10 Life Lessons From a Navy SEAL That Apply to Everyone

Since I read “SEAL Team Six” by Howard Wasdin a few years ago I’ve been fascinated, impressed, and inspired by SEAL operators.  My close friends and family naturally think this is odd and weird, especially since I’m firmly non-violent and as a musician could be considered the furthest thing from a military guy.  I always try explaining that for me, it’s not about violence and battle, but the human spirit.  These guys exemplify all human characteristics that I hold in highest regard: perseverance, mental fortitude, physical toughness, self control, intelligence, wits, and the ability to stay calm and focused under the MOST stressful situations.  SEALs forge themselves under the most intense and strenuous environments, learning a lifetime of lessons in the process.

Naval Admiral William H. McRaven returned to his alma mater last week and spoke to the graduates with lessons he learned from his basic SEAL training.  Here is his 10 lessons and how it relates to my life, a simple writer/producer/engineer in LA:

#1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

– He says that if you want to do the big things right, you have to do all the small things right as well.   For me this also means that you have to have your personal shit together before you can put your talents out there to the world (creative or otherwise).  If you start winning the small victories at home in the am, you’ve already set yourself up for the bigger ones throughout the day.

#2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

– If anyone thinks they can succeed all by themselves they’re a joke.  You are a culmination of your team, your family, and your friends.  No one gets to high places by themselves.  A well oiled machine is what keeps the creative and technical processes efficient and of higher quality.

#3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

– It’s sad how many creatively gifted people I’ve met through the years that just don’t make it because they don’t want it.  They may THINK they do, but their actions don’t reflect that.  An old drum teacher of mine said that the GIFT was a persons innate abilities that their born with, but TALENT is the ability to forge yourself into greatness.  For hours and hours, every day.  We may think that “genius” is a birthed ability, but its not.  Genius is achieved by through hard work and experience.

#4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

– What McRaven is referring to by “Sugar Cookie” is when soldiers are (constantly) punished by having to jump into the ocean, then roll around in the sand, being soaked, sandy, and cold for the whole day.  No matter how hard they try to avoid the punishment, it’s inevitable.  The only choice is to move on and persevere.  In music, no matter how hard we work, no matter how good we think our songs are, and no matter how many we make, we’re going to get fucked some way or another and face failure.  It’s unavoidable.  I’ve wanted to quit and move on many times but the truth is, a true warrior pushes forward no matter what.  Just like SEAL candidates, during the hardest times we need to remember why we’re doing this in the first place and KEEP PUSHING.

#5. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

“A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics—designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.  No one wanted a circus.  A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue—and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely.  But at some time during SEAL training, everyone—everyone—made the circus list.  But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students-—who did two hours of extra calisthenics—got stronger and stronger.  The pain of the circuses built inner strength-built physical resiliency.  Life is filled with circuses.”

This is important.  I see people willingly back down from tasks and challenges that will benefit them longterm, even though it may not be fun in the short term.  Putting in the extra work instead of smoking weed and watching TV, running the extra miles, stepping pout of a comfort zone, choosing to push oneself HARDER because it might not be FUN.  I’ve forced myself through these situations in the past because every time I do, I learn more about myself.  Usually what I learn is that I’m capable of way more than I thought I was.  I come out better, stronger, and more confident.

#6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

– Even though it’s almost common knowledge (especially in a creative industry) where taking risks and thinking outside the box can yield great innovation and huge success, it’s much easier said than done.  It’s scary because one wrong move can result in failure and marring your rep.  This is a great lesson to keep in mind, but not to practice publicly all the time.  Wait until the right moment – don’t look for that crazy idea, acting on mediocre ones and looking like a fool, wait until that crazy idea finds you.  Trust your intuition, you’ll know when it’s right.  Plus, like we always said as musicians, “You need to learn how to play ‘in’ before you can play ‘out.'”

#7. So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

– This is another lesson easier said than done.  In real world situations, you have to wisely pick your moments to stand up, or else you’ll be crushed.  Know when to be fondled a little rather than fucked in the ass.  But, when you are faced with a situation where you feel you MUST stand your ground, DO IT.  Usually this is when people are trying to take advantage of your worth.  If you’re confident with your worth then don’t concede.  Every one will respect in the end.

#8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

– Either in a moment of unexpected flash panic or continued stress scenarios, put the tasks at hand above all of that and push into them.  During two crucial periods in my life, (starting Berklee school of music and then starting my engineering position at Beluga Heights) I experienced the death of my father and then the death of my younger brother.  I could’ve let those events cripple me, but I didn’t.  I knew that these were extra tests and challenges for me to overcome to achieve my goals, and staying focused and positive helped me through the grief.  I made it my business to shine as brightly as possible through the darkness, and it yielded some of my best work.  I’ve also been in studio and life situations where I’ve made a mistake, or something out of my control goes horribly wrong, and instead of falling into that pit of despair I immediately (and calmly) focus on trying to fix it.  Think grace under pressure.  You don’t know how you’ll act until this happens, but when it does, remember not to even THINK about the repercussions of what happened, only how to reverse it or move on from it.

#9. So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

– His story gave me the chills: Not much else to say…

“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 eight 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.  If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan—Malala—one person can change the world by giving people hope.”

#10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

In SEAL training, if you ring the bell, you’re out.  The drill instructors try to break you into quitting.  They make quitting seem so… NICE.  If you TRULY want something, never quit.  Don’t quit working more than you think you can.  Don’t quit hoping.  Don’t become complacent.  Whether you’re halfway through the race, or just at the starting line, you’ve already succeeded because you’re there.  The only way you’ll truly fail is if you give up.  Or don’t try at all.

You can check out McRaven’s full speech: