Make Your Bed: 5 Lessons from William H. McRaven’s Speech
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One thing that every 2014 graduate of the University of Texas has in common is that they were able to witness one of the most empowering and inspirational commencement speeches of our time.
Given by former Navy SEAL, Admiral William H. McRaven, this inspiring 20-minute speech offers timeless lessons that anyone can apply to their own life to overcome challenges, be more successful, and change the world. In his speech, McRaven recognizes that while every person may be different, all of our struggles as humans are similar to each other. So while listeners may not be able to relate specifically to Admiral McRaven’s career in the Navy, his message is universal.
McRaven starts by focusing on the schools motto, “What starts here changes the world.” The motto in itself relays the message that graduating from the University of Texas is just the beginning of what’s to come. Students graduate with the knowledge they have gained from their professors and peers, but once they leave, they have to apply those lessons to the real world.
No matter what career path you have chosen, you are sure to face challenges. You may decide that some are too big to overcome or too complicated to deal with. However, McRaven uses UT’s motto to call people to action. Don’t settle for how things are or how they have always been if they can be improved. Make an effort today to create a change in the world.
Throughout the rest of his speech, McRaven recounts his life as a Navy SEAL following his own graduation from the University of Texas and the ten most important lessons that he learned from his initial six months of basic training.
You can view the full speech here:
This speech touched so many people that it led to the publishing of McRaven’s #1 New York Times Best Seller, Make Your Bed.
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World
But what insight did Admiral McRaven gain during his time in the Navy and how can those lessons be implemented into everyone else’s life?
In this article, I will delve into the five biggest lessons that you can take away from this commencement speech to help you change the world, and I will reveal what Admiral McRaven is really telling people when he says to make your bed.
What You Will Learn
Lesson #1: Make Your Bed Every Morning
Starting your day off by completing a task will initiate your momentum to do the next task, and then the next, and so on. It will give you a sense of accomplishment that you will want to continue to feel throughout the day. If you can’t complete a small and mundane task each morning such as making your bed, you can’t expect yourself to be able to complete more complicated tasks moving forward.
If you end up having an unproductive or otherwise negligible day, you will still come home and be reminded that you completed that one task, which can instill hope that you will have a better or more productive day tomorrow.
In your life, the small task that jumpstarts your day may not literally be making your bed. But the point is to find one task that you can make into a habit that will slowly start to get to the root of a problem you’re facing or inch toward a goal for which you’re reaching. As long as you accomplish this task every day, you will be starting off on the right foot. Set this task up as a routine, so no matter what, this one thing gets completed every day.
Make sure the task you choose is meaningful to you and your team. While tucking in sheets may not feel meaningful to you, as a Navy SEAL heading to bed after a long day of training, a neatly made bed would provide meaningful comfort and a sense of reward. What task do you do every day that provides value when all is said and done? Identify a task that you derive a clear value from when you look back at your previous state.
Lesson #2: You Can’t Change the World Alone
In McRaven’s speech, he describes rafting through the tall waves of the sea at night with three rowers on each side of the boat and one guide at the bow. Apply this idea of team work to your life. You will always work with people who have various talents, but you need a balance of skills and abilities in order to succeed. Like Admiral McRaven, you want to be able to balance out those who can work at a faster pace with those who take more time, but produce high-quality work.
In order to make a difference, you also need to have the support of friends, family, co-workers, and others who share your vision. You need a strong team of people behind you to help you along your way. This means it is important to nurture as many relationships as you can throughout life to ultimately be successful and to always recognize the role that other people played in your triumphs.
In turn, be willing to help out others who are on your team. Don’t prevent other people from learning or growing by keeping a task to yourself. Instead, be a leader and help your team along by encouraging everyone to grow and preventing just one person from taking on the entire load. Consider your strengths and the progress your team could make together if you shared your expertise with them.
Lesson #3: Perfection Doesn’t Exist
While in training, Admiral McRaven underwent uniform inspections by his instructors, which he (and his fellow students) would fail on every occasion, no matter how hard they tried to prepare for it. The instructors would always find something wrong with the students’ efforts, which would result in them having to endure a grueling run into the water, fully clothed, and a roll through the sand before spending the rest of the day in their dirty uniform.
Those who couldn’t accept the fact that their labor went unappreciated were the ones who didn’t make it through training. They were trying to reach a level of perfection that doesn’t exist. People who focus on perfection hold unattainable standards for themselves and are overly concerned with how others perceive them. They don’t see mistakes as being an opportunity for growth, but rather a sign of failure. Because of this, perfectionists rarely realize their full potential. Admiral McRaven’s advice here is to get over your failures and move on.
Lesson #4: Don’t Be Afraid of the Challenges That You Face
Whether it is a failure of some sort, an obstacle that you have to overcome, or an unexpected turn of events, don’t be afraid to face the things that try to break you down on your path to success. Realize that these hurdles are most often opportunities to gain strength and resilience, which will make success more likely in the end.
Everyone will face challenges at times that may even make you want to quit. However, recognizing your ability to fight through these tough times will help you advance past subsequent barriers as your strength continues to multiply. Furthermore, prepare yourself for the possible challenges you may face by doing small things each day that will make challenges in the future seem less intimidating.
For example, if you have a personal goal of reducing expenses, how often are you taking the time to review your spending? How are you preparing yourself to face an unexpected bill? You have to take little steps to help make any potential challenges more approachable, no matter what line of work you’re in.
Lesson #5: Be Your Best In Your Darkest Moments
One thing that is certain is that you will face dark moments during your life. You will experience the death of a loved one and other events that leave you questioning the future. It is often difficult to imagine your life improving during these testing times.
While you may feel like you’ve lost the hope of deriving joy from life again, it is during these most difficult times that you dig deep inside yourself and bring out your best self. Moving forward despite your feelings of helplessness will give you the necessary chance to come out on the other side and begin your journey of healing.
During these times, focus on the things you have rather than the things that you need. Capitalize on your strengths to help you get through these dark moments and remember that you have more inner strength than you will probably ever realize.
While few people have first-hand experience enduring the infamously difficult training that is required to become a Navy SEAL, Admiral McRaven offers lessons in his commencement speech that are universally applicable.
Everyone can relate to his message that even if you work as hard as you possibly can, you will still face failure at times. The key to being successful and changing the world, however, is to keep getting back up. You have a choice each time you fail to either quit or find a lesson from the failure and move on. In order to change the world, you have to never, ever give up.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.