Change the World Starting with a Simple Task


In May 2014, Naval Admiral William H. (Bill) McRaven gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. Admiral McRaven came to the speech with an enviable pedigree – himself a grad of the University of Texas, a 35+ year Navy SEAL, and later, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He also designed the SEAL raid that took out Osama bin Laden. Wow.

McRaven’s commencement address played off UT’s slogan, “What starts here changes the world.” He challenged each of the system-wide graduates to change the lives of just 10 people. If each of those 10 changed the lives of another 10, and each of them another 10, in just five generations 800 million lives would have been changed. Another W-O-W.

McRaven then reflected back on his military career and what he learned in SEAL basic training, calling it “a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.” He set the stage for 10 lessons he learned during SEAL training and offered them to the UT grads.

McRaven’s first lesson involved the daily inspection of beds in the barracks. He called making a bed a simple task, perhaps mundane, but SEALs were taught perfection. He said if a bed is made every morning, the bed maker will have completed the first task of the day, setting the stage for the completion of several more tasks. According to McRaven, a bed made to perfection reinforces the notion that the little things in life matter. He told the grads if the simple things in life could not be done right, then big things will never be done right.

In wrapping up the first lesson, McRaven said, “And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made – that you made – and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” McRaven’s summary: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

All 10 of McRaven’s lessons can easily be found on the Internet or YouTube (you can see it here). They include, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers; get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward; don’t be afraid of the circuses (life is full of them); don’t back down from the sharks; and don’t ever ring the bell.

Many may suggest Admiral McRaven’s lessons should be taught earlier, starting with toddlers, or pre-teens at the latest. Regardless, the 2014 UT grads got them firsthand. They are now four years into changing the world for the better. It starts with a simple task.