The Hero Code: “Find what you’re good at and give it to others”

Ever since I watched his famous speech “Make Your Bed”, I have been captivated by the career and thought of retired Admiral William H. McRaven, the former commander of the Navy SEALs. I was therefore excited to receive a copy of his most recent book The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived (Grand Central Publishing).

While I was reading it, an article from the Journal of Strategic Studies caught my attention. Written by National Security Affairs Professor James J. Wirtz, “The Abbottabad raid [during which Osama bin Laden was permanently neutralized by Navy SEALs] and the theory of special operations” elaborates about the theory of special operations, whose father was none other than Admiral McRaven. He theorized it in his master’s degree thesis in a period when, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, we lived in a “[…] new, unipolar world, [where] U.S. special forces would be relegated to tertiary missions within a Cold-War force structure that appeared bloated, obsolete and ripe for significant reductions.”

McRaven’s work sought “[…] to demonstrate that a tactic and unit deemed largely irrelevant by conventionally-minded officers and civilian strategists could actually achieve strategically and politically important effects, but only if planned and executed by special operators themselves against significant targets in proper ways.” And you can figure that the devil was – and still is – in the details.

After 9/11, Special Forces were destined to be positioned at the forefront of the US defense strategy and McRaven found himself at the head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The theorist was called to become a practitioner. With the legendary raid on Abbottabad, he was able to prove his theory, which, in the words of Professor Wirtz, “[…] stood the test of time.”

There is another domain where the former Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces will endure the test of time. The retired U.S. Navy Admiral has now turned into a bestselling author. I have had the privilege of reviewing Sea Stories and Make Your Bed here. In the latter, he details how the smallest gesture can contribute to greater success in life.

Between the covers of The Hero Code, Admiral McRaven talks about attitude and affirms that “[…] there is a hero in all of us.” Who, me? Nah. I will never reach the ankle of the success attained by the guy who directed the Abbottabad raid. And I’m light years away from even completing the portion of a single day endured by SEALs trainees during Hell Week.

But “[…] what makes real heroes are their struggles and their ability to overcome them.” Now wait. We all have struggles in life. So McRaven’s hero theory applies to us all. And “what makes these sacrifices so heroic is that there are no adoring crowds to thank you, no awards to receive, and no gilded words about your bravery.” That passage struck a deep chord in me. Last year, my young son received several neurological diagnoses. He has a disability. And I can’t help but admire all those parents who have embarked on such a journey. Fighting to get appointments with specialists whose waiting lists range between 18 and 24 months, spending countless hours on paperwork, juggling schedules around a very new reality, among many other things. Admiral McRaven is right. There is no medal, no Command Challenge Coin for that. But you know what, it feels good. Because we have the duty – another value mentioned in The Hero Code – to look after one another. Even more so when it’s your child.

My favorite part in the book is when the author writes that “science tells us that certain acts of giving cause the brain to secrete a hormone that generates feelings of well-being.” You can call it the feeling of being happier to give than to receive. Once again, we have a duty. The duty to give. If there is only one quote to remember from this excellent book, it is the following: “All heroes have something that makes them unique. Find that talent and use it to inspire others – to give hope, to make tomorrow a better day.”

10 days ago, we moved in our new place. As the day went by, it became apparent, for reasons that would be too long to explain, that the operation turned into a nightmare. When it became obvious the moving company was not up to the challenge, friends showed up to help us. They literally saved the day. Right when my wife and I were on the brink of despair, we realized we were not alone. These exceptional people gave us what they excelled at, friendship.

Not everyone is interested in military history. To be honest, I’m pretty sure you are if you follow this blog. But anyone can find a source of inspiration in The Hero Code. Because it touches the very fiber of what we are, our humanity, in the everyday battles of our lives, wearing the battle dress of parenthood, entrepreneur, scientist, student or simply human being.

Along the way, this book made me identify the key to success for Admiral McRaven during his successful and notable career. He took care of details and basic humanity as much as he did of discipline, salutes and presumably more important stuff.

Read it. You will understand how much of an impact you can have around you. And your reservoir of hope will be filled to capacity.


Admiral William M. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired), The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived, New York, Grand Central Publishing, 2021, 176 pages.

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