From Hippie to United States Marine

How Shawn Rhodes Built His Life upon Warrior Ethos


Shawn Rhodes grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, moonshining country, where walking through the woods barefoot with a banjo in your hand wasn’t just a normal day but a way of life. 

Shawn and friends jammin’ out in North Carolina

He was a 17 year-old long-haired hippie touting Birkenstock sandals and prayer beads who had grown up sheltered from ideas of fighting and war. Yet, since he was a boy, he was fascinated with Eastern Philosophy and the Martial Arts. He wanted to be a “modern day samurai,” as he so eloquently puts it. 

Shawn has always been a very calculated person and as his yearning for the warrior lifestyle began to burn hotter within him, he began researching the organizations that could provide him with the environment to pursue his ambition. His search quickly found him looking toward the Military as he asked himself which branches best represented the warrior culture.

To him, the Marine Corps were the only ones positioning themselves as such. Instead of being told what they could offer him, The Marine Corps flipped it around and asked, what can you do for us? That spoke to Shawn’s heart and soul. He wanted to serve and through that dedicated service he would earn the honor, courage, and commitment he was searching for within.


After sitting down with a Marine Recruiter, he took the ASVAB which saw him scoring low on everything but verbal comprehension. That was the one part he scored off the charts on because he always found a passion in reading and writing. The Marine Corps recruiter observed his natural strengths and asked if he’d be interested in writing and photography because combat correspondence was the only thing that fit his skills at that point. 

He was only 17 years old at the time, which meant he had to have a parent or guardian sign off on his enlistment. This person would be his Mother, which he had to pitch his three choices to in order to earn her greenlight.

Curtailing his narrative around the ever-increasing danger of each choice, he explained the first option of doing battlefield logistics as a pretty dangerous job. The next option was that of an infantrymen, the ones putting rounds down range, the option his mother quickly dismissed. Finally, he told her about his interest in being a combat correspondent. He’d explained that he would simply be covering the war and wouldn’t be all that risky. She was sold and signed her son off to Military Service.

Shawn in a Foxhole in Iraq after days of mortar fire and little sleep

The irony of this story is that during his time in service, he was often attached to infantry units, forward deployed to Iraq, where he spent a good amount of time kicking in doors during some of the most intense battles in Marine Corps history.

Shawn earned the title United States Marine at MCRD Parris Island and went on to begin his career as a Combat Correspondent, now known as a Strategy and Communications Marine. His passion for Martial Arts led him to fables of ancient warrior tribes who would send one soldier back home to tell the story of the heroism and valor witnessed on the battlefield.

“I was there to tell the stories of Heroes…”

“…I attached to them, deployed with them, but never measured myself up to them. That was their full-time job, I was moving in and out of units almost at will.” He continues, “To see the sacrifice these men and women were making on the battlefield everyday through two tours in Iraq — I always called myself a battlefield tourist because I was really there to make sure their stories could get told back home to the people who needed to hear them.”

One of Shawn’s most notable memories happened during his first deployment to Iraq. It was the first recruitment day for the Iraqi National Guard. There were hundreds of Iraqis lined up to sign up and begin the fight to get their country back.

A Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) barreled down upon the event. Two Iraqi National Guardsman shot the vehicle until it detonated. The two suicide bombers and the two Iraqi National Guardsman were the only ones who lost their lives that day. To Shawn, even though those warriors were from a different tribe, the amount of respect he had for their bravery and valor was all the same. 

Shawn at a FOB in Iraq, circa 2004

Shawn knew rather quickly that he was only going to do one enlistment;

“After my first tour in Iraq [I knew] that getting shot at wasn’t going to be a long term life-goal.”

After Shawn’s second deployment was over, he was given two weeks in the green zone with little responsibility before he was shipped back home to the states. That was their way of preparing him for life back home while being given no psychological training to deal with the things he had just seen and done.

He felt like they did very little to prepare him for life after combat and much less for life after service. Within the year he had just experienced combat — he separated from the Marine Corps and began his first semester at college.

“To me the hardest part was — how do I connect with all the civilians who don’t have any Military experience?”

He continues, “I would see many of them everywhere I went. Of course they were full of platitudes and thanked me for my service — yellow ribbons on trees but if I would start to talk about the things I had done, I felt like I was being alienated. They’d be like ‘that’s nice but GOD you are crazy!” 

Shawn highlights the beginning of his transition and how the only way he could relate to the people around him was through alcohol. He was a 22 year old Marine combat Veteran living at a University surrounded by teenage kids who were inexperienced and immature. He had survived two combat tours, visited over 24 countries, and already completed a career — what else could he relate to them with?

Shawn and college roommate performing at an open mic night

But those weren’t the darkest times. The darkest times came during the beginning days of his civilian employment. In the Military, he was taught to do the best he could at everything he did. To excel no matter what. He didn’t realize that the civilian sector wasn’t designed for that sort of gung-ho motivator, get-shit done mentality. Apparently it comes off as arrogant which ends up making others look bad. This is bad juju in the corporate sector.

“You’ve been taught how to build this Porsche engine inside of you. Your work ethic, drive, discipline — this high powered engine and you’re being put in an environment where everyone is taught to operate at like a Ford Taurus level…”

He goes further, “…That sets us up for a lot of trouble because we want to go 300mph down the Autobahn but we can’t without making everyone else really aware that they’re operating at the level of a Ford Taurus.” 

Shawn’s first boss had to reprimand him on this very thing. He sat him down one day and told him to stop his arrogance, blowing Shawn’s mind. It was the only way he knew how to be. He was told that he wouldn’t last too long at the job if he kept his act up. 

This is the moment he found himself at the end of his rope. He didn’t know what else to do. All that was left for him was to open up and ask his boss for guidance. He knew that most bosses wanted to see their employees succeed. Shawn says that managers sense a lot of potential in certain workers, especially Veterans, but the Veterans need to be the ones that open up first, in order to bridge that gap.

“You want to show up and say, ‘I can serve you in dozens of different ways and capacities that you’re probably not used. But you tell me what you need most right now, what can I dedicate myself to and make life easier for you boss?’

Shawn’s biggest shift occurred when he realized he didn’t want to give up the part of his life that had him being a warrior. Conversations he was having with Veterans of past generations revealed to him that they had cut off their warrior mentalities and packed them away. He felt that they were shutting off a piece of themselves. He understood that these skills he learned as a warrior were integral to his life, pursuits, and as keys to success.

Shawn Rhodes at Aikido Spring Practice, Circa 2010

“I had to look at — how do I integrate being a Veteran studying combat arts to studying what is going to make up the rest of my life; how to be a good father, how to be a good husband, business owner, a good service provider for my clients?.. What made me successful in the past to bridge the gap into the things I know I want to pursue the rest of my life.”

Over the past 15 years Shawn has begun learning and enlisting many tools and strategies that have helped him conquer his transition and dive head first into the transformational stage of life post-Military. He attributes this success to the common Veteran skill set of making a plan, creating objectives to complete it, and achieving the goal.

“figure out what you would do for free, that you love doing, and figure out a way to get paid for it.”

Shawn knew that he wanted to be a successful consultant, coach, and speaker because he knew he loved to talk. So he asked himself, who were the people being paid the most just to talk? It ended up being public and keynote speakers. He then looked up the top professionals in the industry; people like Tony Robbins, and studied their business models and asked; “Okay, now how do I do that?”

Shawn giving a keynote speech

He studied the elements they had in place that he could implement right away without needing much experience. He knew he needed to start his journey quickly if he was going to get to where they were. He asked himself,

“What’s the small little step that I can perform today, that will get me closer to my long-term goal?”

He then asked himself, “What are the strengths I have, that come naturally to me, that I do on my own well and that I enjoy doing?”

From there the rest has been history. Shawn Rhodes is now a successful speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur. Currently founder and CEO of Shoshin Consulting and Speaker Sales Systems, he now helps other professional speakers reach the successes he has experienced while continuing to walk his warrior path — balanced, aligned, and still greatly inspired.

Semper Fidelis,

Adam T. Cummings

Go here to learn more about Shawn’s Consulting Firm; SHOSHIN CONSULTING

Go Here to Learn more about Shawn’s SPEAKER SALES SYSTEMS

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