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10 Life & Love Lessons from Me and Navy SEAL Admiral McRaven

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.

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Watch the full speech here:

 

We Need To Have A Talk About Having “The Talk”

Picture this scenario:

You’ve been in a relationship for a few months, and things are going well. There’s intimacy and possible signs of real commitment. There’s potential here, but you’re purposely keeping it light and letting things unfold. You see a future with this BF/GF, so you’re making sure not to pressure or get ahead of yourself. 

But as a few months slides into a year, you start wondering why the relationship isn’t progressing. You’re going along and getting along, but you’re not moving along. It seems comfortable enough, but you’re uncomfortable. You’re trying to be easy going, but you’re uneasy. The sex is still good, so why worry? But still, you wonder:

Why haven’t I met his kids or family yet?

Why aren’t we talking about the future? 

Why isn’t he asking me to move in?

Why is she going on trips and not inviting me?

Why don’t I ever get texts, cards, or little gifts saying he’s thinking about me? 

Why doesn’t she include me with friends?

Why is he always too busy?

Why haven’t we said “I love you” to each other?

You feel something’s up. You want answers, but don’t dare ask, lest you rock the boat or appear needy. You’re probably being paranoid anyway. Maybe there’s a good reason for their distance. Maybe they’re taking their time, or they’re cautious, or maybe they really are busy at work.

You keep your mouth shut until you can’t take it any longer. The unknown is killing you, so you finally say “We need to talk.” 

So you make a date to sit down either at your place or somewhere neutral like a restaurant, and have “The Talk.” You ask “Where is this going? Do you want to be in a relationship? What are you looking for? Are we exclusive?” All the questions you’ve been dying to ask because you need to know your future. And who can blame you? No one wants to get hurt, be rejected, give their heart away, or invest time and energy into something that’s going nowhere. 

But here’s the thing with “The Talk:” what you gain in answers, you lose in self-determination. Twice in my life I had “The Talk,” and both times made me feel pitiful. I knew my boyfriends probably didn’t want to move forward, but I didn’t have the guts to pull the plug, nor did they have the balls to end it, so I swallowed my pride and took my lumps as they handed me my fate. When you have “The Talk,” you not only give all your power and agency away, you put your future into someone else’s hands to determine.   

If you have to have “The Talk,” you already know the answers. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having “The Talk,” but instead of waiting to be handed your fate, be proactive and tell them where YOU stand. State YOUR needs first. Tell your BF/GF what YOU want. Tell them where YOU want to go, and if they’re not on-board, then end it on YOUR terms, with dignity and grace.  

Here’s “The Talk” I want you to initiate:

YOU: “We’ve been dating a while, and I’m sensing some reticence on your part. I’m not sure if you share my goals for this relationship, but if we’re not on the same page, then let’s not keep spinning each other’s wheels. I’d like to move on if that’s the case.” 

If you approach “The Talk” from a place of resolve and strength, power instead of passivity, it will arm you for what comes next.

Be prepared for answers you may not want to hear. Be prepared to breakup. Be prepared to cry. Be prepared to walk away. Be prepared for shit to get real. Your BF/GF might not fight for you, or they may profess their true love. The good news is, whatever “The Talk” reveals, you will be well prepared to take your future into your own hands.  

You’re Not Truly Compatible Unless You Have This

Before I got married for the first time at 51, I thought I knew what true compatibility was: connecting on a mind, body, and soul level. If we connected on enough levels, we were compatible. Compatibility meant we had potential, possibility, maybe even a real shot at love.

Everyone has their own definition of compatibility, it’s a very personal thing. But what I learned after being single for so many years (and suffering through so many boyfriends and breakups) is that there’s more to compatibility than meets the eye.

Here’s what I’ve experienced:

Compatibility starts with great chemistry.

You get along, have fun, laugh, feel comfortable, and have great energy and attraction for each other. The conversation is lively and the communication flows. Your personalities mesh, you get each other, you’re in alignment, and vibrate at the same frequency. I knew I was compatible with someone when nothing got lost in translation when we talked.

Having common interests make you compatible.

You enjoy the same things: i.e. going to concerts, binge-watching shows, working out, or volunteering at the animal shelter. Or maybe you like doing nothing at all because you just dig each other’s company. I’m a big sports fan—playing, watching AND betting–so dating someone who shared my passion was a plus. Having similar dislikes also makes you compatible—like sharing a mutual disgust for pineapple on pizza.

Sexual compatibility counts for a lot.

Generally, you have the same sexual tastes, desires, enthusiasm, and sense of adventure or experimentation. You know how to read and please your partner. You’re both respectful and unselfish. Doesn’t matter if you love sex or hate it, if you’re prude or a perv, you’re always in synch. When you’re sexually compatible, everyone’s needs get met.

SIDE NOTE: I once had a boyfriend who hated oral. We eventually broke up, not because he wouldn’t go down on me (which was a problem) but because we didn’t see eye-to-eye about the future. He wanted one, I didn’t.

There’s compatibility if you go at the same pace. 

Both parties are in rhythm, going at the same speed, and have compatible attachment styles. No one is pushing or pulling, prodding or pressuring. Nothing feels forced, rushed, or fearful. You’re just two people enjoying the ride—neither going too slow or too fast, or holding on too tight.

Sharing the same values/political beliefs makes you compatible.

Opposites do attract (Hello KellyAnne and George Conway!) but being on the same side of the aisle can help. Like sharing the same beliefs on policy, religion, healthcare, women’s rights, etc. When you’re sympatico on the issues, you know someone’s core, and you’re united in your views. Especially in this day and age, dating someone who’s politically like-minded seems more important than ever.

P.S. KellyAnne must be a dynamo in the sack, because I personally don’t know how they stay married. Same goes for Mary Matlin and James Carville.

As I said, I thought I knew what true compatibility was, but now that I’m married, I know why past boyfriends lead to breakups. It wasn’t lack chemistry, or great sex, or politics, or pace, or mutual love of sports betting. I had all of that.

We ultimately weren’t compatible because we didn’t have the SAME GOALS OR VISION OF THE FUTURE when it came to commitment.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fuck buddies, or want to live happily ever after as husband and wife, you’ve got to be on the same page. You’ve got to want the same thing for the thing to work. That’s what will give you and your partner staying power, regardless of your arrangement.

You can have all the fun in the world, but if you’re not going in the same direction, you ain’t going anywhere.

Plus, when you share the same goals, or vision of the future, you’re not just compatible, you can overcome pretty much anything—except maybe bad oral sex. Or in my case, none at all.