Adm. William H. McRaven, a Navy SEAL and commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, was architect of Operation Neptune Spear, the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
McRaven graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1977 with a degree in journalism. He returned to his alma mater in May to deliver the commencement address with advice on “if you want to change the world.”
The admiral has graciously allowed me to share his thoughts, which are relevant to the challenges graduates will face in life, as well as in investing.
McRaven left UT after graduation for basic SEAL training in Coronado, California. As a warrior-in-training, it seemed silly that the first challenge each morning was a meticulous inspection of his bed. But the wisdom of this simple act would be proven many times over.
“If you make your bed every morning,” he said, “you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.
“Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
No matter how much effort he put into starching his hat, pressing his uniform and polishing his belt buckle, instructors would invariably find a flaw. The punishment for failing inspection was running fully clothed into the surf and rolling around on the beach until you were a sand-covered “sugar cookie.”
McRaven said, “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. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.”
Each day was filled with multiple physical challenges. Failure to meet performance standards earned you an invitation to a two-hour “circus,” with additional physical activity designed to wear you down and break your spirit. While everyone made the circus list during training, only those who found inner strength succeeded.
“Life is full of circuses,” he said. “You will likely fail often. It will be painful. At times, it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.”
Finally, he said in SEAL training there is a brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound. All you had to do to quit and make the physical and mental hardships stop was ring the bell. He said, “If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”
In closing, he advised, “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 the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.”•
Kim is the chief operating officer and chief compliance officer for Kirr Marbach & Co. LLC, an investment adviser based in Columbus, Ind. He can be reached at (812) 376-9444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.