Motivation from a Navy SEAL: Admiral McRaven’s Commencement Speech

by | Oct 16, 2020 |

In 2014, Navy Admiral William McRaven returned to his alma mater, the University of Texas, to deliver its commencement address. McRaven trained as a Navy SEAL, and he uses stories from basic training to illustrate the lessons he shares. His speech is motivating and contains useful advice “to help you on your way to a better world.”

At the beginning, McRaven explains the purpose behind the recommendations he’s about to give. He describes how an individual can change the world, and asks a key question: “What will the world look like once you’ve changed it?” McRaven’s stories and prescriptions highlight the importance of self-discipline, perseverance, and grit. Unsurprisingly, there are some altruistic undertones in his speech. But his advice is generally valuable, applicable, and motivating for an individual seeking to improve his life and to forge win-win relationships. 

Throughout the talk, he repeats the formulation, “If you want to change the world, do X” as a means of referring back to his stated purpose. I recommend mentally replacing each instance of this principle with “If you want to improve your life, do X” to get the most out of his advice. After all, if you really wish to change the world, that starts with your own life.

One of his first pieces of advice is to start each day by making your bed. This simple task, as he says, provides a small sense of pride and the motivation to complete more tasks. In other words, accomplish tasks and take pride in them as you do so; then use the spiritual fuel from your small accomplishments to propel you toward bigger ones.

Early in his speech, McRaven points out that, regardless of personal background, all human beings face similar challenges throughout life, and the principles and lessons he shares are applicable to everyone. He returns to this theme later on in a story about how one should judge others not by physical appearance or by race, but rather by their determination and their strength. He describes this as “the size of their heart,” but it’s clear from his examples that he’s referring to their willpower and strength of mind.

A few other lessons McRaven shares through his engaging stories include:

  • Rather than letting failure upset and demotivate you, use it as an opportunity to improve and become stronger
  • When under pressure, it’s even more crucial to draw on your strength and experience to reach a goal
  • Optimism and determination are essential in tough times (McRaven labels as “hope,” but it’s clear from the story that he’s talking about staying positive and keeping your resolve under pressure)

Admiral McRaven uses superb storytelling and his own experiences to deliver an extremely heartening, purpose-driven speech full of excellent advice. I encourage you to listen, and I hope you find it as motivating as I do.

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