Combining my military experience and passion for health into a lifelong career

When I enlisted in the Marines, I knew it would be hard, but I wanted to defend my country. I assumed I was ready to fight wars. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t.

While I had endurance going for me, you wouldn’t have described me as physically imposing. I could run for miles, but if you threw a few too many pounds on my back, I struggled to keep up. Despite my limitations, I deployed to Iraq as a field radio operator. In between patrols, I lifted weights to pass time, like so many Marines do. I began to build more strength. Two months in, I had gained 17 pounds of muscle and my peers started to treat me differently, trusting me more.

That trust eventually led to more responsibility, too. I was given a billet of platoon sergeant, something typically reserved for Marines two ranks higher. In addition to my tasks as radio chief, I was entrusted with the tactical and technical proficiencies of the Marines in my unit.

Eventually, I was ready to take on another adventure — civilian life. Having served as a platoon sergeant, I had the tools necessary to lead, and I felt surprisingly well-equipped to tackle the civilian world. I decided to pursue a career in strength and conditioning and started my degree in exercise science at Arizona State. While I thought I was ready to be a coach, I quickly realized I didn’t know much about the human body. But I remembered what a staff sergeant once told me: “Keep asking questions until someone tells you to stop.” So I regularly asked my professors questions and absorbed as much information as I could, talking to them before and after lectures.

Having served as a platoon sergeant, I had the tools necessary to lead, and I felt surprisingly well-equipped to tackle the civilian world.

Hard work is the first step toward achieving any goal and taking your career all the way.

As the final step toward earning my degree, I had to complete an internship. I applied to EXOS in Arizona and learned I was competing with over 500 applicants. I knew I needed to find a way to stand out. I signed up as a participant in a study about stress markers before and after exercise at their facility so I could try to meet more people who worked there. I even tracked down the company’s director of tactical business development. My efforts paid off. I secured an internship.

When I started, I learned very quickly — once again — that I wasn’t as ready as I thought. There was so much more to learn. I watched one of the experienced coaches and now performance manager, Eric Dannenberg, train an elite rugby athlete and an elite handball athlete, and I remember thinking I could only hope to reach his level. It seemed so far outside my scope, as if I was in the right place at the wrong time. But I thought to myself, “I will make it the right time.”

I quit my job and devoted all efforts to my internship. If I wanted to work in this field, I had a lot of catching up to do and only two months to take in as much as I could. I showed up before the facility opened and left when it closed, observing and participating in sessions all day.

What I lacked in experience, I would make up for in work ethic.

You might hear a lot of nos but that doesn’t mean the right yes won’t come along. And when it does, the work doesn’t stop. It’s just another beginning, another opportunity to grow.

At the time, our intern team was short staffed because the facility was experiencing a record-breaking summer. To me, that meant more work and more opportunities. What I lacked in experience, I would make up for in work ethic. That was something the Marines taught me; make up for your weakness by leaning even further into your strength.

I finished my internship and earned my degree. Even better, my time in the service and my degree in strength and conditioning helped me secure a temporary position working on a research project with EXOS and one of its largest partners. I was tasked to run a data collection technology prototype. However, the project eventually came to an end and that meant so did my employment with EXOS.

I entertained the idea of re-entering the service to apply what I’d learned. Then, a door opened. I was encouraged to apply for a tactical education specialist role at EXOS in Florida. I would be going up against people who had been working in the field for decades. Again, I felt underqualified. But that didn’t stop me from trying before. Why start now? I landed the job.

But for that first year, I was relentless in my self-education. Coaches in similar roles had years of experience working in sport and as a result, they were great educators. I didn’t have the same level of experience, but I was determined to get it.

Looking back, I believe it was my willingness to learn that led to so many open doors and ultimately resulted in a number of lifelong friendships. It’s been three years and I’m asked on a regular basis how I ended up leading tactical education at EXOS. Here’s a quick guide you can use as you’re working toward your own goals:

1. Choose for yourself.

The route may not be easy, but the choice should be. Where do you want to be and what choices do you have to make to end up there?

2. Have a mantra and a mission.

My mantra was “indomitable.” It reminded me that I was capable even when I didn’t feel good enough. My mission was “evolve to rise for freedom.” These still drive all my actions and strategies.

3. Embrace discomfort.

Every transformative moment for me was preceded by intense discomfort, either through a forced realization of humility or through hard work.

4. Put your team first.

Everything else is secondary. When you’ve provided for your team, they’ll provide for you.

5. Realize that superiority is an illusion.

Your ego provides little to no worth and gets in the way of growth. It only serves to provide mental security. Bury it, and you will grow.

Want to start your own career in health and performance? Learn more about EXOS internships.

About the Author

Giovani Urrutia

Giovani Urrutia is a performance specialist leading education and training for tactical populations. His passion for physical performance has led him to working in a myriad of environments, from highest level of sport to tactical spheres, domestic and international.

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