I bet you didn’t know (and I’m sure he doesn’t know either) but Navy SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven is an accidental dating and relationship expert.
When he offered his 10 life lessons in a commencement speech to the University of Texas at Austin, he wasn’t exactly talking about LOVE, but he could’ve been. In urging the graduating students to find the courage to change the world, he unwittingly offered profound, powerful, and practical analogies to love. So much about how we live, translates to how we love. Both require courage.
Below are the Admiral’s life lessons, and my translations:
1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
He says: “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
I say: Love requires that you work on YOU first. You’ll never be a happy single or a healthy partner unless you take care of yourself. Fix what’s broken; resolve old issues; build your worth and value; savor the small wins, and never stop self-improving.
2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
He says: “You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help. To get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers, and a strong coxswain to guide you.”
I say: Have a good support system to keep you strong and loved, people who will be there when you need them–like after a breakup, or in between a relationship, or when you don’t want to be alone. Surround yourself with friends, family, advisors, and mentors. They’ll come in handy.
3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not their flippers.
He says: “SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, ethnic background, education, or social status.”
I say: Don’t measure a person by their bank account, age, car, or looks. In other words, don’t be shallow. Get past the exterior and go deeper. Ask questions, listen, be curious. Find out what’s in their heart. Your soulmate might not be what you expected, so don’t judge too quickly.
4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
He says: “Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie.
For failing the uniform inspection, the student [in Basic SEAL training] had to run, fully clothed into the surf zone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of their body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a ‘sugar cookie.’ You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day–cold, wet and sandy.
There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.”
I say: When it comes to the pursuit of love, you may have the best intentions and still not measure up. Life isn’t fair, and neither is love sometimes. No one’s perfect, we all have flaws. Accept it as an opportunity for growth and change, and a chance to deepen the relationship to yourself and others.
5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
He says: “Everyday during training, you were challenged with multiple physical events–long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics–something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards, your names was posted on a list, and at the end of the day, those on the list were invited to a ‘circus.’ A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.”
Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”
I say: Love is filled with circuses. Despite your good efforts, you’ll make mistakes. You’ll get down on yourself. You’ll fight with your spouse or argue with your BF/GF. You may not get the guy or the girl, you may breakup or get dumped, or be single longer than you’d like. Don’t get discouraged, don’t let it break your spirit. Keep your eye on the prize, and keep moving forward.
6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.
He says: “The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable, that is, until a student decided to bravely go down head first. It was a dangerous move, seemingly foolish and fraught with risk, but he ended up breaking the record.”
I say: Love takes guts. Being single, dating online, putting yourself out there, is scary. Commitment is daring. Marriage is brave. Relationships take conviction. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable takes courage, so does being alone. Love of all kinds requires risk, but with the risk comes great rewards.
7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
He says: “There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.”
I say: Haters and shamers are a part of life. They’ll either be jealous, begrudge your happiness, or judge you. Rise above it with dignity and grace. Never cower, never let your relationship status define you.
8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
He says: “At the darkest moment of the mission is the time when you must be calm and composed, when all your tactical skills, your physical power, and all your strength must be brought to bear.”
I say: There will be times when the search for love will feel impossible, or sustaining your love will feel daunting. Love is not a losing cause. Stay calm, breathe, trust, and never abandon yourself–especially in dark moments.
9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
He says: “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.”
I say: Nothing will bring you more unconditional love than helping others. Volunteer work gets you out of your head, puts things into perspective, and instills compassion. When you lift others up, you lift yourself up; when you change someone’s life, you change your own.
10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
He says: “In SEAL training, there is a brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit, is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT–and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell. If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever, ring the bell.”
I say: Love will challenge you, test you, teach you. Love is a lesson; it shows you what you’re made of, and if you’re up to the task. Love ultimately starts with YOU, happiness is an inside job, and it’s worth it. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, coupled up, or married forever, stay the course. Don’t give up on love, and don’t ever, ever give up on yourself.
* * * * * * * *
Watch the full speech here: