Do the Little Things Right

2014 UT Austin Commencement Address by Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

Lessons learned from basic SEAL training:

  • If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
  • Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie.
  • When you’re up to your neck in mud, start singing.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.

The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit—just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over 8 hours till the sun came up–eight more hours of bone chilling cold.

The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything– and then, one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm.

One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.

The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing—but the singing persisted.

And somehow– the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

Full Transcript:
McRaven to Grads: To Change the World, Start by Making Your Bed

We’ll All Be Dead Soon

A year and a half ago, my uncle Gary bought himself a billy goat and an alpaca. He had been diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer. He took an early retirement and decided to do all the things he’d always wanted to do, but never got around to doing. He reconnected with family and friends. He went to Disneyland. At the end of the year, he hosted a luau at his home, complete with a 300-pound pig over an imu pit.

Uncle Gary lost his battle with cancer last week. He’d had a total of 20 months between diagnosis and endgame.

The countdown timer is ticking for everybody, but no one pays attention to it until the clock gets into the lower digits. We place a lot of emphasis on the crucial final plays, forgetting that a healthy 20-month period starting now is more valuable than the last seconds of the game when we’re worn out and losing our faculties.

From Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.