Unknown Known: A Confrontation You Cannot Avoid

by | Aug 11, 2023 | Latest Essays

War fighters and war planners all lose sleep at night when they consider, perhaps, the most elusive and dangerous reality of war.  It’s aptly named, the “Unknown Known.”  

Mark Wahlberg, in the movie Mile 22, plays a hyper intelligent CIA spook that, after engaging in a failed mission with a top secret group of operators (called Over Watch), is debriefed by federal officials to explain the group’s failure.  

In his explanation, Wahlberg invokes the “Unknown Known” – that thing which you know exists but do not know about and cannot even imagine.  It’s only after the full impact is felt that we can know what the “unknown known” is. 

This is a war fighter’s worst nightmare.  Trained to manage risks, especially the catastrophic risk of mission failure and when lives are on the line, a war fighter cannot plan for the thing he knows exists but does not know about, nor can even imagine.

Tier one teams, such as the Seal teams, plan their missions around the various specifications and rules of engagement contained in their orders.  When planning and reviewing the execution of the mission, these teams do “dirt dives” – that is, (traditionally) sketch out their mission, the various moving parts – the synchronization required, timing, rally points, and so on – by drawing out the entire field and scale of operation, oftentimes in the dirt.

With this in mind, imagine you are planning a mission where your own life hangs in the balance, and you have accounted for every variable – except that variable that you know exists but is entirely unknown to you.  That’s really uncomfortable.  

But, here’s the real kicker…this scenario is playing out in the lives of millions upon millions of men right now.  

The truth is…you’re in the fight of your life, and you don’t even know it.

This fight is more insidious than any one event, and it plays out over the course of many years – robbing you of your birthright as a man.

Just like the war fighter planning for a mission, the nagging and uncomfortable feeling that has plagued you for years upon years is now the only indication that your life – when analyzed like a mission – is in the midst of probable failure due to the influence of a powerful and pervasive unknown known.  

And, if things don’t change soon, your life’s mission – that’s your unique purpose – will be fully in jeopardy (perhaps even lost).

That’s a massive, mushroom cloud-sized problem, because your unique purpose is unique to you.  It’s your most foundational, personal monopoly in this life.  No one is exactly like you.  

To be clear, your birthright is your purpose – unique only to you.

Imagine that…you are one-of-a-kind with a unique purpose in this life.  So, why are we all trying to wrestle ourselves into a life for which we were not made when there is so much more waiting for us?  

As the old adage goes – Are you fighting for scraps on the floor when there is a seat reserved for you at the banquet table?  

Perhaps it’s time to take your seat.

While there are many reasons we live the way we live and do the things we do, our mission now is to create tectonic-sized shifts by discovering those things for which we were made to do – and do them!

Not only is that powerful, but many men cannot imagine how much freedom and deep satisfaction this can generate – freedom from want, confusion, anger, and apathy – replaced with confidence, decisiveness, strength and courage.

To get started, that is, to first identify the unknown known that is robbing you of your life’s purpose, of meaning and deep satisfaction, we must consider our decision making process in a metaphorical context to better see this process objectively – and to allow the proper emotional space to accurately assess the gap that exists between who we are and who we were made to be.  

For this, we will utilize the phrase, “operating system,” as a proxy for our decision-making process (although operating systems will include other aspects of ourselves).  Further, we are going to do a deeper dive to uncover what “bad code” might be running in our operating system.  Identifying this bad code holds the key to helping you to discover and reclaim your birthright – your purpose.  What could be better?  

As you imagine life lived through the blueprint of a unique purpose, I’m betting you are struck by just how awesome that might be.  For many, just the thought of having a “permanent compass” to guide their thoughts, words and deeds is both liberating and a massive relief.  

Men shouldn’t have to guess about who they are or what they should be doing.  Nor should men need to ask others if they are making an impact or doing a “good job.”  Find your purpose; all that nonsense evaporates into thin air.  You’re left with focus, direction, clarity and certainty.

However, our “bad code” often leads us in directions that are not congruent with our unique purpose, subjugates our priorities to what are ultimately meaningless quests and endless detours, and facilitates the gradual deterioration of relationships and personal alliances.  In the end, the inner downward spiral of living a life outside our purpose can lead to desperation and dramatically failing mental health.  Some have described this as the hamster wheel of life.  Well, it’s time to get off this ride.

So it stands to reason that our collective and individual motivation to uncover and replace the bad code in our operating systems is locked-in and powerful.  However, this process can be difficult, because we must confront ourselves, the lives we have lived, and the things we have done.  Seen in a different light and with multiple and varied perspectives, the view our lives reveal can be painful and regrettable.  

But, regret and judgment are not part of this process – these are luxuries that we cannot afford.  To move forward and see what must be done to create positive change, we cannot get bogged down with regret or shame.  What we must do to win is focus our energy on the necessary information needed to change.  Our past is simply (for now) a baseline for change – to see it as more than that will hinder your progress into the future.  

As Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic wrote, “Think of yourself as dead, you have lived your life.  Now take what’s left and live it properly.”

This path is difficult enough in and of itself.  In fact, think of this process as a powerful step towards your future, and when the process becomes tough (even painful), think of it as your penance for what might have been a squandered and regrettable past – and move forward to live life properly.  That is sufficient, and you must acknowledge that.  Because, you will be tempted to look away from what you discover, or worse yet to create stories around the past – how it wasn’t what it truly was.  You will be tested in how you see your life up to this point, and how you respond.  

This is, perhaps surprisingly, very good news.  We need more tough tasks to conquer, and there is no tougher task than turning yourself inside out to become the man you were made to be.  Seneca, in Ox Providence, 4.3 may have said it best when it comes to testing ourselves, “You have passed through life without an opponent–no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”  We must test ourselves and our lived experience up to this point – and decide what we really want for ourselves and our families.

Yes, we must be tested, because we must know our capabilities.  The time has not come to lay down and quit; the time has arrived for you to reclaim your life – your very birthright – and live out your purpose knowing the deep satisfaction of a man who has fought the good fight and aligned his unique skills with the needs of this broken world to bring strength and light to its widening darkness.  That’s what happens when we live through our unique purpose.  

There are things in the world that only you can and should accomplish.  It’s time to choose that path – your unique path.  

This is the path of those men who choose to be citizens of the CONQUER CULTURE.  Join us – there is much to do and little time to do it.

If this essay and its contents resonate with you, go to https://conquerculture.com/courses/  – use the slider on the right hand side of the page that reads “Get on the Waiting List” and select Tip of the Spear and Hunting Bad Code.  These courses deal specifically with the subject matter contained in this essay.

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