On May 14, 2014, Naval Admiral William H. McRaven delivered an inspiring commencement speech to the 2014 graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin. Taking inspiration from the University of Texas slogan, “What starts here changes the world,” he shared the ten principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career but also throughout his life. He explained how anyone could use these basic lessons to change themselves and the world for the better.
The speech went viral and it lead the Admiral to write a short book about the simple lessons he learned about overcoming the trials of SEAL training and the challenges of life. The core of the Make your bed book is:
“Remember… start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then you can change your life for the better… and maybe the world!”
Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy retired) served with great distinction in the Navy. In his thirty-seven years as a Navy SEAL, he commanded at every level. As a Four-Star Admiral, his final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces. He is now Chancellor of the University of Texas System.
CHAPTER ONE: Start Your Day with a Task Completed
“If you want to change the world…start off by making your bed.”
“Throughout my life in the Navy, making my bed was the one constant that I could count on every day. As a young SEAL ensign aboard the USS Grayback, a special operation submarine, I was berthed in sick bay, where the beds were stacked four high.”
The salty old doctor who ran sick bay insisted that I make my rack every morning. He often remarked that if the beds were not made and the room was not clean, how could the sailors expect the best medical care? As I later found out, this sentiment of cleanliness and order applied to every aspect of military life.
In battle soldiers die, families grieve, your days are long and filled with anxious moments. You search for something that can give you solace, that can motivate you to begin your day, that can be a sense of pride in an oftentimes ugly world. But it is not just combat. It is daily life that needs this same sense of structure. Nothing can replace the strength and comfort of one’s faith, but sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right.
If you want to change your life and maybe the world—start off by making your bed!
CHAPTER TWO: You Can’t Go It Alone
“If you want to change the world…find someone to help you paddle.”
During my time in the SEAL Teams I had numerous setbacks, and in each case, someone came forward to help me: someone who had faith in my abilities; someone who saw potential in me where others might not; someone who risked their own reputation to advance my career. I have never forgotten those people and I know that anything I achieved in my life was a result of others who have helped me along the way.
None of us are immune from life’s tragic moments. Like the small rubber boat we had in basic SEAL training, it takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depends on others.
CHAPTER THREE: Only the Size of Your Heart Matters
“If you want to change the world…measure a person by the size of their heart.”
Prove Me Wrong
“SEAL training was always about proving something. Proving that size didn’t matter. Proving that the color of your skin wasn’t important. Proving that money didn’t make you better. Proving that determination and grit were always more important than talent. I was fortunate to learn that lesson a year before training began.”
“It’s not the size of your flippers that count, just the size of your heart.”
CHAPTER FOUR: Life’s Not Fair—Drive On!
“If you want to change the world…get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.”
It is easy to blame your lot in life on some outside force, to stop trying because you believe fate is against you. It is easy to think that where you were raised, how your parents treated you, or what school you went to is all that determines your future. Nothing could be further from the truth. The common people and the great men and women are all defined by how they deal with life’s unfairness: Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking, Malala Yousafzai, and—Moki Martin.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, you still end up as a sugar cookie. Don’t complain. Don’t blame it on your misfortune. Stand tall, look to the future, and drive on!
Life isn’t fair and the sooner you learn that the better off you will be.
CHAPTER FIVE: Failure Can Make You Stronger
“If you want to change the world…don’t be afraid of The Circus.”
The Circus was held every afternoon at the end of training. The Circus was another two hours of additional calisthenics, combined with nonstop harassment by SEAL combat veterans who wanted only the strong to survive training. If you failed to meet the standard on any event that day—calisthenics, the obstacle course, the timed runs, or the swims—your name was on the list. In the eyes of the instructors, you were a failure.
What made The Circus so feared by the students was not just the additional pain but also the knowledge that the day after The Circus you would be exhausted from the extra workout and so fatigued that you would fail to meet the standards again. Another Circus would follow, then another and another.
“It was a death spiral, a cycle of failure that caused many students to quit training.”
In life you will face a lot of Circuses. You will pay for your failures. But, if you persevere, if you let those failures teach you and strengthen you, then you will be prepared to handle life’s toughest moments.
I realized that the past failures had strengthened me, taught me that no one is immune from mistakes. True leaders must learn from their failures, use the lessons to motivate themselves, and not be afraid to try again or make the next tough decision.
“You can’t avoid The Circus. At some point we all make the list. Don’t be afraid of The Circus.”
CHAPTER SIX: You Must Dare Greatly
“If you want to change the world… slide down the obstacle headfirst.”
Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Stand Up to the Bullies
“If you want to change the world…don’t back down from the sharks.”
Courage is a remarkable quality. Nothing and nobody can stand in your way. Without it, others will define your path forward. Without it, you are at the mercy of life’s temptations. Without courage, men will be ruled by tyrants and despots. Without courage, no great society can flourish. Without courage, the bullies of the world rise up. With it, you can accomplish any goal. With it, you can defy and defeat evil.
Facing the Bullies
Bullies are all the same; whether they are in the school yard, in the workplace, or ruling a country through terror. They thrive on fear and intimidation. Bullies gain their strength through the timid and faint of heart. They are like sharks that sense fear in the water. They will circle to see if their prey is struggling. They will probe to see if their victim is weak. If you don’t find the courage to stand your ground, they will strike. In life, to achieve your goals, to complete the night swim, you will have to be men and women of great courage. That courage is within all of us. Dig deep, and you will find it in abundance.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Rise to the Occasion
“If you want to change the world…be your very best in the darkest moments.”
At some point we will all confront a dark moment in life. If not the passing of a loved one, then something else that crushes your spirit and leaves you wondering about your future. In that dark moment, reach deep inside yourself and be your very best.
CHAPTER NINE: Give People Hope
“If you want to change the world…start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.”
Hell Week was the seminal event for the First Phase of SEAL training. It was six days of no sleep and unrelenting harassment by the instructors. There were long runs, open ocean swims, obstacle courses, rope climbs, endless sessions of calisthenics, and constant paddling of the inflatable boat small (IBS). The purpose of Hell Week was to eliminate the weak, those not tough enough to be SEALs.
Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. With hope you can inspire nations to greatness. With hope you can raise up the downtrodden. With hope you can ease the pain of unbearable loss. Sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference.
“We will all find ourselves neck deep in mud someday. That is the time to sing loudly, to smile broadly, to lift up those around you and give them hope that tomorrow will be a better day.”
CHAPTER TEN: Never, Ever Quit!
“If you want to change the world…don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”
Of all the lessons I learned in SEAL training, this was the most important. Never quit. It doesn’t sound particularly profound, but life constantly puts you in situations where quitting seems so much easier than continuing on. Where the odds are so stacked against you that giving up seems the rational thing to do.
Life is full of difficult times. But someone out there always has it worse than you do. If you fill your days with pity, sorrowful for the way you have been treated, bemoaning your lot in life, blaming your circumstances on someone or something else, then life will be long and hard. If, on the other hand, you refuse to give up on your dreams, stand tall and strong against the odds—then life will be what you make of it—and you can make it great. Never, ever, ring the bell!
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.