His name is Admiral William H. McRaven and he is one of the men I admire most in the United States today. He has had a distinguished military career, which included command of USSOCOM and thus Operation Neptune Spear, the special ops raid that took out Osama bin Laden. He is now the chancellor of The University of Texas System. Let me tell you, Admiral McRaven is a man!
One of the reasons I admire the Admiral is the graduation speech he gave in 2014 at the University of Texas. His talk was built upon ten life lessons he had learned. Among them was one taught by his Vietnam-era instructors at SEAL school when he was a young officer. It was this: make your bed every morning.
Now, maybe you can imagine how odd it was for that UT audience to hear a four-star admiral in dress uniform talk about the importance of making your bed. This oddity didn’t bother the admiral a bit. He explained that his instructors at SEAL school expected the sheets and blankets to be tight, the hospital corners to be exact, the pillow square and full at the head of the bed, and the extra blanket perfectly formed at the foot of the bed. Admiral McRaven said he learned it, did it daily, and that it changed his life.
He said that he had quickly realized that if he did his first task perfectly every morning, it laid the basis for doing a second task perfectly. Then another and another. The discipline, art, duty, and pride of doing the first task well spilled over into the second task. And so it went, throughout his day, until he learned to fashion a day of duties done well, which in turn led to a life well-lived.
The Admiral said that if he ever had a bad day, he could always return home to a bed well-made. There was encouragement in it, he assured: the promise of a new day that could be crafted into a fresh start.
Then he said the words that have probably stuck with everyone in that audience ever since: “If you can’t do little things right, you won’t do big things right. So if you want to change the world, start by making your bed.”
I loved the Admiral’s emphasis on doing. I believe that deeds radiate. I believe that one right thing extends power to the next right thing. I believe in rituals, in routines. Our whole lives shouldn’t be duties and routines, but living rituals and disciplines should undergird our lives. This is particularly important at the start of the day. The first five things you do in the morning usually chart the course for your day and thus the life you lead that is made up of days.
I urge you to watch Admiral McRaven on YouTube. He’s easy to find. Then, examine two things. First, take stock of your approach to deeds. Do you do what you do with excellence, with rigorous devotion to perfection? Second, do you program your life with your morning rituals? Do you build your life one right deed after another?
I saw Admiral McRaven’s speech years ago, but reviewing it in order to write this Leading Thoughts has made me eager to refine my disciplines even more. Join me. Let’s build lives of value—one perfect deed after another.
If you enjoyed this and would like to subscribe to Stephen’s weekly Leading Thoughts newsletter simply sign up here.