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Never, Ever, Ring the Bell! Life Lessons From a Navy Seal


“If you want to change your life and maybe the world-start off by making your bed!” As Admiral William H. McRaven suggests, starting your day with a simple task such as making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you with the satisfaction to end it right. In his thirty-seven years as a Navy Seal, Admiral McRaven learned many lessons about dealing with life’s challenges. In his fantastic book, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe the World, McRaven provides ten lessons that he learned from Navy Seal training, which have a universal appeal and can help all of us as we navigate life’s difficulties. I believe that three of his lessons in particular are especially important. If we always remember that failure can make us stronger, to rise to the occasion, and that we must never, ever quit, we just might change our lives . . . and maybe the world.

On May 17, 2014, Admiral McRaven shared the ten lessons that he learned from Navy Seal training with the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their commencement day. His speech went viral and generated millions of views. McRaven's book is designed to give more context to the individual lessons that he shared during his unforgettable speech.

Failure Can Make You Stronger: "If you want to change the world . . . don't be afraid of The Circus."

Failure can stiffen your spine. During Seal training, McRaven mentions that if you failed to meet the standard on any event that day-calisthenics, the obstacle course, the timed runs, or the swims-your name was put on The Circus list. The Circus was held every afternoon at the end of training. It was another two hours of additional calisthenics, combined with nonstop harassment by Seal combat veterans who wanted only the strong to survive training. McRaven and his swim buddy failed their long swim and could not avoid the Circus list. Because the extra exhaustion wore them down, more circuses followed. “It was a death spiral, a cycle of failure that caused many students to quit training,” McRaven writes. What had originally started as a punishment for failure eventually made them stronger, faster, and more confident in the water. As training was coming to an end, the two men emerged as the first swim pair to finish the final open ocean swim, a five-miler off the coast of San Clemente Island. When they finished, one instructor said, “Well done, gentlemen. It looks like all that extra pain and suffering paid off.” McRaven’s point in sharing this story is that many of us will face a lot of circuses in life. We will often pay for our failures. But if we let those failures teach us and strengthen our resolve, we will be prepared to handle life’s toughest moments.

Rise to the Occasion: "If you want to change the world . . . be your very best in the darkest moments."

During one of the most difficult parts of Seal training, McRaven and twenty-five pairs of divers had to perform a nighttime dive. Their objective was to swim two thousand meters underwater from the starting point across the bay to an anchored vessel. Once underneath the ship, they had to place a practice limpet mine on the keel and then, without being detected return to the beach. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that at night the visibility in San Diego Bay was so bad that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. McRaven recalled that, “The instructors seemed as nervous as we were. They knew that this training event had the highest potential for someone to get hurt or die.” The chief petty officer in charge of the event summoned all the divers into a small circle and said, “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.” Admiral McRaven never forgot those words. He reminds us that we will all confront a dark moment in life, but in that dark moment, we need to reach deep inside ourselves and be our very best. The darkness can always be conquered.

Never, Ever Quit!: "If you want to change the world . . . don't ever, ever ring the bell."

On the first day of Seal training, McRaven and 150 other students stood at attention. The main instructor offered some initial words: “Today is the first day of Seal training. For the next six months you will undergo the toughest course of instruction in the United States military.” Apprehension was visible on the faces of the new trainees. The instructor also added, “You will be tested like no time in your life,” and that, “Most of you will not make it through. I will see to that.” In full view of the new “tadpoles” was a brass bell hanging in the large asphalt courtyard. The instructor explained that to escape all the misery, “All you have to do to quit is ring this bell three times.” “Ring the bell and you wont have to get up early. Ring the bell and you wont have to do the long runs, the cold swims, or the obstacle course. Ring the bell and you can avoid all this pain.” He also had another message: “If you quit, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Quitting never makes anything easier.” Out of all the lessons that McRaven learned in Seal training, he said that this message was the most important. Life is hard and there are forces that will try to break us down, but if we stand tall and strong against the odds, then life will be what we make of it, and we have the power to make it great. No matter what happens, never, ever, ring the bell!

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