I wrote the following transcript for the introductory episode of the cleverly named “The Justin Lascek Podcast”.
You’re listening to the Justin Lascek podcast. And I’m that dude, Justin, and welcome to the show. Shout out to Bobby Emmett for the intro song – he’s Sturgill Simpson’s keyboard player. I’m actually recording this in a hotel room while on tour with them. Anyway, I’m glad you’re here cause we’re gonna have a lot of fun. And that’s not innuendo at all…at least this time.
This introductory episode will introduce my background and the intent behind this show. I’m a United States Special Forces soldier, otherwise known as a Green Beret. Despite referring to ourselves as “Quiet Professionals”, I went overt about the job after I stepped on an IED in early 2019. The blast blew my lower legs and testicles off, and I’ve used social media as a platform to support a benevolent organization called the Special Forces Foundation. They take care of wounded Green Berets as well as Gold Star families – those left behind when their loved one is killed in action. I also use social media to vulnerably portray emotional and mental health challenges to provide understanding and battle against the societal stigma, and also reach out to others who are suffering. Believe me, I understand your challenges and have the utmost compassion for anyone who is struggling. Through all of my writing, poetry, podcasting, and speaking, I hope to influence us to take care of ourselves. You can find me on Instagram @Justin.Lascek.
Before getting into anything else, I have some specific and general disclaimers that apply to any episode for this show. I will never represent the DOD, the Department of Defense, in any capacity. Ever. I will never say things to a get a rise out of you, the listener, in order to make a cheap news story from my position and circumstance. I also have a bit of a unique background that can label me as an “authority” on certain topics. This doesn’t mean I’ll never be wrong and I’ll do my best to clarify objectivity verses subjectivity, and include the sum of my personal experience when I make a point. That also means you may not agree with every opinion I express, and I encourage you to stick around if that’s the case. This podcast is modeled on the long conversation format where we avoid the classic news channel sound bites and get to explore a variety of topics in depth.
This is my forum to help teach, but my primary intent is to learn. I will do this by finding people with unique viewpoints and the smartest people in their field and I’ll interview them to challenge my opinions or generally accepted facts and digest them into learnable concepts. I believe we can learn something from everyone, even if their general thesis or paradigm of thinking differs from our own. I will also look at the human aspect of their experience with compassion and explore, when they’re willing, how they overcame challenges in their life. I have unique friends in a variety of fields as well as verbal confirmations from great people to participate in this show.
My background will likely come out fully in future episodes, but generally it started with a degree in exercise physiology and a significant involvement in strength and conditioning, fitness, wellness, and a dabbling in mental performance. In 2009 I started my second company called 70s Big that is comprised of silly entertainment in order to keep people around to learn about lifting weights, being strong, and a satirical view of masculinity. I wrote an article nearly every week-day for 4 years on topics like anatomy and physiology, mobility, nutrition, mechanics, rehabilitation, mindset, and a special focus on the inclusion of women in the realm of strength training. Through this website I travelled across the U.S. and some parts of the world teaching seminars on these topics. I also wrote a handful of books. A couple were about an intermediate lifting program I expanded on called The Texas Method; it’s good for people who have completed a novice-based linear progression and are ready for a consistent weekly schedule. The second book is a continuation into the advanced realm called The Texas Method: Advanced. I wrote a book with Dr. Lon Kilgore and Dr. Michael Hartman called FIT. Specifically, I wrote the programming chapter which has a huge emphasis on how to program endurance and conditioning workouts instead of randomly doing nonsense. That chapter was roughly 26,000 words and is almost the length of some of the other books I wrote.
I released a nutrition book called Paleo for Lifters a couple days before I left for basic training; it takes the outline of the Paleo diet and applies it to different body types of lifters. It isn’t focused on counting calories or macros, and tries to instill good habits and behaviors. I wrote another book and released it right before I went to SERE while I was in the Q course. It’s called The 70’s Big LP. A linear progression is usually a simple strength program with basic barbell movements to develop strength. Some Linear Progressions neglect the development of the upper body or arms, so I included some of those movements into a simple program that would do more than grow a set of hot buns and massive legs. You can find the e-books on the relatively dormant website 70sBig.com and FIT is available on Amazon.
The reason 70s Big became dormant is because I enlisted in the army in the beginning of 2013. Roughly three years later, I graduated as a Green Beret. It took that long because Special Forces medics, known by the military occupation specialty nomenclature as “18D”, must go through an additional 9-month medical course on top of the Special Forces Qualification course. As a member of an Operational Detachment Alpha, which is a Special Forces team called an ODA, I prepared for and participated in two combat deployments in Afghanistan. During the first deployment I was fortunate to participate in a fair amount of combat in a different context to how SF teams currently operate. I was in a variety of types of fire fights, kicked more doors than I should have, treated casualties, and legitimately had some extremely close calls that could have resulted in significant wounds or death. I say this not because I think I am cool or tough, but because often times people will claim some kind of combat experience and it can be an embellishment of the truth. That being said, there are fine men and women who have been in much more combat or treated many more casualties than I have. You will never know about or hear from some of these people, and I hope when I share my stories, it informs the general public of one individual’s experience so we can appreciate all combat veterans’ experiences.
I liked combat, but I’ll never talk about it to fluff my ego or participate in figurative dick measuring contests. Because, trust me, there are tons of hard mother fuckers who survived much more combat than I have.
Which brings me to my next point. The totality of war experiences is abnormal – they’re literally INSANE. War is much more than life amplified, and for those of us who conduct it, it takes a significant toll. There is a stigma that exists in society, the military, and even our units about the mental and emotional challenges we face, especially from combat. Whatever your opinion on foreign policy and war, there are very real consequences from war. I have lost friends from being killed in action or when they took their own lives. I am and always will be a voice for being vulnerably open about these consequences and paving a way for improved acceptance and rehabilitation. The stigma associated with mental health means nobody really talks about it. I do. I will. Because it’s easy to feel alone with a dark mind and at troubled heart, but I hear and see you all. And we can get through this.
On my second deployment, I stepped on an IED. It immediately blew my left leg off and burned and blasted most of my right leg nearly to the bone – the right leg would eventually be amputated. My testicles were blown off. I very nearly died, yet my brothers, my teammates, implemented the lessons I had taught them about trauma medicine, patient movement, and MEDEVAC procedures. Before receiving ketamine, I also gave instructions on how I should be treated. Because of their effort on the ground, an efficient MEDEVAC crew, and skilled and motivated surgical teams, I survived. Barely. Maybe belligerently.
Since then I have been on a long and tortured road of recovery physically and emotionally. Such is the life of an amputee and PTSD. Experiencing significant traumatic events are always challenging. With a history of depression and emotional trauma, I have had to put in work every day to learn and improve. Much of what I have learned not only from dealing with extreme circumstances in combat, but the aftermath, will be discussed and taught here. Experiences like this make you question everything, including the purpose of…everything. I or we will never have all of the answers, but I do know we can find purpose in our suffering. I believe learning, teaching, and sharing through this podcast is a part of my purpose.
I’ve been teaching as long as I can remember. I’d help under classmen with football or lifting weights while I was in high school. I became a personal trainer before getting fired for having diarrhea and skipping mandatory aerobics classes. I taught classes during a brief stint in grad school, including a class called Pyschology of Success. I opened a CrossFit gym and taught all of that. Then I moved to Texas and worked for and with Mark Rippetoe during the end of the CrossFit barbell seminars and the early days of the Starting Strength seminars. I’ve coached, I dunno, a quarter million squats? Then I became a Green Beret, and at the core of everything, a Green Beret is a teacher. We cross train each other all the time, and I’ve taught trauma medicine to SF guys, U.S. infantry personnel, overseas contractors, and all kinds of different Afghans. I learn and synthesize new information all the time and I like to help other people improve aspects of their life while at the same time not getting butt hurt if they don’t listen to me. I say all this because it’s a big part of my life, and my hope is that you get something out of every episode.
I am grateful for all of the fine people who have played a role in my recovery and progress, especially to my family and friends that I have developed a deeper love for since almost dying. Love and compassion will be central themes in this show, because at the core of everything is our love and compassion for ourselves and others.
Since I’ve just been talking about myself, I’d like to give you some take home points of things you can actually do. I have a working model of emotional health. Taking care of and loving the self is a priority in order to cultivate connection with other people and have better success. I call the fundamentals “The Pillars of Emotional Health”. They are introspection, communication, empathy, and self-love. The ability to practice and consider personal feelings and needs, communicate them, understand others’ feelings and needs, and love and take care of the self are the foundation for connection and a fulfilling life. In order to learn these concepts, I have three “100% Books” – these are books that I think 100% of people should read.
The first is Dr. Marshall Rosenburg’s Non-Violent Communication which provides a model for communicating in conflict, but also for self-assessment and understanding others. The book doesn’t teach it deliberately, but it covers introspection, communication, and empathy. The second is Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, which is a guidebook on cultivating self-worthiness and compassion and had a significant impact on my life in 2019. The third book is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl survived Auschwitz and wrote about his experience, but the second half of the book gets into his psychotherapeutic approach called Logotherapy. Viktor’s philosophy is you can find meaning in your life, and it shifts over time. It can be meaning in you work, meaning in love (like a romantic relationship or family), and meaning in the face of unavoidable suffering. I know that last one pretty well. Reading Frankl’s work can help with improving our perspective or perceptions of the situations we find ourselves in. Generally, I would recommend reading the books in that order – Non-violent Communication, The Gifts of Imperfection, and then Man’s Search for Meaning, but if you’ve self-assessed a particular deficiency, start wherever you’d like.
I have one more category of actionable things you can do for yourself. I won’t fully get into each one, but there are three beneficial things that have huge impacts on everything else in life. They are: sleeping, journaling, and meditating. I have spent an abnormal amount of time researching neuro-psychology and sleep, and my emotions are directly correlated with sleep. Briefly, some things you can do right now to improve sleep are use a red filter on your phone after 8pm or so, dim the lights in the house as the night goes on, and manage your time to have a nine-hour sleep window. I like to say, nothing is more important than sleep, and creating habits to make sleep better is in our best interest. More on this later.
Journaling is an excellent practice of deliberate introspection, and the only comparable thing you can do is counseling. If you currently don’t like counseling or can’t afford it, journaling is a good start. You can use the previously mentioned books as journal prompts. Merely highlight things you want to explore and use it as a journaling prompt. Be kind to yourself and always ask “Why?” What are your feelings, and why? What are you grateful for, and why?
Lastly, meditating is a critical daily task that can be done anywhere from one to 20 minutes. Most of you “can’t sit still” or “can’t turn your brain off”. It’s because your brain and body have adapted to near constant abuse of crazy activity. Primarily from your cell phone. I don’t want to get into a complete dissertation, so I’ll just ask, “Do you think looking at your phone constantly is good for you?” Or, “Did we evolve to do so?” How nice would it be to put it down for a few minutes every day, close your eyes, and breathe deeply? Deep breathing has beneficial physiological effects that linger for hours. And you won’t “turn your brain off”, because that only happens when you die. The victory of meditating is not to “turn thoughts off”, it’s to recognize that you are actually thinking and return the focus to the breath. You may do it a hundred times in a session, but that’s the point. I’ve been meditating regularly since 2015, and there are many fantastic apps out there. Those apps have free sessions or you can use YouTube. You won’t have immediate success – which is true of literally anything in life anyway, so don’t apply that argument to this.
I just threw a bunch of stuff at you with three books and three tasks. You may either think they are great ideas or be irritated that I am telling you how to live. Or you’re glad for the advice but have a hard time implementing them. If that’s the case, please remember that no matter what, today you are still worthy of your own love. You aren’t defined by the application of new or healthier habits. I’ve never had anyone report back to me after doing any of these tasks with a negative review, but go easy on yourself in the meantime.
I’ve covered a variety of topics so far, but if you’re into this kind of stuff, then keep listening. We’ll talk about combat, medicine, love, music, philosophy, extremes of the human experience, and everything in between. My goal is not just to sit here and tell you how to live, but to cultivate critical thinking and compassion. And I also hope to find some amazing intellectuals to interview and am excited for such an opportunity.
One more note. I am doing all of this by myself. I have some okay microphones, but I’m recording and mixing all of this on my own. And I barely know what I’m doing. I won’t be editing any of the conversations unless the guest and I get into a slippery wrestling match. I’ll work out the kinks along the way and likely fail a time or two, but I’m used to that. And I’ll get better as we go, so thanks for your patience.
I appreciate you stopping by, and I look forward to sharing this journey with you on the Justin Lascek Podcast. Take care of yourselves, and put one foot in front of the other. Even if you ain’t got any.