those eight missions are the foundation of forging that self-confidence.

You speak a lot about the importance of self-confidence and you even include Self-Confidence in the title of your new book. Why do you think there are so many people who lack self-confidence, especially today?

I think the biggest -- first and foremost -- is fear. From the time we're little children, we're taught how to embrace fear because it's a protective mechanism for ourselves psychologically. As we move forward, whether you're in grade school, middle school, high school, college, or whatever it is in your life, you develop this comfort-zone behavior that I describe. That protects those fears, so what fear really does is it's the greatest inhibitive factor we face in our lives because if you're afraid of something, you're not going to risk, you're not going to try. You have to embrace the fear, but you're never going to overcome the fear, right? That's how big it is. But you can contain it in a way that it becomes positive. So, with the fear that we have, we learn how to give it different meanings or different ideas or mold it, so it's not so intrusive into our lives. So, as you get older and you develop these comfort-zone behaviors, we find these creative and less invasive ideas to implant in our head to protect that fear.

What else?

I think the biggest thing is for people to realize that no matter how successful they are in life, everybody still needs new ideas. We learn something new everyday, right? In some capacity. And forging your self-confidence is not something that happens in your 20's and that's it. I mean, look at the way our world evolves each day. Don't you think the millions of people being affected by the storm [Hurricane Sandy] need to forge their self-confidence moving into this event? So, as I reach out to people, I say, 'Listen, just because you're a successful human being, you need to still project yourself and look for new ways to forge your self-confidence, and if it's not with my book, do it with something else.' And once you do that, commit your life to living the team life because we need people who have heart and self-confidence right now because we live in a world with a lot of fear. So, reach out around you, find that person who you care about and pick them up, help them forge their self-confidence and we'll start developing a pretty radical team around these parts.

David Rutherford is available for speaking engagements and can be contacted here. His book, "Self-Confidence" is available on