On May 17, 2014, Retired Admiral William H. McRaven gave the commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin. Admiral McRaven is a retired U.S. Navy officer who had served as a Navy SEAL and whose last position was as the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. His speech focused on the 10 lessons he learned from SEAL basic training and began with:
#1 If you want to change the world first make your bed.
He wasn’t the first one to say that. My mother insisted I make my bed every morning—EVERY MORNING. I’m not sure she was thinking about changing the whole world, maybe just her little piece of the world— the piece responsible for keeping a warm well-organized home for our family. I confess I had a few years during college when I ignored her advice, but basically coming home to a neatly made bed does feel better. And if it was a neatly made bed with freshly ironed sheets— almost never—it would be even better.
Admiral McRaven went on to say, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
It is good advice. I often think of my day in terms of things that need to be done, can’t be done, or aren’t finished. All those loose ends floating around out there are haunting. Making my bed I can handle. It takes less than a minute, and at the end of a long, fractured day climbing into smooth neat sheets is more pleasant.
I started to think about other parts of my day. I come downstairs in the morning and tend to pick up the family room— fold TV blankets, put away newspapers, straighten pillows and put the dog toys back into the basket. All that also takes only minutes, but makes for a clean slate when Sadie and I come home. Yes, it will get messy again, just like the bed will get slept in and the washed dishes will get dirty and laundry will multiply like mosquitos.
So really, why bother?
I think it boils pretty much down to what both my mother and Admiral McRaven were getting at: start with basics, make yourself a nest worth returning to, and never lose sight of the fact that you are in more control of your life than you think!