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Adm. McRaven: My 10 Life Lessons From SEAL Training

By Drew MacKenzie   |  

Admiral William McRaven, whose 36-year career as a Navy SEAL has been shrouded in secrecy, recently made a rare appearance in public to deliver the commencement address at the University of Texas and revealed his 10 life lessons he learned from his basic SEAL training.

McRaven commanded a squadron in the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team Six, and he was in charge of the planning and execution of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to the Navy Times.

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Due to the mysterious nature of his position, he has stayed out of the limelight as much as possible while other four-star admirals often appear in the media and before Congress, according to Business Insider.

But McRaven, a 1977 UT graduate, took to the stage at the Austin campus of his alma mater on May 17 to address 8,000 students and tell them how his SEAL training and the school’s motto, “What starts here changes the world,” has been relevant to his life and can be to the graduates as well.

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Lesson No. 1:  If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day,” said, noting that he had to have a perfectly made bed as a SEAL.

Lesson No. 2: If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

“You can’t change the world alone — you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

Lesson No. 3: If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

“SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.”

Lesson No. 4: If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

“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.”

Lesson No. 5: “If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

The circus was a form of SEAL punishment for failing to meet physical standards during training. It consisted of two hours of extra calisthenics.

“The pain of the circuses built inner strength – built physical resiliency,” said McRaven, “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.”

Lesson No. 6: If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

McRaven said that a SEAL student broke an obstacle course record when he became the first person to take it on head-first. “It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. It only took him half (the) time.”

Lesson No. 7: If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

“There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”

Lesson No. 8: If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

“Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at 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."

Lesson No. 9: If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

During Hell Week in the SEALs, students spend hours neck deep in bone-chilling cold mud. But one student started singing and then they all sang along, helping them get through the ordeal.

Lesson No. 10: If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

This lesson refers to the brass bell in the center of training camp. If a student rings the bell, he can leave the SEALs.

McRaven said, “Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.” In other words, don’t ever quit.

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Admiral William McRaven, whose 36-year career as a Navy Seal has been shrouded in secrecy, made a rare appearance in public to deliver the commencement address at the University of Texas and revealed his 10 life lessons he learned from his basic SEAL training. McRaven...
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