Naval Admiral William H. McRaven gave a great speech on the life lessons that he learned from his training to be a Navy Seal. Naval Admiral William McRaven served a 37 year career in the Navy which included battles where he fought in the Persian Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan. William retired from the Navy on September 1, 2014. He is now the Chancellor of the University of Texas System.
In 2014, he gave a commencement speech to the University of Texas. There is a lot to learn from this speech because of the life experiences that he shares. What follows is my summary of his speech. After the summary you can find links to his speech and the Power Point slides that I put together.
The major message of William McRaven's speech is to inspire the 2014 graduating class of the University of Texas to change the world. He's not talking about changing the world to the extent that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Elon Musk have changed the world. He's talking about how every person out there can change it by just doing simple things.
"If you think it's hard to change the lives of ten people - change their lives forever - then you're wrong. I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan."
If you change the life of one person for the better, then you are changing the life of someone whom that person comes to interact with, or even some one in that person's family as well.
The 10 life lessons:
1. Start your day by making your bed - This is such an easy task yet it is one that we neglect because we have to run and catch the train to work, or we are running late for a class, or just because there isn't much benefit because isn't a made bed just for show and presentation if you were having company over to visit? Wrong! Making your bed is the first task that you are faced with when you wake up, and doing this little task will create good habits because doing the little things in life matter.
"If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right."
2. Find someone to help you paddle - There is a training task where the seals are broken down into boat crews and must paddle several miles down the coast. The surf can get to be 8 to 10 feet high which is difficult to paddle in. Everyone on the boat must work together.
"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 [steersman] to guide them."
3. Measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers - During SEAL training crews were separated into boat crews. Admiral Williams was in the boat with the tall guys, but there was also a crew made up of little guys. The little guys or the "munchkin crew", which they were referred to as, were made up of one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, on Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the mid west. The big men would make fun of the little flippers that the "munchkin crew" put on their feet, but they also swam faster than everyone else, and got to the destination long before any one else.
"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."
4. Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward - Several times a week there was a uniform inspection that was done, and everything - including one's hat, uniform, and belt - had to be perfect. Something was always found wrong by the inspectors, no matter how much effort was put into this task. Failing this inspection meant that the student had to run fully clothed into the surf zone and then roll around on the beach until every part of their body was covered in sand. The result of doing this became known as a "sugar cookie".
"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. Don’t be afraid of the circuses - Multiple challenges during SEAL training consisted of long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, and hours of calisthenics. There were standards such as time limits and if you didn't meet these you were invited to do a circus. A circus was two hours of additional casthetics that were designed to break your spirit, wear you down, and force you to quit. Everyone made the circus at some point of their training.
"But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list [for the circus]. Over time those students - who did two hours of extra calisthenics - got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength - built physical resiliency."
"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 every core."
6. Sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first - Trainees had to run an obstacle course that consisted of 25 obstacles. There was a slide that was the most challenging because it had a three level 30 foot tower at one end and a one level tower at the other with a 200 foot long rope in between these two towers. The record for this obstacle course stood for years and didn't seem beatable. Then one student decided to break the record by going down the slide head first. This was foolish and had a lot of risk attached to it, but some times in life you have to think outside the box and be a little risky.
"If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first."
7. Don’t back down from sharks - The waters next to where the swimming took place were filled with great white sharks. To pass this part of SEAL training the trainees had to complete a series of long swims. Trainees are taught that if a shark begins to circle your position to stand their ground, don't swim away, and do not act afraid. But if the shark does swim at you then punch him in the snout and the shark will turn and swim away.
"There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them."
8. You must be your best in the darkest moment - Another Navy SEALS job is to do underwater attacks against enemy shipping. The Navy SEALS are dropped off about two miles from their enemy target where they must swim with nothing but a depth gauge and a compass. SEALS eventually experience the darkest part of the ship (the keel) in order for them to be successful because the steel structure of the ship blocks the light as the SEALS approach the enemy ship.
"Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission - 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."
9. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud - The 9th week of training is called Hell Week. It is 6 days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and one special day at the Mud Flats. On the Wednesday of Hell Week, the students spent 15 hours in freezing cold mud that is up to their neck and there is constant pressure from the instructors to quit. The instructors tell the trainees that they could leave the mud if only 5 men quit.
Then all of a sudden one man, with 8 hours left and it being apparent that some of the trainees were about to give up, decided to start singing. The instructors threatened the trainees to stop but the singing didn't stop. Naval Admiral William H. McRaven describes that once everyone started singing, the mud became 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. The power of one person - Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela, and even a young girl from Pakistan - Malala - one person can change the world by giving people hope."
10. Don’t ever, ever ring the bell - There is a brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all students to see. If you want to quit, just ring this bell. Then you won't have to wake up at 5 in the morning, do freezing cold swims, and the obstacle course.
"If you want to change the world, don't ever, ever ring the bell."
Changing the world won't be easy but to do it: (1) start each day with a task completed, (2) find someone to help you through life, and (3) respect everyone.
"Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, life up the downtrodden and never, ever give up - if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today and what started here will indeed have changed the world for the better."