I recently completed my memoir about my experience as an American woman serving in the Israeli security community and I have something to confess: my initial drafts were total garbage. (Israeli soldiers would actually refer to it as “juice of the garbage.”) The reason for this was I tried to sound like someone I wasn’t.
When I first sat down at my laptop to start pulling together the story of how I broke into the Israeli security field, I wanted my audience to see me not as a nerdy, insecure, fresh-off-the-boat grad student with chronic anxiety, but as David Goggins. (Yeah, you know who I’m talking about: the U.S. Navy SEAL I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn-What-You-Think-Of-Me Goggins.) In other words, I wanted people to read my story and be like ooooh wow she is totally bold like James Bond or that girl be strong like the Incredible Hulk. You get the picture. And when my husband, the unfortunate alpha reader, first looked over this draft, he told me in his very polite Utah way that the story sucked.
It sucked because it was false.
The irony of all this was that by trying to make myself appear to be someone I wasn’t, I had touched upon the magical nerve center of my story. The real story. I was a nerdy, insecure, fresh-off-the-boat grad student with chronic anxiety who was trying to look like David Goggins as I went on to compete with some of Israel’s toughest commandos, with hilarious and soul-searching consequences.
Goggins Photo Credit: Tie Breaker Magazine
When I rewrote my memoir draft, I told the true story about who I was and what was going through my mind as I strived to gain entry into the Israeli security community with my nerdy, little proverbial pickaxe clenched between my manicured-fingers: I was anxious, I was naïve, I screwed up plenty, I was freaking out constantly in my head while putting on the James Bond act, and guess what? I still got what I needed by the end of the story.
Not only that, but I decided to allow David Goggins to still come along for the ride. Read on to find out how…
Below is an excerpt from my memoir draft that took place in the summer of 2014 in Tel Aviv during the war with Gaza (Operation Protective Edge), near the end of my military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF):
I went for my usual run that night along the river in Yarkon Park, alternating between blasting music on my headphones and listening to David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL who talked about mental toughness. I liked to pretend sometimes that I was as tough as Goggins, although I knew this was laughable. I felt like a bad ass running 10Ks a few times a week with some calisthenics in between; Goggins ran ultramarathons and kicked the beans out of terrorists in Iraq.
Near the end of basic training when I was so exhausted I thought I would fall apart, I would sneak off behind the weapons warehouses and listen to Goggins on my headphones. Sometimes after a really rough day, he quipped, it wasn’t about winning—it was about not quitting.
“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit,” said Goggins. “But it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.”
I stared up at the stars above the park. I missed the way the sky looked in the desert, the clarity in which entire constellations revealed themselves, unpolluted by the city lights. I even missed those ridiculous teenaged soldiers sometimes, the girls I had shared a tent with in basic training in the desert. In the meantime, I continued to run across the park, letting the battle-hardened Goggins fill my ears: “Every day I’m trying to find out what I’m made of. I’m looking for my limits, limits to the human soul. Every day I’m trying to see if I have limits. My life doesn’t have a finish line.”
“Come on, Goggins,” I huffed, running harder along the river. “It would be nice once in awhile to see a finish line, don’t you think?”
“You have to be a strong individual first,” he continued, “before you can be a strong team player.”
“What’s that Navy SEALs motto again, Goggins?”
“The only easy day was yesterday,” he crooned.
I didn’t realize how loud I was blasting my headphones until the impact from the rocket exploding above the park caused my knees to buckle. I caught myself before hitting the ground, looking up just in time to see the rocket splintering into flames in the inky black sky above the park. It was only after I ripped the headphones off that I heard the sirens in the background of the city. There was always this unnatural silence between the actual blast and the shrapnel making impact with the ground—everything silent, except for the wail of the air raid sirens.
I sprinted towards the nearest tree and threw myself face down in the dirt, covering my head with my arms, just as I heard the chunks of shrapnel landing in the Yarkon River in loud burning flashes. Another smaller piece of shrapnel landed only a few meters away from where I was lying on the ground. I shrieked and hugged my knees, making myself as small as possible.
Damn it, why couldn’t I be more like Goggins?
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Oh hey, you see what I did there? I finally admitted to myself YOU ARE NOT GOGGINS! And that’s ok. Actually, it works out just fine, as long as it’s the truth.
And by the way, Goggins, if you’re reading this, I just know you’re terrified of getting into a fire fight with Jessica Walton. Yeah, I said it. Bring it on. :-)
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About Jessica Lauren Walton: Jessica is a communications strategist, video producer, and writer in the U.S. defense industry. She has written articles on a range of security and mental health topics and conducted interviews with military leadership, psychologists, journalists, CIA officers, filmmakers, and more. Jessica recently completed her memoir about her experience as an American woman struggling with mental illness while trying to get into Israeli intelligence.