(Click above to read the review)
I’ve been making our bed almost daily since somewhere near when Adm. McRaven first gave his speech back in 2014. I like to remember that I started this habit shortly before that now famous speech, but am willing to admit that the Admiral was most likely my motivator. After all, he is the admiral and me a lowly enlisted guy.
In any case, read this review, and better yet read the book. Who knows, perhaps you will start making your bed as well.
From the Wall Street Journal review of the book …
Never give up. Always maintain optimism. We’ve all heard these lessons before—but not from the man who led the bin Laden mission. John Nagl reviews “Make Your Bed” by William H. McRaven.
Navy Seal trainees lock arms in the Pacific during Hell Week. Photo: Getty Images
April 3, 2017
F. Scott Fitzgerald was completely wrong when he suggested “there are no second acts in American lives.” If America stands for anything, it is reinvention, renewal and second chances. Take the Navy SEAL who oversaw the most important manhunt in history and rose to command all of U.S. Special Operations Forces. What did he do for an encore? Only give the most successful college graduation speech in history—at his alma mater, the University of Texas, wearing Navy dress whites.
In “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . and Maybe the World,” retired Adm. William H. McRaven admits that he was nervous before the address in May 2014. He was afraid that contemporary college students wouldn’t welcome a military man, even one who had once been, just like them, a slightly hung-over Austin senior eager to graduate and get on with life. They loved his speech, and word spread. It has been viewed more than 10 million times online, and Mr. McRaven has expanded the talk into a little book that should be read by every leader in America.
The motto of the University of Texas is “What starts here changes the world.” Mr. McRaven’s book provides instruction on doing 10 little things that aren’t little at all. His first suggestion is to make your bed every morning, because when you accomplish one thing early in the day, you’ll be motivated to achieve more—even if you aren’t having the quality of your work tested by a Navy chief petty officer with a quarter.
If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle, he goes on, because you can’t accomplish much on your own. And always measure a person by the size of his heart, not by his physical size, skin color, creed or anything else. Tommy Norris, the last SEAL to earn the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, was nearly booted out of SEAL training for being “too small, too thin, and not strong enough.” He proved a giant among men when he infiltrated deep behind enemy lines on successive nights to rescue downed airmen.
Some of the lessons won’t make perfect sense at first. “If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.” A sugar cookie is a wet SEAL trainee who has rolled himself in sand as punishment for some infraction of the rules—or for no reason at all, purely at the whim of the instructor. Life isn’t fair is Mr. McRaven’s point, and that’s no reason to cry. Keep going, even if there’s sand in every crevice of your body.
Embrace your failures, because every life has them, and what you learn will make you stronger. Dare greatly, because life is a struggle, and without challenges you’ll never know the limits of the possible. Stand up to the bullies, whether they are sharks circling you as you swim (sharks literally circle you in SEAL training during the deep-water swims) or Saddam Hussein. The latter was detained under Mr. McRaven’s watch for 30 days after his capture, and the SEAL firmly broke the deposed dictator’s self-confidence. Dig deep and rise to the occasion when all seems lost, whether working underwater in absolute darkness or responding to the deaths of those you lead in combat.
Mr. McRaven believes that good leaders are optimists even in the darkest times and make their teams believe in a brighter day. This is one of the best lessons of the book, illustrated by a story about Marine Gen. John Kelly, the current secretary of Homeland Security. Mr. Kelly’s son Robert was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010, and when a Special Forces helicopter was shot down killing 38 in Afghanistan in 2011, he was the right man to comfort the families. “More than any other visitor that day,” writes Mr. McRaven, “Kelly’s words resonated with every parent, every wife, every brother and sister, and every friend.” He had lived their pain and could give them hope.
Make Your Bed
By William H. McRaven
Grand Central, 130 pages, $18
Finally, never, ever quit. One hundred and fifty SEAL candidates began Basic Underwater Demolition School with Mr. McRaven in 1978; 33 graduated. As tough as these survivors were, even stronger was an Army Ranger named Adam Bates, who lost both of his legs to a land mine in Afghanistan but a year later was standing tall in his dress uniform on prosthetic legs and challenging his Ranger buddies to a pull-up contest. If Ranger Bates wouldn’t quit, which of us has an excuse?
These are not complicated lessons; we’ve all heard them before. But we haven’t heard them from the man who led the bin Laden mission. And we haven’t had them illustrated so memorably with stories from SEAL training, universally regarded as the most difficult course in the U.S. armed forces, or from a 35-year career leading men in combat.
Eight months after giving the talk that spurred this book, Mr. McRaven became the chancellor of the University of Texas System, overseeing 14 institutions with more than 200,000 students. There he has continued to demonstrate the courage, wisdom and spirit of service that he extols in “Make Your Bed.” In January, he released a statement decrying President Trump’s executive order on immigration, stating “that the talent, energy, and ideas flowing into the United States of America . . . from countries around the world are among our greatest strengths. The men and women who show up at our shores and our doors—ready to study, work, and participate—make us stronger, smarter, more competitive.” Reading that statement makes one hope for a third act in Mr. McRaven’s life, one that would affect the largest number of Americans.
“Make Your Bed” is a book you can read in an hour. It is a book to inspire your children and grandchildren to become everything that they can. It is a book to discuss with your executive leadership team as a spur to meeting shared goals. Most of all, it is a book that will leave you with tears in your eyes as you ask yourself: How does this nation find men and women like Tommy Norris and Adam Bates and William McRaven, who willingly risk their lives and their limbs to keep us safe and to protect our way of life?
Follow their example. Dare greatly. Don’t ever give up. And make your bed!
Mr. Nagl is the headmaster of the Haverford School. A retired Army officer, he is the author of “Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War.”
Appeared in the Apr. 04, 2017, print edition as ‘Reset Your Life In an Hour.’