Don’t be afraid of the mud

11 months ago, right into the first wave of the pandemic, I reviewed Admiral (ret.) William H. McRaven’s excellent book, Sea Stories. Devouring this book was one of the most uplifting moments of this somber period. Not only because I’m a big fan of the author, but also because it is extremely well-written, and the content touched a chord.

That was before I put my hands on Make Your Bed, his shorter previous book which is the companion to the famous commencement speech he gave at the University of Texas in May 2014. While Sea Stories inspired me “from the outside”, Make Your Bed is not in the same category. The 10 life lessons it contains make you dive right into your own life and path. And that’s not always easy.

During his training to become a Navy SEAL, Admiral McRaven was told by one of his instructors: “[…] life isn’t fair and the sooner you learn that the better off you will be.” The purpose of this review is not meant to be autobiographical, but I have no choice but to share a bit of my own story to make you understand why this book has had such a powerful impact on me.

As a young adult, I witnessed my parents’ divorce and suffered greatly from it. In a nutshell, everything kept spiraling from bad to worse, with no end in sight. The temptation to “ring the bell” (a Navy SEAL wanting to quit only needs to ring three times the bell that’s located on the courtyard of the SEALs training camp in Coronado, California) was extremely strong. A few months before the family house was sold, I made a crucial decision. In hindsight, that was the best one I could take. I was moving to the University’s student’s residence. I wanted to be close to my classes, to the library where I spent lots of time and to live with other people my age. It was a huge gamble. After I paid the rent for the first month, I found myself with only 50$ in my pockets.

I will never forget the first evening I walked in the corridor of my new home. My level of anxiety was equal to my excitement. Just when I was putting the key in the lock of the door of my new room, one of my classmates walked by. She offered me to have supper with her. She lifted up my spirits and became a lifelong friend. She’s now a Major in the Canadian Armed Forces. I would be hard-pressed to disagree with Admiral McRaven’s observation that “[…] anything I achieved in my life was a result of others who have helped me along the way.”

But the most powerful passage in Make Your Bed is probably when another instructor told the author: “That obstacle course is going to beat you every time unless you start taking some risks.” I could write a book of my own detailing how true that is.

I refused to quit on my dreams and aspirations, I refused to cede one inch to my intimidators and, no matter how deep in the mud I can be (if you want to know more about that reference, you’ll have to read the amazing chapter nine of the book), I know that the size of my heart is the best thing I have going for me.

Last year, Captain Sir Tom Moore captivated the world using his walker in a courtyard to support those who are on the first line of defense against the Covid-19. Two months ago, he passed away. “Little things in life matter”, writes Admiral McRaven at the conclusion of the book.

And “if you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” When I read that passage, I closed my eyes and saw my late father in my mind. When I was young, he instilled that fundamental lesson in me. For example, whenever he asked me to do some photocopies for him, it had to be perfect. If not, I had to redo it. That’s how I learnt my work ethic. And that has been extremely useful to me ever since.

As we enter the third wave of the pandemic, which, according to some might be the toughest one, we need to brace ourselves with more sacrifices, hardship and sorrow. You might lose revenues, a loved one might catch the disease, or you might just be depressed to be in lockdown – again. But remember. Life is not fair. And what matters is your reaction to challenges and difficulties. Don’t be afraid and keep your head up. You’re stronger than the mud you’re in.

If you need an excellent source of inspiration in these troubled times, get yourself a copy of Make Your Bed immediately. You can read it in one evening. But the lessons it contains will stay with you forever. It is difficult not to be in awe with Admiral McRaven’s role in capturing and neutralizing Osama bin Laden, but I’ll always be grateful for his books.

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Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired), Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World, New York, Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 144 pages.

I would like to express all my gratitude towards Dominique Delmas from Hachette Book Group Canada for proving me with a copy of this amazing book and for all her precious assistance.