#318 Alistair Urquhart Listen to this when youre stressed

Summary Notes


In this unique episode, the host announces a live show with Patrick O'Shaughnessy and promotes a private AMA feed for Founders podcast members, offering direct interaction and potential business promotion. Additionally, he endorses Vesto, a service for investing idle business cash, sharing testimonials from founder friends who've benefited from it. The episode then delves into the harrowing World War II survival story of Alastair Urquhart, as detailed in his book "The Forgotten Highlander." Urquhart's experiences of being a prisoner of war, enduring forced labor, surviving the sinking of a Japanese hellship, and the atomic blast at Nagasaki underscore themes of human resilience, the power of the mind, and the importance of perseverance in the face of extreme adversity. These lessons are paralleled with the emotional highs and lows of entrepreneurship, drawing on insights from figures like Mark Andreessen and Charlie Munger, and emphasizing the value of mental fortitude in overcoming challenges.

Summary Notes

Live Show Announcement

  • David is hosting a live show in New York City on October 19 with Patrick O'Shaughnessy.
  • Patrick O'Shaughnessy is known for interviewing top investors and founders on his podcast.
  • David and Patrick will discuss lessons from seven years of podcasting and engage in a live Q&A session.
  • David encourages people to attend the show, noting that some are flying in for the event.
  • Tickets can be found on founderspodcast.com.

"I'm doing a live show in New York City on October 19 with Patrick O'Shaughnessy of Invest. Like the best Patrick has interviewed over 300 of the world's best investors and founders."

This quote outlines the upcoming live show event details, highlighting the collaboration between David and Patrick O'Shaughnessy and the opportunity for audience engagement.

Founders AMA Feed

  • David invites listeners to become members of the private Founders AMA Feed.
  • Members can email David questions directly, which he personally reads and answers in AMA episodes.
  • Questions can include the member's name and a link to their website, offering promotion opportunities.
  • David has created 37 AMA episodes that members can access immediately upon joining.

"You actually get a private email address in the confirmation email that I read myself. I read every single one of the emails that come in myself."

David emphasizes the personal attention he gives to member emails, reinforcing the value of direct communication and personalized responses in the AMA Feed.

Vesto Investment Opportunity

  • Vesto helps businesses invest idle cash and earn interest through treasury management.
  • David knows the founder, Ben, who listens to the podcast and meets with each new customer.
  • Vesto is suitable for businesses of varying sizes and circumstances, as illustrated by David's founder friends who use the service.
  • David recommends scheduling a demo with Ben and mentioning the Founders podcast for those interested.

"Vesto makes it easy for you to invest your business's idle cash."

This quote succinctly describes the service offered by Vesto, highlighting its convenience for business owners looking to manage and grow their idle cash reserves.

Alastair Urquhart's Story

  • Alastair Urquhart survived being a prisoner of war during World War II and experienced extreme hardships.
  • Despite his suffering, Alastair chose to live a life without bitterness and dedicated himself to helping others.
  • Alastair's story is shared in his book, "The Forgotten Highlander," which David uses as a tool for mental health.
  • The book serves as a reminder of resilience and perseverance, inspiring David during stressful times.

"I was lucky to survive capture in Singapore and to come out of the jungle alive after 750 days as a slave."

This quote is a testament to Alastair Urquhart's survival against overwhelming odds, emphasizing his resilience and serving as a source of inspiration for overcoming adversity.

Entrepreneurship and Mental Health

  • Entrepreneurship involves a mental health struggle, characterized by feelings of euphoria and terror.
  • David uses Alastair Urquhart's audiobook as a tool to manage stress and maintain perspective.
  • The book is a reminder that if Alastair could endure his hardships, entrepreneurs can persevere through their challenges.
  • David finds the audiobook particularly effective for stepping outside himself during times of stress.

"Mark Andreessen has the best description of this. He says that when you're building a company, you only ever experience two feelings, euphoria and terror, and nothing else in between."

The quote from Mark Andreessen captures the emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship, which David relates to and addresses by using Alastair Urquhart's story as a mental health tool.

Alastair Urquhart's Early Life and Military Service

  • Alastair was conscripted into the army during World War II, shortly after his 20th birthday.
  • He was assigned to the Gordon Highlanders and had to leave his job, which he had held since age 14.
  • The Great Depression influenced his appreciation for employment and his commitment to his family.
  • Alastair's physical fitness and activities, such as playing sports and swimming, later contributed to his survival.

"I was to report to the Gordon Highlanders headquarters. That's the part of the military he's going to be in."

This quote marks the beginning of Alastair Urquhart's military service, which would lead to the trials he faced as a prisoner of war and the basis for his later resilience.

Incompetence and Survival

  • Incompetence within the British military during World War II had dire consequences.
  • Alastair observed complacency and outdated practices and equipment, which were ill-suited for the tropical environment of Singapore.
  • The metaphor of incompetence leading to business failure is compared to the literal danger of incompetence in military situations.
  • Alastair's narrative includes criticism of the military leadership and the lack of preparedness for war in Singapore.

"The quartermaster handed me my rifle. I thought he was kidding. I stared at this antique gun with utter disbelief."

This quote illustrates the shock Alastair Urquhart felt upon receiving outdated equipment, symbolizing the broader issue of military unpreparedness and the theme of incompetence's consequences.

Inadequate Training and Complacency

  • The British Army's training routines in Singapore were unsuitable for jungle warfare.
  • The Army enforced a mandatory siesta during the hottest part of the day, which was seen as complacency.
  • Officers underestimated the enemy and were overconfident in their outdated tactics.

"The whole camp came to a standstill. For a siesta. Every man had to be in his bunk during that period. So they're taking a nap. I disagree with this. From the start, the enemy seemed unlikely to suspend hostilities to allow us time to rest during the hottest part of the day."

The quote illustrates the impracticality of the British Army's training regimen, failing to prepare soldiers for actual combat conditions in the tropics.

Human Incompetence

  • The British Army's lack of preparation and overconfidence were highlighted as key themes of incompetence.
  • Soldiers were equipped with antiquated weapons and wore uniforms unsuited for the tropical climate.
  • The local newspapers in Singapore reported the city's impregnability, which contrasted with the reality on the ground.

"Never underestimate human incompetence. [...] Their tactics seemed antiquated and obvious, and they would have us weaving through the jungle. The enemy would have seen us coming from miles away."

This quote emphasizes the theme of human incompetence, showing the British Army's failure to adapt to the jungle environment and enemy tactics.

Overconfidence and Arrogance

  • The British Empire's overconfidence stemmed from its status as the largest empire in the world.
  • The disconnect between the officers' perceptions and the reality faced by soldiers on the ground was stark.
  • The British military's complacency was matched by a sense of racial supremacy over Asian forces.

"This was incompetence combined with overconfidence. The British is the largest empire in the world at this point. [...] The more that they trumpeted their impregnability, the more I began to doubt it."

The quote captures the British military's overconfidence and arrogance, which clouded their judgment and led to strategic blunders.

Disregard for Local Intelligence

  • The pace of evacuations of the local population was a clear warning sign ignored by the British Army.
  • The British continued with their routines and lavish parties, oblivious to the impending threat.
  • The soldiers who were attentive to these signs grew increasingly fearful.

"Why are all the locals leaving again? The British Army is complacent. The military is complacent. Why aren't you asking what's happening? What do they know that is causing them to flee?"

This quote highlights the British Army's failure to consider local actions as intelligence, missing critical signs of an approaching threat.

Capture and Imprisonment

  • Alastair Urquhart was captured by the Japanese and witnessed brutal acts against prisoners and civilians.
  • The prisoners were forced to march under horrific conditions, witnessing executions and experiencing intense suffering.
  • Alastair and other prisoners endured tropical diseases and malnutrition.

"As we stood there in the blazing sun without food, water or shelter, the horrible reality broke over me in sickening, depressing waves. I was a prisoner."

The quote conveys the devastating realization of Alastair's loss of freedom and the beginning of his suffering as a prisoner of war.

The Death Railway

  • Prisoners were forced to build the Death Railway through the jungle under inhumane conditions.
  • They were misled about the nature of their work and the conditions they would face.
  • Many prisoners succumbed to disease, malnutrition, and exhaustion during the construction.

"It was just the first of 750 days I would spend as a slave in the jungle. We were to begin construction on the infamous death railway."

This quote reflects the beginning of a long and arduous period of forced labor on the Death Railway, marking a significant chapter in Alastair's ordeal.

Endurance and Survival

  • Alastair Urquhart's strategy for survival included staying at the front of the group during marches.
  • He witnessed the deaths of fellow prisoners and considered suicide as an escape from suffering.
  • Despite the adversities, Alastair persevered through the construction of the railway and the many challenges of captivity.

"The benefit of being near the front was that you saw fewer men surrendering to fatigue, illness and death."

The quote illustrates Alastair's coping strategy during the death march, focusing on the immediate task and avoiding the demoralizing sight of others giving up.

The Power of the Mind in Adversity

  • The mental state of prisoners had a significant impact on their survival rates.
  • Older prisoners with families to live for had higher survival rates compared to younger prisoners.
  • The power of the mind and the will to live for something beyond oneself proved crucial for survival.
  • Dr. Matheson used placebo treatments to boost the morale and survival chances of severely ill prisoners.

"The fact that if you can convince yourself the mind is a powerful place in which you feed, it affects you in a powerful way."

This quote emphasizes the importance of mental fortitude and the belief in the mind's ability to overcome physical adversity.

"The people that had lives to live for something else, to live their life for, above themselves, not just themselves."

The idea here is that having a purpose or someone to live for, such as a family, can provide the strength needed to endure extreme hardship.

"The power of the mind. On countless occasions I've seen two men with the same symptoms and same physical state and one will die and one will make it. I can only put that down to sheer willpower."

Dr. Matheson's observation underscores the significant role of mental strength and willpower in determining a person's ability to survive life-threatening situations.

The Struggle for Survival

  • Prisoners had to work on the death railway despite suffering from multiple diseases.
  • Suffering included a variety of ailments such as Tania, malaria, dysentery, and kidney stones.
  • Lack of proper nutrition led to conditions like beriberi, which could cause blindness.
  • Constant beatings and sadistic torture methods were employed by the guards.

"You had to work on the death railway while you had everything, while you had all these diseases."

This quote illustrates the brutal conditions prisoners faced, being forced to work even while extremely ill.

"All of us had fallen victim to Barry Berry. That gave us a swollen tummy and a tremendous pain in your joints. Sometimes the side effect of Barry berry was blindness."

The mention of beriberi disease highlights the severe nutritional deficiencies and the painful symptoms prisoners endured.

"Each time I took a beating, it chipped away, not just in my bones, but at my will to endure them."

The physical and psychological impact of beatings is described, showcasing how torture wore down both the body and the spirit.

Innovative Survival Tactics

  • Dr. Matheson advised using maggots from latrines to eat away dead flesh from ulcers, an effective yet gruesome medical treatment.
  • The placebo effect was used by Dr. Matheson to improve the morale and health of patients by giving them saline injections and claiming it was special medication.

"You got to go to latrines, pick up the maggots. They fix you right up."

This quote reflects the extreme measures taken to treat injuries and infections in the absence of proper medical supplies.

"It's like water with a little bit of salt in it. And he tells them it's a special medication."

The use of a placebo treatment by Dr. Matheson demonstrates the innovative ways he sought to help patients survive through psychological means.

The Role of Karma and Relationships

  • Alistair's past kindness to younger prisoners paid off when he encountered them later in a hospital camp.
  • The younger prisoners, Freddie and his brother, were able to smuggle extra food to Alistair, aiding his recovery.

"He hadn't seen them and, I don't know, it's been like a year and a half or something like that. And so he winds up running into the younger kid."

Alistair's reunion with the younger prisoners he once cared for highlights the importance of relationships and kindness during times of hardship.

"The supplements to my diet of two egg omelets, molasses, coconut, papaya assisted in my recovery and probably helped save my life."

The extra food smuggled by Freddie and his brother provided Alistair with the nutrition needed to recover, showcasing the life-saving impact of their actions.

The Harsh Realities of Prisoner Life

  • Prisoners faced the constant threat of rape and other forms of sexual assault.
  • Solitary confinement was used as punishment and often resulted in death or severe physical and psychological damage.
  • The threat of cholera added to the already dire conditions, with many succumbing to the disease within hours.

"A guard tries to rape him and then he's put in solitary confinement."

This quote reveals the dangers and abuses prisoners faced beyond the already horrific living and working conditions.

"The river Kwai harbored a killer even more lethal than the Japanese."

The reference to cholera as a lethal threat indicates the multitude of dangers that prisoners had to contend with, including deadly diseases.

The Journey to Recovery

  • Alistair had to relearn how to walk after his health was decimated by various diseases.
  • He focused on survival, living day by day and shutting down his mind to cope with the situation.
  • Upon regaining his health, Alistair was forced back into labor, working at the docks in Singapore.

"I could no longer walk. Dysentery, malaria, berry, berry and gaping ulcers had engulfed both ankles and lower calves."

The extent of Alistair's physical debilitation is described, highlighting the severe impact of his imprisonment and forced labor.

"I had decided to stay apart from everyone else and focus totally on survival."

Alistair's strategy for survival involved isolation and intense concentration on making it through each day, showing the mental discipline required to endure such hardships.

Alastair Urquhart's Survival in WWII

  • Alastair Urquhart's weight dropped from 135 to 82 pounds due to the harsh conditions of war.
  • He experienced a lack of autonomy and predictability, which increased fear due to the unknown.
  • Alastair was moved frequently without warning, causing additional stress.
  • He was placed on a Japanese hellship, which was overcrowded and lacked basic necessities like water.
  • Conditions on the hellship were inhumane, with occurrences of cannibalism and vampirism due to extreme thirst.
  • Alastair suffered from dysentery and dehydration, and the environment was filled with the smell of excrement, urine, and rotting flesh.
  • He was eventually rescued after the ship was torpedoed by American submarines.

"When the US marines rescue him at Nagasaki, he's like 82 pounds. He looks like a Holocaust survivor."

This quote highlights the severe physical toll that the war and imprisonment took on Alastair's body, emphasizing the extreme weight loss and comparison to Holocaust survivors.

"Men driven crazy by thirst because there's no water. Killed fellow prisoners to drink their blood."

The quote describes the desperate and horrific actions taken by prisoners on the hellship to survive, driven to extremes by lack of water.

Alastair Urquhart's Post-Rescue Experience

  • Alastair was rescued by a Japanese whaling ship after being adrift at sea.
  • He was paraded naked through a village as punishment upon reaching the Japanese mainland.
  • Sent to a prison camp near Nagasaki, he was forced to work in a coal mine.
  • Reunited with Dr. Matheson, he received life-saving advice on how to eat post-camp to avoid death from overeating.
  • Alastair witnessed the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and was eventually rescued by U.S. Marines.
  • He faced a long journey back to Scotland, where he discovered his family thought he was dead and his girlfriend had married someone else.

"I was lifted into a small boat and then onto a japanese whaling ship. I was as close to death as I've ever been."

This quote conveys Alastair's dire condition at the time of his rescue and the precariousness of his survival.

"They lifted up men's shirts, shocked by the angular and protruding rib cages, bloated bellies and infant waistlines."

The quote reflects the shock of the U.S. Marines upon seeing the emaciated state of the prisoners, highlighting the severity of their condition.

Alastair Urquhart's Return to Life

  • Alastair struggled to reintegrate into society and cope with the social expectations post-war.
  • He found solace and rehabilitation in ballroom dancing, which also led him to meet his future wife.
  • He had a poignant reunion with his war comrade Freddie, who unfortunately succumbed to alcoholism post-war.
  • Alastair's experiences taught him resilience and appreciation for life.
  • He continued to face challenges, including caring for his wife after she suffered a stroke.
  • At 90 years old, Alastair wrote a book to inspire others to persevere through hardships.

"Yet I owed it to myself and to the others who never made it back to make the most of my life."

The quote demonstrates Alastair's sense of duty to live a fulfilling life in honor of those who did not survive, showing his resilience and determination.

"My sufferings as a prisoner taught me to be resilient, to appreciate life and all that it has to offer."

This quote summarizes the life lessons Alastair learned from his harrowing experiences, emphasizing the value of resilience and appreciation for life.

Support for the Podcast and Further Engagement

  • The podcast has a private AMA feed where listeners can ask questions directly to the host.
  • The host has a unique data set from extensive research that can benefit listeners.
  • Subscribers to the AMA feed have found new paying customers through their interactions.
  • The host encourages listeners to become members and engage with the podcast community.

"I've read over 100,000 pages. We're at like 300 and what, 15 books? Something like that."

This quote showcases the host's dedication to reading and research, highlighting the vast amount of information they have processed.

"I plan on making several new episodes every week. If you are an enthusiast of Founders podcast, I highly recommend that you become a member."

The quote is a call to action for listeners who enjoy the podcast to engage more deeply by becoming members and accessing additional content.

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