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Make Your Bed | William H. McRaven

Make Your Bed | William H. McRaven

In battle soldiers die, families grieve, your days are long and filled with anxious moments. You search for something that can give you solace, that can motivate you to begin your day, that can be a sense of pride in an oftentimes ugly world. But it is not just combat. It is daily life that needs this same sense of structure. Nothing can replace the strength and comfort of one's faith, but sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right.

If you want to change your life and maybe the world—start off by making your bed ! [...]

No SEAL could make it through combat alone and by extension you needed people in your life to help you through the difficult times. [...]

None of us are immune from life's tragic moments. Like the small rubber boat we had in basic SEAL training, it takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depends on others. [...]

The sailor stood up straight, with a look of defiance in his eyes. "Yes, instructor, I do!" he shouted.

"You're a tiny little man," the instructor said, waving the flippers in his face. "Those waves out there could break you in half." He paused and glanced toward the ocean. "You should think about quitting now before you get hurt."

Even out of the corner of my eye I could see the student's jaw begin to tighten.

"I won't quit!" the sailor replied, drawing out each word. Then the instructor leaned in and whispered something in the student's ear. I couldn't make out the words over the breaking waves.

After all the trainees were inspected the instructors ordered us into the water, and we began our swim. An hour later, I crawled out of the surf zone, and standing on the beach was the young seaman recruit. He had finished the swim near the head of the class. Later that day, I pulled him aside and asked what the instructor had whispered to him. He smiled and said proudly, "Prove me wrong!"

SEAL training was always about proving something. Proving that size didn't matter. Proving that the color of your skin wasn't important. Proving that money didn't make you better. Proving that determination and grit were always more important than talent. I was fortunate to learn that lesson a year before training began. [...]

In the middle of our conversation, Lieutenant Huth suddenly stopped talking, looked up from his desk, and yelled to the man in the hall. I stood up as Huth motioned the thin man to come into his office.

"Bill, this is Tommy Norris," he said, giving the thin man a big bear hug. "Tommy was the last SEAL Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam," Huth added. Norris smiled, somewhat embarrassed by the introduction. I smiled back, shook his hand, and laughed at myself. This seemingly frail, mop-haired man who I doubted could make it through training was Lieutenant Tom Norris. Tom Norris, who had served in Vietnam, had on successive nights gone deep behind enemy lines to rescue two downed airmen. This was Tom Norris who, on another mission, was shot in the face by North Vietnamese forces and left for dead only to be rescued by Petty Officer Mike Thornton, who would later receive the Medal of Honor for those actions. This was Tom Norris, who battled back from his injury to be accepted into the FBI's first Hostage Rescue Team. This quiet, reserved, humble man was one of the toughest SEALs in the long history of the Teams.

In 1969, Tommy Norris was almost booted out of SEAL training. They said he was too small, too thin, and not strong enough. But much like the young sailor in my class, Norris proved them all wrong and once again showed that it's not the size of your flippers that count, just the size of your heart. [...]

"Mr. Mac, do you have any idea why you are a sugar cookie this morning?" Martin said in a very calm but questioning manner.

"No, Instructor Martin," I dutifully responded.

"Because, Mr. Mac, life isn't fair and the sooner you learn that the better off you will be." [...]

The more I got to know Moki, the deeper my respect grew for him. In addition to being a superb SEAL operator, Moki was also a phenomenal athlete. In the early 1980s, he was on the leading edge of the triathlon craze. He had a beautiful freestyle stroke in the open ocean. His calves and thighs were strong and moved him effortlessly on the long runs, but his real advantage was the bicycle. He and the bike were made for each other.

Every morning he would mount the bike and go for a thirty-mile ride up and down the Coronado Silver Strand. There was a flat stretch of paved bike path that paralleled the Pacific Ocean. It ran from the city of Coronado to the city of Imperial Beach. With the ocean on one side and the bay on the other, it was one of the most beautiful sections of beach in California.

Early one Saturday morning, Moki was out on a training ride along the Silver Strand. Head down, pedaling fast, he never saw the oncoming bicycle. At roughly twenty-five miles an hour the two bikes collided head-on. The bikes crumpled from the impact, slamming the riders together, leaving both men facedown on the asphalt path. The first rider rolled over, dusted himself off, and struggled to his feet. He was banged up but otherwise fine.

Moki remained facedown, unable to move. The paramedics arrived within minutes, stabilized Moki, and transported him to the hospital. Initially there was hope that the paralysis was temporary, but as the days, months, and years passed, Moki never regained the use of his legs. The crash left him paralyzed from the waist down with limited movement in his arms.

For the past thirty-five years, Moki has been in a wheelchair. In all those years I never once heard him complain about his misfortune in life. Never once did I hear him ask, "Why me?" Never once did he display an ounce of pity for himself.

In fact, after his accident, Moki went on to be an accomplished painter. He fathered a beautiful young girl. He founded and continues to oversee the Super Frog Triathlon that is held every year in Coronado.

It is easy to blame your lot in life on some outside force, to stop trying because you believe fate is against you. It is easy to think that where you were raised, how your parents treated you, or what school you went to is all that determines your future. Nothing could be further from the truth. The common people and the great men and women are all defined by how they deal with life's unfairness: Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking, Malala Yousafzai, and—Moki Martin.

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, you still end up as a sugar cookie. Don't complain. Don't blame it on your misfortune. Stand tall, look to the future, and drive on ! [...]

In life you will face a lot of Circuses. You will pay for your failures. But, if you persevere, if you let those failures teach you and strengthen you, then you will be prepared to handle life's toughest moments. [...]

Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life. [...]

"Tonight, you will have to be your very best. You must rise above your fears, your doubts, and your fatigue. No matter how dark it gets, you must complete the mission. This is what separates you from everyone else." Somehow those words stayed with me for the next thirty years. [...]

Once again, we had learned an important lesson: the power of one person to unite the group, the power of one person to inspire those around him, to give them hope. If that one person could sing while neck deep in mud, then so could we. If that one person could endure the freezing cold, then so could we. If that one person could hold on, then so could we. [...]

We will all find ourselves neck deep in mud someday. That is the time to sing loudly, to smile broadly, to lift up those around you and give them hope that tomorrow will be a better day. [...]

"If you quit, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Quitting never makes anything easier." 

Six months later, there were only thirty-three of us standing at graduation. Some had taken the easy way out. They had quit, and my guess is the instructor was right, they would regret it for the rest of their lives.

Of all the lessons I learned in SEAL training, this was the most important. Never quit. It doesn't sound particularly profound, but life constantly puts you in situations where quitting seems so much easier than continuing on. Where the odds are so stacked against you that giving up seems the rational thing to do. [...]

Life is full of difficult times. But someone out there always has it worse than you do. If you fill your days with pity, sorrowful for the way you have been treated, bemoaning your lot in life, blaming your circumstances on someone or something else, then life will be long and hard. If, on the other hand, you refuse to give up on your dreams, stand tall and strong against the odds—then life will be what you make of it—and you can make it great. Never, ever, ring the bell !

Remember... 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 times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then you can change your life for the better. . . and maybe the world !



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