HIGH POINT, N.C., Jan. 9, 2015 – Whether he was surrounded by enemy fire in Afghanistan or handling a hostage situation with Somali pirates in the middle of the sea, Robert O’Neill reminded himself of a simple truth.
Success is not obtained. It’s rented, and the rent is due every day.
O’Neill is a Navy SEAL combat veteran who completed more than 400 combat missions and led the military’s most elite. He shared lessons in leadership, gained from his time in four different theaters of war, with 600 High Point University students and community members in the Hayworth Fine Arts Center on Jan. 9. The event was standing-room only, and the audience gave O’Neill two standing ovations.
“I tell people about the challenges we faced and how we fought through those problems,” O’Neill said. “I share my theory of success and how it’s about moving forward.”
With most of his career shrouded in a classified cloak, O’Neill was the man on the ground we have never heard of but know exists. He was one of the quiet professionals performing the most difficult tasks in the most difficult circumstances, serving in the shadows and keeping America safe in the process.
He recently went public about his part in SEAL Team Six and the mission to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound. Other high profile missions he was involved in have made their way to the big screen, including “Captain Phillips” and “Lone Survivor.” While O’Neill’s name isn’t mentioned in the films, he was one of the real-life heroes who saved American citizens and preserved freedom – tales he also shared with the audience.
Other lessons included simple truths brought to life by his stories.
“Never quit,” he offered as part of the mantra of the Navy SEALs, who complete extensive training.
“Stress is a choice,” he added. “It’s a bag of bricks you carry over your shoulder, and you can put it down anytime.”
“Complacency kills, and what causes complacency? Success,” he said.
While his experience in war aren’t common for most, the skills and the knowledge of Seal Team Six apply to everyone, including college students.
“When you get out of college and start working for a company, don’t be intimidated by those who are outperforming you,” O’Neill said. “Learn from them and work alongside them. For 17 years of my life, I got to go to war with people that were better than me, and everyone else thought their teammates were better than them too. We never let it intimidate us.”
“As a graduating senior, the words and testimonies of Robert O’Neill not only apply to a person in combat, but also to each of us in our daily lives,” said HPU student Molly Phalen. “We are in total control of our attitude and the outcome of our success. In my four years at HPU, I have heard many great men and women speak. The opportunity to listen to a man who has been places and seen things that none of us could imagine was incredible.”
O’Neill finished his SEAL career after 17 years of service. But that doesn’t mean he’s finished learning, growing and giving back to his country.
“I’m here today because I never quit. This nation is proof that it will protect its people and it will never quit,” he said. “I’m 38, but I’m excited because my life starts now.”