A Navy SEAL’s Message to Graduates

Member Group : Reflections

"Make Your Bed" was in the top spot last week in a New York Times best sellers list.

The book by Naval SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven expands on his highly acclaimed commencement speech to the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin in May 2014.

Four-Star Admiral McRaven, a Navy SEAL for 37 years, former Commander of all U.S. Special Operation Forces, and the chief officer of Special Operations who organized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, told the graduating students the key lessons he learned in SEAL training.

Training is "six months of long torturous runs, swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable," said McRaven, plus (and this isn’t recommended for those who are overly sensitive or exceptionally litigious) "six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL."

McRaven explained the learning process in detail. "Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Viet Nam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed."

Bed inspections turned the simple task of making a bed into a repetitious demand for exactness and excellence. "We were required to make our bed to perfection. The wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over. If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. Making your bed will reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. If you want to change the world, make your bed."

SEAL trainees are assigned to seven-person rubber boat crews and required to paddle several miles in ocean waters. "In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in," explained McRaven. "For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle."

The number of students in McRaven’s SEAL class, after several training weeks, dropped from 150 to 35. Defeat wasn’t correlated with size, IQ, orientation, race, or nationality. "Nothing mattered but your will to succeed."

With biweekly uniform inspections, McRaven said it seemed "no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle, it wasn’t good enough. For failing a uniform inspection, the trainee had to run, fully clothed into the surf 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.’ "

No matter how well you perform, sometimes you still end up wet, cold and sandy. "It’s just the way life is," said McRaven, "If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward."

Ralph R. Reiland is Associate Professor of Economics Emeritus at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.
Ralph R. Reiland

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