Naval Admiral William H. McRaven returned to his alma mater last week and spoke to the graduates with lessons he learned from his basic SEAL training.
Here’s his amazing Commencement Address at University of Texas at Austin 2014 from Business Insider.
The University’s slogan is,
“What starts here changes the world.”
I have to admit—I kinda like it.
“What starts here changes the world.”
Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT.
That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime.
That’s a lot of folks.
But, if every one of you changed the lives of just ten people—and each one of those folks changed the lives of another ten people—just ten—then in five generations—125 years—the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.
800 million people—think of it—over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world—8 billion people.
If you think it’s hard to change the lives of ten people—change their lives forever—you’re wrong.
I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the ten soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush.
In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500 pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.
But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn—were also saved. And their children’s children—were saved.
Generations were saved by one decision—by one person.
But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.
So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is… what will the world look like after you change it?
Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better, but if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world.
And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform.
It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status.
Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.
I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California.
Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable.
It is 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.
But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships.
To me basic SEAL training was a life time of challenges crammed into six months.
So, here are the ten lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.
If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but 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.
By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also 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.
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.
#1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students—three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy.
Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surf zone and paddle several miles down the coast.
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.
Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.
For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle.
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.
#2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class which started with 150 men was down to just 35. There were now six boat crews of seven men each.
I was in the boat with the tall guys, but 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 five.
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 mid-west.
They out paddled, out-ran, and out swam 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.
But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the Nation and the world, always had the last laugh— swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.
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.
#3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough.
Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges.
But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle—- it just wasn’t good enough.
The instructors would find “something” wrong.
For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone 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.
Those students didn’t make it through training.
Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.
Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie.