Dakota Meyer joined the Marines at the age of 17. His service took him from his self-described simple and conservative life in Kentucky to the war zone of Afghanistan, where his combat team was caught in a deadly ambush. Disobeying direct orders to stay out of harm’s way, Meyer raced into the fight, saving the lives of dozens of Marines and Afghan soldiers, and recovering the bodies of four of his fallen brothers. For those selfless actions, President Barack Obama presented him with the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2011.
Meyer now tours as a motivational speaker, advocates for veteran employment and has taken a full dive into the world of entrepreneurship. He currently runs two companies: Dakota Meyer Enterprises (construction and general contractor) and DM Tactical LLC (training for the federal government.)
Here are five lessons he’s learned during his incredible journey from Kentucky kid to Medal of Honor recipient to small-business leader.
1. You can find inspiration in your darkest hours.
“This medal is something I wish I never received. It represents the worst day of my life, but the attention that it got me made me want to do great things to honor the lives of my fallen brothers. After the ceremony, I experienced different parts of the world, experienced different types of people -- it lit a fire in me to give me more confidence in myself and it showed me to make the most of every moment.”
2. You must be comfortable with risk.
“Being in the Marine Corps and doing the job I did, there is a lot of risk involved. It made me comfortable with risk. Being an entrepreneur is all about risk. Being an entrepreneur is like going to Vegas every day and shoving all of your chips into the middle of the table every single day. It doesn’t matter how big of a company you have, I always tell people that you are one job away from being broke. And if you don’t live that way, you’ll be broke.”
3. Surround yourself with people smarter than you.
“Business is just like sports: if you’re the best in the group that you run in, you’re never going to get any better. It’s the same thing in business. I surround myself with people who are smarter than me and have more experience than me, and I have gotten a lot of great advice. Mark Gross, CEO and founder of Oak Grove Technologies, which specializes in tactical training and intelligence services, has been an amazing help. He gives me straight scoop, and that’s what you need. He tells me this will work, this won’t, and that advice is amazing.”
4. Do yourself a favor and hire a veteran.
“Over the next year, there’s going to be 250,000 veterans getting out of the military. I think it’s crazy that people look at it like, 'Oh, we need to give these men and women jobs.' That’s crazy! As a business owner, I look at it like, ‘There’s only 250,000, if I don’t hurry up and hire as many of these people as I can get, I lose out.’ A veteran is a person who has proven themselves in an uncontrolled, unstable environment. That’s the kind of person I want on my team."
5. If you don’t care, no one will.
"At the end of the day, no one is going to care about your company as much as you do. That is a motto that you will live or die by. And if you don’t believe that, just take your eye off the ball for a day and watch what happens. The only business owners that fail are the ones who gave up. You are going to be tested every day, every hour, every minute. You need to be up for that and you need to welcome that. And if you do, you will succeed."