Navy Admiral William McRaven Photo Credit AP
With graduations going on all around the country, I was interested when I saw this article that William McRaven, who was the former commander of SEAL Team 3 and is the current commander of U.S Special Operations command, gave a commencement address for the University of Texas at Austin.
His address was comparing a lot of what he learned in basic SEAL training, which he described as, "six months of long, torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable," and how he could apply those lessons to real life. (And SEAL training doesn't sound fun. At all.)
He gives ten lessons he learned in SEAL training that could help these graduates form a foundation for their lives. The lessons were all really good, and the article is well worth the read, but there were two that really stuck out to me.
The first one described how they would line up for a uniform inspection that was exceptionally thorough. You had to have a perfectly pressed uniform and starched hat and your belt buckle had to be extra shiny. But no matter what you did, how perfect you had it, the instructors would always find something wrong and when they did, you had to run, fully clothed into the surf then roll around in the beach sand until every part of your body was covered with sand. They called that the “sugar cookie” and you had to stay in that uniform for the rest of day, cold, wet, and full of sand.
McRaven said that so many SEAL trainees just couldn't accept the fact that no matter what they did, their efforts were in vain and no matter how hard they tried it was all unappreciated. He said, "Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform. Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward."
As a mother, as an author, as a human being, sometimes no matter how hard I try, my efforts are in vain and aren't appreciated. I can stew about the child who doesn't see how much I've done or sacrificed for them that day, I can cry about the bad review I got on the book I loved writing so much, or I can do as McRaven suggests and get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
I love that image. I love the idea of being in the trenches, getting dirty, being cold and miserable, but getting up and moving forward instead of wallowing in my sugar cookie-ness. And the idea that I can try again and again because sand can be washed away at the end of the day, you know? I can still change the world both as a mother and as an author.
I also really liked the ones about making the bed and not judging people by the size of their flippers, but the second one that really touched me was when the trainees had to paddle down to some mud flats and spend fifteen hours trying to survive freezing cold mud and the pressure to quit from the instructors. He tells the story of how one night his class was ordered into the mud. It was so gooey it sucked them down in until you couldn't see anything but their heads. The instructors promised that if five men would quit they could get out of the mud. It looked like some men were considering it because it was still eight hours until the sun came up and that meant eight more hours of "bone-chilling cold."
Then one guy started to sing--horribly out of tune, but loud and proud. Others started to join in until the whole class was singing. They knew that "if one man could rise above the misery, then others could as well." After they started singing, McRaven commented that, " . . .somehow — the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away. If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope. So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud."
How many times have we thought about quitting as writers? How many times has the mud of deadlines and critiques and reviews pulled us down? How many times have you thought, "I don't think I can do this," when the child has a dance recital in less than an hour and lost their dance costume and the phone is ringing and someone is yelling and the house is in chaos? Honestly, when I turn on some music, whether it's Van Halen or Piano Guys, depending on the situation, it does calm something inside me when I sing loudly (and probably off-tune actually.) Even humming along can change my attitude and take away some of the stress when I need it most. Somehow, there always seems to be that tiny voice of hope inside me when I'm singing that things will be better tomorrow. I can get through this.
There were so many more things I could say about the simplicity of Admiral McRaven's address and how he related things that he had learned to real world applications. The ideas he presented weren't new, but they were put in such a way that has really made me think today.
Here's what you should do. Go and read the whole article, then come back and tell me what was your favorite life lesson. I think I could go on and on with what struck me about this address. This man has battled in his life, he's gone to the forefront of the war on terror, and yet when he wanted to leave a legacy behind to graduating students, he spoke of his basic training and how that laid the foundation for his life. I know I will be looking back at my own legacy and foundation as a wife, mother, and author. What about you?
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