Did You Make Your Bed Today

I hope you enjoyed the Shavuot holiday.

On May 17, Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command, gave the commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin. Excerpts from his speech were printed in the Wall Street Journal and have made their rounds on Facebook.

Adm. McRaven shared important life lessons from the six month, very difficult Navy SEAL training. One goal of the training is to “find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.” The training also seeks to find those “who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure, and hardships.”

Here are the some of the lessons learned:

  • Make your bed every day. If you cannot do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
  • For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle. One cannot change the world alone – it requires the help of others.
  • No matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you will end up as a “sugar cookie.” One “punishment” (for the simplest of tasks) in training is for students to run, fully clothed, into the surf zone and then, wet head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of his body is covered in sand – a “sugar cookie.” It is hard to accept that no matter how hard people try, they can feel unappreciated. Keep moving forward.
  • Don’t be afraid of the circuses. Think of the demanding physical training these individuals go through. There are set standards and failure to meet those means you will be invited to a “circus.” A circus is additional hours of training designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. “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.”
  • Don’t back down from the sharks. To pass SEAL training, there are a series of long swims, including a night swim in shark infested waters. “There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”
  • Be at your best in the darkest moment. Adm. McRaven discussed the training for underwater attacks against enemy ships. To be successful in their mission, one has to swim under the ship and find the keel – the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. “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.”
  • Don’t ever, ever ring the bell. In SEAL training there is a bell in the center of the compound. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. No more freezing cold swims, no more obstacle courses, and no more training.

Last week, and hard for me to believe, I celebrated my 20th anniversary in the Jewish Federation field. Through the years I have had wonderful mentors and coaches along the way. Plus, like each of us, had my share of successes and failures. Looking back, I, too, have some lessons I learned along the way:

  • People are people. Everyone is different – each with their own style and personality. Do not try to change people – learn to work with them. It may not be easy and you may not develop the greatest relationship, but you will get further ahead.
  • People believe that the most important meeting is the one they are not at. How many times does someone think they are “missing out” by not being included in a meeting or discussion? I would be delighted to change places and go to even fewer meetings.
  • Always say “Thank You” – no matter what. We are never entitled to one’s philanthropy. We should accept feedback and criticism as a blessing and learning vehicle. And we should appreciate people for their time, effort and energy – because they can spend it anywhere else.
  • Smile – it’s contagious. I actually learned this from my father when he owned his deli. I have found it to be very true both in difficult situations and in adding enthusiasm to our efforts.
  • Conviction matters. Believe in what you do…why you do it…and keep pushing forward.

Adm. McRaven ended his speech with the following – “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 –​ if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.”

What an opportunity! What are your life lessons that can help to change the world?

Shabbat shalom.



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