I went to the University of Texas, so Admiral Bill McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech “If you want to change the world, make your bed,” has a special place in my burnt orange heart. But the speech has a ton of important and practical life advice applicable to anyone. You can grab an idea or short story to focus on in any given day and it will help you.
This short book is based on his speech – a little more fleshed out and with some more stories. Loosely, the main pieces of advice in the book are:
- Make your bed every morning.
- Find someone to help you paddle.
- Measure a person by the size of their heart, not their flippers.
- Don’t worry about being a sugar cookie.
- Face the circuses.
- Go head first.
- Don’t back down from the sharks.
- Start singing when you’re up to your neck in the mud.
- Be your best in the worst times.
- Never ring the bell.
These make more sense once you read the book and understand the context of the little stories behind each point. All are taken from Admiral McRaven’s time in the U.S. military, but the stories aren’t ever really about him. He names names of important people who helped him along the way and otherwise inspired him. The eleventh metalesson from McRaven, and maybe the core of the book, is that It’s not about you. You don’t learn much about McRaven other than he loves and respects a lot of people around him. With all due respect to a lot of self-help/business/advice authors, this is the opposite of those.
Let me highlight a couple so you get an idea of what you’d be in for:
Don’t worry about being a sugar cookie. “Sugar cookie” was a term in military training for when SEAL candidates had to run into the ocean, get wet, and then roll around in sand until they were covered in it from head to toe. Then, they had to just go about the rest of their day int hat uncomfortable state they didn’t really do anything to deserve. McRaven observed sugar cookie status was arbitrary and some people couldn’t handle that. Why wasn’t their hard work rewarded? Why was it punished? It doesn’t really matter. Life doesn’t treat us fairly, and the work still has to get done. We can do it, especially if we encourage one another along the way (a common thread in the book).
Go head first. McRaven tells the story about an obstacle course event he just couldn’t beat. There was a certain rope event he was always very cautious on (relative to his peers). He needed to go down the obstacle head first instead of feet first. There was more risk, yes, but it was calculated risk. Many others safely went head first. So he did, and he was fine. And he got the time he needed to get. The larger lesson is that some things in life take calculated risk. And we also have to consider the risks in not completing something important to us.
Besides the selflessness in the book, and the assumption that we need one another’s encouragement and help to succeed, I enjoyed the good nature through which McRaven told them. I recommend the audiobook so it’s like a longer version of his 2014 commencement speech.