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"If You Want to Change the World..."

On May 19, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas. In the speech, Admiral McRaven drew on his experiences in basic SEAL training, relating hardship after hardship, while keeping the theme centered on the slogan, “What starts here changes the world.” Even though he was directly addressing the graduating class, his wisdom can apply to us all. 

Famously, this speech is remembered as the “Make Your Bed” speech, but that’s only one of the ten pieces of advice Admiral McRaven shares. He encourages you to change the world by first focusing on making yourself the best person you can be. So, if you want to change the world…

1) …Start off by making your bed.

I don’t know about you, but I like checklists. Now I’m not one of those people who has a list and schedule for every little thing; however, on a day when I have a lot going on, a checklist helps me manage it all. Then, once I finish a task, no matter how minute it is, I get to mark it off. I get to feel accomplished and proud of myself. That little bit of happiness gives me the ability to accomplish more and more.

I don’t make my bed, but I understand what Admiral McRaven is saying: start off with a simple task in the morning, complete it, and you’ll be set up for success the rest of your day. Don’t neglect the little things, because they’re what set you up for the big challenges. 

2) ...Find someone to help you paddle.

Your shoulders can only carry so much weight. You may try - and I have tried, but this world can't be accomplished by a single person. Instead, find someone; find someone who makes you feel justified, valued, and appreciated. Find someone who won’t abandon you when you reach the depths of the ocean that is your life, but instead keeps you from dwelling in that darkness. 

3) …Measure a person by the size of their heart, not by the size of their flippers.

In this analogy, the flippers are an external, tangible characteristic. The heart is someone’s will, determination, motivation, and personality, or the internal and abstract characteristics. Don’t judge someone by the way they look, but measure them by what’s inside. Respect everyone. 

4) …Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

In the SEAL training, the “sugar cookies” were the individuals who failed uniform inspection. According to Admiral McRaven, everyone failed inspection. No one was ever going to succeed perfectly. That’s the way it goes sometimes - no matter how much effort you put in, you won’t always succeed. No matter how pleasing you try to be, some people won’t like you. No matter how much time you put into studying, the test might still be too hard. 

So accept defeat, and keep pushing forward. One small battle doesn’t matter in the scheme of this world. Life isn’t fair. You will fail. But keep going. 

5) …At times it will test you to your very core, but don’t be afraid of the circuses.

The “circus” was additional physical training if a SEAL in training didn’t meet the standards for the day. Everyone went at some point, but some people went a lot. It was tough, as it involved more fatigue and more pain. However, the people who went a lot eventually got stronger than the rest. Maybe you’re putting everything you have into a sport, class, or hobby. Maybe you’re worn out and tired and not sure how you’ll make it through. I promise you - you’ll make it through. Just like when I do a hard workout, it sucks at the beginning, but eventually, my body comes to accept the pain. 

Your body will not quit on you, so don’t be afraid of the pain, the hard work, and the dedication.  You’ll be stronger than ever by the end. Maybe not physically stronger, but definitely mentally stronger, because it will teach you that if you can survive one battle, then you can survive so many more. 

6) …Sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.

Life will throw obstacles at you, and it will also throw expectations. And sometimes, what you have to do to beat the obstacle is to break the expectations. Get out of the norm. Think outside the box. Be the best you and don’t let expectations hinder your success. 

7) …Don’t back down from the sharks.

This world has a lot of people who will try to prevent you from being happy and reaching your potential. Don’t let them chase you away from your goals. 

8) …Be your very best in the darkest moments.

You know who you are. You don’t need light to see your strength (inner and outer), your skills, and your motivation. When you can’t rely on your eyes to see the path ahead, maintain trust in yourself. 

9) …Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

Hope is powerful. 

10) …Don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

Ringing the bell means giving up. It means you’re letting the pain, the uncertainty, the confusion, the anxiety, the anger - you’re letting them get the best of you. You’re letting them take you out of the battle. Don’t give up. Keep pushing. At some point, you’ll come across the reason for the fight. Trust in yourself, trust in your friends, and don’t let anything take you down. 

Wanting to change the world is no easy feat. However, in order to get there, you need to accomplish the small tasks first, find someone who stands beside you, respect others, accept failure as being inevitable, not fear pain, take risks, stand up against people who want to stop you, believe in yourself, have hope, and never ever give up. 

Thank you, Admiral McRaven, for these pieces of wisdom.


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