Perhaps there’s no one better to speak to adversity than a veteran Navy Seal. Last week, Navy Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave a fairly awesome commencement address to graduates of University of Texas at Austin, his alma mater. He spoke on the lessons he gleaned from his SEAL training, lessons that he ingeniously transposed for us non-Navy SEALs. An abbreviated version of his speech appears in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, which is behind a paywall (bummer). Fortunately, the New York Post has the speech in its entirety as well as the video (see end of post).
Here’s the CliffNotes version:
1. Start every day by making your bed. There’s value in doing the little things right.
If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
2. You can’t change the world alone; you’ll need some help.
You can’t change the world alone — you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
3. Be careful in judging folks by their appearance.
…the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys — the munchkin crew we called them — no one was over about 5-foot-5. The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African-American, one Polish-American, one Greek-American, one Italian-American, and two tough kids from the Midwest. They outpaddled, outran and outswam all the other boat crews. … The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim…. SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
4. Shit happens. Deal with it.
For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surf zone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy. There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right — it was unappreciated. … Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.
5. Failure happens, too. Expect it.
A ‘circus’ was two hours of additional calisthenics — designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. No one wanted a circus. …A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue—and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list. … Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
6. Grow a set.
The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable until one day a student decided to go down the slide for life — head-first. … It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation — the student slid down the rope — perilously fast, instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record. If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head-first.
7. Assholes are everywhere.
Before the swim, the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. … They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not recently. But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position — stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim, you will have to deal with them. So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
8. Control fear, breathe and give it your best.
The ship-attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles — underwater — using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target. … To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel — the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. … But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship — where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail. Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission — is the time when you must be calm, composed — when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear. If you want to change the world, you mustbe your very best in the darkest moment.
9. Manufacture your own joy.
[In ‘Hell Week’] …The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold. The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything and then, one voice began to echo through the night — one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two, and two became three, and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well. … And somehow — the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away. If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
10. Quitting is not an option.
Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit — is ring the bell. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.