Admiral William McRaven, the head Navy SEAL honcho in charge of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden (no big deal), recently gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas. Here are six takeaways and what they mean for you:
1. Make your bed. It’s a small victory but it sets the tone for the day. Tending to the boring, mundane, seemingly worthless tasks may seem inconsequential, but in reality they’re pivotal to building a habit of excellence. As you begin your entrepreneurial career, you want to establish habits that last -- you want to plant the seeds that, no matter what hailstorm of uncertainty approaches, the roots of excellence run so deep that nothing can unplug them. Start small, win big. Make the routine, routine.
2. Relationships are everything. In BUD/S (SEAL training), each class is divided into five- to seven-person boat crews who are forced to work together despite personal differences. Business is no different. Sure, having startup capital is important, but relationships are everlasting. Knowing the right people allows you to bypass the masses and get a foot forward where others are still deciding which foot to use.
3. Accept the sugar cookie. BUD/S students who fail their room inspections are told to “get wet and sandy,” which means cover yourself from head to toe with sand until you look like a “sugar cookie.” Students may fail their room inspection even if their rooms look completely immaculate for the following reasons: to identify candidates who keep going despite failure, and to weed out those who would quit because of it. There is no direct path to success in starting a company. The road will bend, ascend, descend and perhaps even end until you decide to go wash off the sand from your sugar cookie-laden fate, learn from any mistakes, and start anew.
4. Face the sharks. In the third phase of BUD/S, students do a nighttime swim around San Clemente island, but not until the instructors make you watch scenes from Jaws and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Then, you are told that if you see a shark just punch him in the nose and he’ll swim away. Once in the water, I remember watching one particular instructor chum the water from a kayak just ahead of my swim buddy. We swam faster than ever before. The point is, sharks pervade all corners of society. If you don’t deal with them head on, they will only keep attacking.
5. Be your best -- always. Even the darkest of times offers opportunities to shine. Placing a limpet mine on a ship’s keel is the most dangerous part of a combat swimmer’s mission because any sound made on the keel reverberates throughout the ship. It’s dark, eerie and extremely nerve-racking to be underneath a ship at night, let alone in enemy territory, but this is the time to be your best. One false move and the enemy will know you’re there. In life there will be times when it’s easier to procrastinate, delegate or otherwise avoid responsibility, but don’t. Refuse the urge and let your character speak for itself.
6. Stay away from the bell. If, at anytime, a SEAL trainee decides that getting up at 4:30 in the morning to be cold, wet and miserable is no longer the cool thing to do, or if running around with a boat on his head for a week on only four hours of sleep is too tiresome, he can quit anytime. Wannabe quitters just have to ring a brass bell three times and say, “I quit” (actually, there’s a lot more paperwork involved but that’s not fun to write about) and they can immediately end the nightmare. Of course, there’s always the 20 percent who choose to stay. If you want to get ahead in life, stay away from the bell.
While this is only a partial list of Admiral McRaven’s speech (download the transcript here), it speaks to the very fundamentals that set high performers apart: start small, win big; focus on people; face hardship and get over it; always be on top of your game; and never let up. What will be your first small victory today?