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Make your bed

October 11, 2017

When people recommend self-help books to me, I go into invisible eye-roll mode. I regard with suspicion the person telling me to read the book. Other than an occasional advice column with tips on speed cooking, I don’t get into the well intentioned advice of folks like Dr. Phil. I guess I’m happy in my chaotic world.

So, it was a huge surprise to me when I stumbled across Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven. A friend recommended it to me a few months ago. I rolled my eyes at him and promptly forgot about it. But, after reading a few books about military intelligence this summer, I kept noticing Make Your Bed appear and reappear on lists of books that were probable picks for me in Amazon.

When it showed up again in Libby, Overdrive’s new app, I broke down and checked out the audiobook. I thought I’d listen to five minutes and be done with it. But, it held my attention and made me think about simple things that I already do or face every day – and my attitude about them.

I’m not Navy SEAL tough. At all. I’m an unorganized wimp who can’t get through a day without messing something up. I get on people’s nerves and they get on mine. I’ve bounced checks, burned birthday cakes, misspelled people’s names in print, forgotten birthdays, failed tests… it goes on.

So, it was empowering to me to read McRaven’s credo, and know that although I’ll never aspire to the rigors that a SEAL endures, I can think about being a “sugar cookie” differently. Here’s the gist:

  1. Make your bed. Start your day by accomplishing something from the start. Do it well. If the rest of your day falls apart, at least you know you did one thing to bring order to your world.
  2. Find someone to help you paddle. There’s no way anyone can handle all life’s slings and arrows alone. Find a friend.
  3. Measure a person by the size of their heart. This is self-explanatory.
  4. Get over being a sugar cookie. Life is unfair. Don’t let that eat you up.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the circus. I think of this as life’s overtime. When you don’t think you have any more energy, and you still need to do the laundry or check homework or finish a work project, you probably can. And should.
  6. Be prepared to jump. This chapter was about taking risks. It’s hard to know when this is wise, but no one is going to move ahead quickly by playing it safe all the time. Be scared, and do your task anyway.
  7. Don’t back down from the sharks. One of the Navy SEAL exercises is to swim 15 miles in shark-infested waters. I have no such plans. But their training taught them that when the sharks circled them, their best defense was to stand up to them. McRaven talked about this exercise when he was capturing and detaining Saddam Hussein.
  8. Be your very best in your darkest moments. When life sucks, don’t give in to self-pity. You’ll get nowhere.
  9. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud. During SEAL training, recruits go through a miserable time called hell week. When McRaven’s class was submerged in freezing, muddy water for a full day, they were offered an out – if five people quit the Navy then and there. A few were about to leave when one of them started signing. Before long, the rest of the class joined in and the Navy lost no one that day.
  10. Don’t ever ring the bell. This is the equivalent of “don’t quit.”

McRaven toggles between his life as a recruit in training and when he was leading top-secret missions in Iraq and Afghanistan including the capture of Saddam Hussein. My life couldn’t be further from his in terms of challenges or the scope of what’s at stake. But, I found his story gripping. And the advice wasn’t hokey. It could apply to anything or anyone, at home, at work or in any discipline or pursuit.

OK – I can see you rolling your eyes. Don’t take my advice and read this book. But, if you do, I hope you enjoy.


Lori Weber is the Marketing Manager at GCPL. She is currently reading Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life in and Out of Jazz by Fred Hersch.


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