Shannon McGurk

Shannon McGurk


Thank you for taking the time to read my story.  I’m the happily married father of 12 children and live on a farm in Virginia, but this is a miracle. In 1992, I was a broke, divorced father of a two-year-old son. I didn’t want to marry again and I didn’t want any more children. Today I have a strong marriage, eight sons and four daughters. Pretty crazy.

The most formative years of my adult life were in the Army. For 20 years I was an Armored Cavalry Officer and China Foreign Area Officer. I served in the U.S., Europe, throughout the U.S. Government, in The Pentagon, the Hong Kong Consulate and the Beijing Embassy. I left the Army in 2002 to start businesses but had to do it part time because I had to feed my family. I worked for Northrop Grumman, IBM, ManTech and other corporations. I got the best training in the world from the Army and these iconic American corporations.   I started my first business in 2002. Business ownership is scary, liberating and addictive, but making money using your creativity and wits is life-changing. I have started several companies, but I crashed the best one in 2007 when I tried to drive it too fast. That same month my daughter got cancer and that same year my son was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. Lots of challenges. Crashing that business when I did made me look hard in the mirror and confront my life. As a husband, as a father, as a man, I wasn’t stacking up. I had to learn new skills and dig deep to get back on my feet. I had to heal a lot of wounds I had caused. I had to grow, learn and improve. A lot. I think I have and I’d like to offer my own experiences to you.

 

If you’d like to dig a little deeper…

A few years ago a friend asked me some questions to practice his interviewing skills. Here are his questions, but I have updated some of the answers:

You were an Armored Cavalry officer in the U.S. Army. What was that like?

I joined the Army straight out of college and went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning Georgia. When I got there I asked to be an Armor Officer and was surprised when I was selected. Tanks have always fascinated me (“They’re crowd pleasers,” as the best Tank Commander I ever knew was fond of saying.) and I was especially taken by a very romantic scene in Hackett’s The Third World War in which a German Tank Commander is scanning the Fulda Gap, I think, and asks his Gunner to hand him up a thermos of coffee and some black bread. I can think of no better place in the world to have been in my early 20s than West Germany as a U.S. Army Tank Officer during the early years of the Reagan defense build-up. Three fascinating years in Europe assigned to a forward deployed Armored Division in Northern Germany was quite an education in power politics and there is nothing on God’s Earth like being a Tank Commander.

What did you like about the Army?

The genius of the U.S. Army (and Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, but I was a soldier) is that it provides systems that bring out the best in men. I was a soldier of average competence and if  you check with men who knew me on active duty, they would probably say I was below average. However, I served with phenomenal soldiers and NCOs and we were led by exceptional officers. We were part of a system that brought out the best in all of us, so I achieved better results than I deserved. The leaders I had my first 6 years in the Army were giants. I admire them to this day.

Anything stand out about Ground Cav in Europe?

Well, lots, but especially that serving there gave me a keen appreciation for Soviet Communism and touring Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp with a German friend brought the tragedy of The Holocaust alive for both of us. I lived in Bremen, which was known then as a Red Town, and Soviet propaganda was very aggressive. I had some very, very close German friends in Bremen but I also remember one incident in which a Green (a member of the Green Party—Germans used to say they were like watermelons, “Green on the outside, Red on the inside…”) followed me to a restaurant calling me a pig, saying President Reagan was a pig and that all American soldiers were baby killing fascists. My German friends embarrassed him into leaving, but it made an impression. It was strange because when we deployed our tanks to the East German border for a short time we had to drive through small German villages 2-3 miles from the militarized border with East Germany. As we drove through, the West German villagers who lived within view of the horrific East German border literally threw flowers onto our tanks and cheered because of course they knew that we were there to stop an invasion by the very capable Soviet-backed East German Army. Flower-throwing supporters were very different from the few Germans in Bremen who hated Americans. I also remember peering into East Germany and seeing the villages in East Germany right there on the border. They had been de-populated by the DDR, of course, because they were so close to the border, but when it got dark every light in the village would come on at once because they were all controlled by a single switch. They were Potemkin villages and it was eerie to see them with their lights on at dusk but empty of people and to hear the East German Field Artillery firing at night as we fell asleep in our border OP.

I also remember seeing crosses at the twists in roads that climbed mountains overlooking the East German border. I remember naively thinking how pretty the crosses were until I realized of course they were there to commemorate a family with seven children gunned down by East German guards as they tried to escape the East.

You were also a China Foreign Area Officer. What exactly is that?

In the 1960s the Army learned that we would benefit if we had Combat Arms officers who had some knowledge of other countries. To build up a corps of officers with foreign expertise the Army started the Foreign Area Office program. Officers were eligible to apply at about their sixth year of service. I applied as a lark, really, while I was a Cav Troop Commander with 3rd Cav when it was at Fort Bliss, Texas. I took a language aptitude test and scored high enough to apply for Category 4, difficult, language training. China has always fascinated me so I asked for China. Nobody was more surprised than I when I was accepted. China FAOs get 8-hour a day, 47 weeks of Mandarin training at the Defense Language Institute, fully funded Grad School (I went to UVA, which was the only university I had ever wanted to attend after college) and 18 months of living in the target country. When I joined we got to live in Hong Kong and travel from there throughout mainland China and pretty much anywhere in Asia where there was a sizeable Chinese population. As a result, we went all over China and Asia for 18 months and learned all we could, speaking Chinese, riding as many different forms of transportation as possible and getting to know China and its influence in the area. As Combat Arms officers we had kind of a distinctive point of view and it was a first class experience. I am grateful to the Army to this day for very happy memories of Germany, Hong Kong, China and everything else.

You were an Assistant Army Attaché at the Embassy in Beijing. Tell me a little about that.

Attachés are military officers assigned to embassies abroad to act as advisors to the ambassador and to serve as representatives of their countries’ armed forces to the host nation. In my case, obviously, I was assigned on a Diplomatic Passport to our embassy in Beijing. Attachés also interact with the other foreign attachés in that country’s capital. When I was in China the Beijing Attaché Corps was the second largest in the world, second, I think, only to London’s. That’s what I did for 3 years and it was a blast. We also interacted with the People’s Liberation Army and did what we could to strengthen the military relationship between the U.S. and China.

Anything stand out about your time in Beijing?

The framing events for my assignment were the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the Chinese downing of the U.S. EP-3 in 2001. My wife, our children and I lived in Beijing from 1998 to 2001 and it was very interesting experiencing those events and many others as diplomats in Beijing.

You have also been assigned to the Pentagon. How did you like that?

I greatly enjoyed working on the Joint Staff. I was a China Analyst and Briefer to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then was very pleased to be chosen as an Executive Assistant to the J2, who is the principal Intelligence Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Great privilege. Long hours.

During your time in the Army, I know that you experienced very dangerous situations. What was the most useful tool you had to face them?

Excellent training by the best trainers in the world. Any dangers I experienced were nothing compared to the dangers others have had to face. However, in any dangerous situation I think what gives American military personnel an unparalleled edge is their training. U.S. military training makes possible above average results from all of us who are average, largely well-intended people. We have been trained to take action, and shown how to be selfless in service to a higher loyalty to our comrades, unit, mission or, lastly only because it’s so theoretical, this great country. I say country last only because it’s not what men think of when they fight but it is often what they think of before and after they fight.

How has your time in the Army helped shape the man you are today?

It taught me to love structure, self-discipline, cheerfulness, motivation, humility, fitness and professionalism. It taught me that action conquers fear and hesitation. It taught me the courtesy of kings– punctuality. Finally, it granted me entrée into the international world of soldiers, which is a great world to belong to.

What has the Army taught you that you think are indispensable lessons for all men?

I hope I learned what I call Soldierly Virtues. Some of the values I consider Soldierly Virtues that I believe other men can use to their advantage:

— a disdain for people who complain

— a cheerful willingness to undergo hardship

— a good natured contempt for men who won’t try to do something more difficult than they can easily accomplish

— a rough sense of humor

— the value of one minute

— absolute confidence I don’t have to prove anything to anyone but myself

— willingness to serve in the knowledge that service is noble

— recognition that all men experience fear but that mastering fear is what makes you courageous

— tears are nothing to be ashamed of as long as you don’t let them immobilize you

— cowards are dangerous to everyone around them

— panic is death

— appearance matters

— the importance of balancing competing loyalties

— the importance of keeping your commitment to other men you respect

How about after the Army?

After the Army I worked for Northrop Grumman, IBM and for ManTech International as an employee. I also had just finished reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Cash Flow Quadrant. We had just had our 6th child and I was pretty sure we would have more (we were blessed with our 12th child in December 2014) so I knew I had to get better at being profitable because I didn’t want my family’s financial welfare to be in somebody else’s hands. I had set as my goal to work my way through the Cash Flow Quadrant ©—Employee, Self-Employed, Business Owner, Investor– so I began starting businesses. My first effort almost got off the ground but did not quite, so I had to begin starting part-time businesses. I had read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and couldn’t get enough of entrepreneurial self-help and self-education. I discovered Jim Rohn, Direct Sales, Network Marketing, Tax Planning, Investing, Real Estate and Consulting. You never forget the first time you make 5 figures in two weeks and once you do you want to do it again and again. I had a brief stint in the Beauty Salon Industry, worked as a consultant to Northrop Grumman, learned that there are lots of ways to make a lot more money than as an employee and got hooked on business and the idea of Passive Residual Income. Learned a lot, didn’t quit and have had a blast.

You came pretty close to losing it all due to business collapse and a cancer diagnosis in one of your children, though. Tell me about that.

Yes. In November 2007 when pregnant with our 9th child, the profitable real estate business a partner and I had built from scratch collapsed when our tenants stopped paying rent. That same month our 7th child, who was four years old, was diagnosed with cancer. I had many mortgages hanging around my neck, mounting medical bills, some very serious tax implications and the credentials I needed to work for Northrop Grumman were endangered because of all our financial problems. It was a nightmare. In hindsight, though, it was all a blessing because I had to step back, re-tool, re-think, and re-evaluate what was important to me. I had to re-define success and re-map a route to financial independence.

What advice do you wish you had been given when you were 18 years old?

Well, I am sure I was given this advice but I wish I had followed it. It is likely the same advice most of us at 54 wish we had followed: “Be more diligent in your studies, treat every person, especially girls and later, of course women, in a way you will be proud of when you have daughters of your own, don’t be careless in how you treat anyone and never forget the wonderful saying often attributed to a Roman philosopher but which was actually said by  Ian MacLaren , “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Oh, and don’t forget about the power of compound interest! Start saving 10% with your first job and never quit!

What has been the most difficult challenge you had to overcome in your life to become a better man?

Conquering my temper and moderating my appetites.

Who are some of your mentors? Why do you consider them your mentors?

I have many, most of whom are from history and whose books, writings and lectures I study, but the most significant are my father, Colonel Jack Burress McGurk, US Army, retired, veteran of World War II, The Korean War and The Vietnam War, who died October 31, 2012 , MG Thomas H. Tait, US Army, retired, Dr. Rafael Madan, who also died October 31, 2012, and my first martial arts instructor, Mr. George Noble.

What mistakes do you wish you had made at a younger age?

I made my most long-lasting catastrophic mistakes in my early teens, but I wish I had had more significant financial setbacks from profitable businesses sooner. If I had crashed profitable businesses in my 20s and 30s I would have learned more quickly what I know now.

You like to say, “Every day I am going to the Super Bowl.” Can you explain this saying?

We have a choice every minute of every day to perform like it’s the most important moment of our lives, as if everything (and I mean everything) hangs in the balance of that one moment. I try to remember that if I treat every day that way then ultimately the quality of my life will be better. It doesn’t mean you showboat and you don’t do it for someone else, you do it for yourself. You do it because we don’t get to live twice and every breath we breathe could be our last. Every single second is a gift.

You also like to say, “See you on the high ground.” Can you explain this saying?

I loved being a Tank Commander. I cringe as I write that because as I get older I see all the many failings I had as an officer, but I really loved it. In ground maneuver warfare the key terrain, almost always high ground, is critical and seizing high ground gives you an advantage over any adversary. So– I want others to know I am going for key terrain to win and I hope they are, too, and we are not in competition for it. Now, the flip side of that is that key terrain is what the enemy targets precisely because it’s valuable so you have to remember that when you seize key terrain someone may be targeting it and you, so be careful and mindful as you succeed. Reinforce, strengthen, and protect whatever you decide to fight for. It has the additional advantage of a dual meaning because I think we should all strive to stay on the moral high ground, too.

When anybody speaks with you, and I mean anybody (a store clerk, gas station attendant, a regular guy, a high power individual) they leave the conversation refreshed, motivated, upbeat. What do you attribute this to?

You are kind to say that. Thank you. We always find what we look for. In people if we look for good we will find it. I like to find good things. I love to discover hidden value– it’s all around us, in people, real estate, stocks, currencies, opportunity. We never know, we never know where that good may be hiding and we never know how our actions influence others. I never want to be casual in how I treat other people. As a young man– until I met my wife at 30 at which point I only started to turn around and it is because of her– I hurt many, many people through carelessness and selfishness. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of the many people whose lives I impacted in a negative way when I was a teenager and young man. Now I want to repay many debts I can never repay but I do want to try.