Jocko Willink’s Rules for Success (as a wave poem)

Sometimes, it seems to me, poetry is just thoughts well spoken. Witnessing a good poem can be like experiencing a perfect conversation. Unless you’re writing an epic tale that speaks to a specific literary tradition (like Dante and Milton did with the Bible) poetry does not need to be esoteric.

People often speak poetry. I hear it in conversation all the time. Jocko Willink makes poetry in his podcast sometimes. But there’s a deep and essential difference between video or audio and text. Text is quicker to consume, like code.

For example, you can watch Jocko lay out his top ten rules for success for 20 minutes and enjoy the ASMR. Maybe the motion and the physicality of Jocko’s voice and presence better implants his ideas in your mind:


A poem takes less time to deliver, but demands more attention and focus to stick. This is not a value judgement. We all spend our time on earth differently. But poetry skirts the line between written and spoken word. Both how a poem looks on the page and how it sounds in your mind matters. Performance is important, but in poetry the appearance on the page is also vital.

As a case study, I’ve edited Jocko’s rules for success into a wave poem:


Jocko’s Rules for Success:


When things go bad, good things come.

Got beat? Good. You learned. If you’re still

breathing, well then hell. Get up. Re-

load. Recalibrate. Attack.


Discipline is the root

of freedom, of flexibility, of intelligence.

Discipline your ego so you make good decisions.

Face your fears. Control your desires. Discipline

calls for strength, and fortitude, and will. It won’t

accept weakness. It won’t tolerate another

break down. Discipline means taking

the uphill road, doing what helps

you and your team.


You want to improve? You want

to write a book, to make an app, to sing, to be a SEAL?

You want to get better? Where do you start?

Start here. When do you start? Start now. Initiate

the action aggressively. You go. The idea

isn’t executing itself You have to do

it now, so get after it here. Stop

debating and just do it. Take

that step.


Strength is weakness.

So, me? I am weak. But I don’t accept it.

I don’t accept that I am what I am and that

that is what I’m doomed to be. No. I’m fighting.

I’m struggling. I’m scrapping, and I’m kicking

and I’m clawing at those weaknesses to change

Them. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I don’t,

but each day I get up with my fist clenched

toward the battle, as I struggle

to be better today.


In college I read

every book assigned. I sat down and forced

myself to read every single page of every single

thing. It’s almost stupid. It’s almost a waste

of time. Lock that brain down and get it

done. Boom. Laser focus.

Report. Done.


One instinct to look out

For, this lier, this saboteur, this backbiter,

like the devil, a shapeshifter, disguised as your best

interest, this instinct says you’ve done enough, you can

stand down, you can take a knee. Do not listen. It wants

a place of sympathy, a place where all of these failures

can gather in comfort and drown their sorrows in lies

and deception. They tell you it’s ok to settle.

You need to smash those

into the ground.

Fight on.


Millions of warriors have faced evil

and faced death much worse in other times and places,

in much worse situations, Gettysburg, or Vicksburg or the Battle

of the Bulge, and all of those horrible situations, they prove

that you can withstand unimaginable stress.

You’ve got to detach. If you can’t control

something, embrace what you can

control. Stop worrying

about what you can’t control.

Don’t fight the stress, turn

it on itself, use it to make

yourself sharper

more alert.


Do it

when you don’t want to. When you say

I can push it off a little bit, Jody

wouldn’t accept that answer.

Don’t self talk. Don’t say

I’m going to do this

or I’m going to do

that. just do it.


How do you step

into bravery? Step. Step. Take

the step. Step aggressively toward

your fear, and that step toward what

you don’t know, that simple action,

that simple attitude, answers with

bravery. Mitigate the risk,

and ease into it, you will

overcome your fear.

But take that first

step to inoculate

yourself against

the fear in your mind.


When you practice

any skill set, when you train,

you get it. It’s something anybody

can get. Practice

every day

for that decisive



That text takes less than five minutes to read out loud, same content, slight voice variation, but the points are all still there. We spend our time in all kinds of ways, and I like listening to Jocko talk. If 20 minutes listening to a message makes it stick better for you than grappling with a text for five minutes, great. Just realize what affects you and how.

With poetry as (with all literature) the content is also easier to debate. Any emotion involved gets projected by the reader, rather than the speaker. I see value in acting, but also I believe that both words and actions can set off tornadoes (which is why the first and second amendments to the U.S. Constitution are still so hotly debated), so it’s important to also be mindful of how we apply our efforts and why.