10 Life Lessons from a Former Navy SEAL

With graduation season upon us, sometimes it feels like at any given moment there is a commencement speech happening somewhere in America. As many a speaker (and audience member) will readily admit, these speeches tend to be forgettable (I liked Jonathan Safran Foer’s take on the phenomenon of forgetting the commencement address: “Among the many things that I am unable to remember about the speaker that spring morning: name, gender, age, race, physical build and voice. I’ve run out of fingers”).

But here’s a speech you might actually remember. Former Navy SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven spoke at the University of Texas at Austin on May 17, and he gave the audience 10 valuable life lessons he learned in SEAL training. It helps that the tips are in list form; it’s easier to remember things when they’re attached to a number. It also helps that these tips can apply to anybody; these ideas are relevant to anyone at any age or stage in their career. You’ll have to listen to the whole speech to hear all 10 (or read a transcript here). But here are a few highlights:

#1: Make your bed every morning. Accomplishing this first, small task of the day gives you a touch of pride and sets you on the path to achieving more and more throughout the day. “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.”

#5: In SEAL training, when you failed to meet expectations you were given a “circus” – two hours of grueling calisthenics designed to wear you down. “Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.”

#8: “[During SEAL training] the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.”

In summary,

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world—for the better.

It will not be easy.

But start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up.