Admiral William McRaven spoke to the graduating class at University of Texas at Austin. If you read my earlier letter about the Yale Commencement ( link )with its Honorary Degrees and awards for everyone, you will be pleased to hear what the Admiral had to say.
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.
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.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
Read or listen to the Admiral’s speech in its entirety here, To Change the World, Start By Making Your Bed. He shared several lessons using examples of hardship, humor, and poignancy.
- make your bed
- find someone to help you paddle
- sometimes you end up a “sugar cookie”
- life is filled with “circuses”
- don’t back down from the sharks
- you must be your very best in your darkest moment
What a welcome contrast to Yale’s commencement this is.
A few years ago a friend interned at Florida State University where she worked in the counseling center as she finished her PhD in psychology. After her first year there, I asked about the students, their concerns, her observations. She didn’t need much time to think. She noticed two things: the lack of social skills and the sense of entitlement .
The Admiral’s understanding of this generation is prescient and his speech gives counsel where it is due.
None of my children made their beds today. We’ve been traveling this last week and they were tired. But that’s no excuse.
It’s often easier for me to do it for them. But what have they learned? what lesson did I teach them?
When they get home today, they will listen to Admiral McRaven’s speech.
Then they will make their beds.