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.

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The art of making friends

AdmiralMcRaven_TaskAndPurpose
Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired) (Source: Task & Purpose)

“Help as many people as you can. Make as many friends as you can. Work as hard as you can. And, no matter what happens, never quit!”

These are not the usual words or piece of advice you generally expect from a military figure like the retired commander of American Special Forces. But that’s the philosophy of Retired Admiral William M. McRaven, distilled in his most recent book Sea Stories: My Life of Special Operations.

Let me say it from the get-go. The book is pure joy to read. Not only because Admiral McRaven details his life as a Navy SEAL and the main operations in which he took part – like finding a crashed Navy airplane in the mountains of British Columbia (hey, I’m proud when a great author writes about my country), the capture of Saddam Hussein or the find and seek operation to neutralize Osama bin Laden (“the most successful special operation since World War II”). For a military enthusiast, those are great pages to read and the author has a gift for expressing himself eloquently and precisely. No word is superfluous.

But what amazed me the most is the mindset of that great military figure. If you haven’t yet, I invite you to watch the video of his speech inviting you to make your bed first thing in the morning then going about to change the worldMake your bed is also the title of a previous book by the famous Navy SEAL.

SeaStoriesImageAn outspoken believer in God and family man, Admiral McRaven also refers often to stoicism in his book – a predisposition also shared by none other than Former Defense Secretary and retired US Marines General James Mattis. Comfortable and at ease with his beliefs and values, he also finds no qualms in bringing terrorists to justice.

But what impressed me the most is what I learnt about the elected officials Admiral McRaven worked with and for. To that end, the following excerpt about his interaction with President George W. Bush regarding the neutralization of terrorist Abu Ghadiya (“the most wanted man outside Iraq”) in 2008 is worth quoting at length:

“At one point in the brief the President stopped me and asked, “Why are we sending the SOF guys in? Can’t we just drop a GBU‐31 on this guy?”

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