Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books that I would not classify as self-help, but as help-self. Books that recognize the potential within each of us, if only we would get out of our own way, get off the couch, and get after it. Two such books that I have recently read are Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World by Adm. William H. McRaven and The Code. The Evaluation. The Protocols. Striving to Become an Eminently Qualified Human by Jocko Willink. These books are similar in that they were both written by highly capable, battle tested Navy SEALs who both describe positive mindsets and ways for you to win at life, but they’re as different as strategy and tactics.
Make Your Bed is a strategy book. Based on a commencement address Adm. McRaven gave to the University of Texas graduating class in 2014, it’s a book of life philosophies based on McRaven’s time in BUDS and the SEAL Teams. Good philosophies.
“Making my bed correctly was not going to be an opportunity for praise. It was expected of me. It was my first task of the day and doing it right was important. It demonstrated my discipline. It showed my attention to detail, and at the end of the day it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small the task.”
I love this idea and it pairs well with Ben Bergeron’s admonishment to not hit the snooze button in the morning since, when doing so, you’ve procrastinated on the first thing on your daily to do list. McRaven is telling the UT grads and us that doing things well matters. He’s also reminding us that doing things well is expected. Think about the NFL football player who scores a touchdown and spends the next 90 seconds with doing some asinine dance, waving his ass like he just won the Super Bowl. Dude…is this your first touchdown? You’re a professional football player. You get paid to put the ball in the end zone. Don’t act so surprised. We too should strive to achieve our absolute best and remain humble when we achieve it.
“Sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, you still end up as a sugar cookie. Don’t complain. Don’t blame it on your misfortune. Stand tall, look to the future, and drive on!”
Here McRaven reminds us no matter how good you are, no matter if you’re an elite Navy SEAL, life doesn’t always go your way. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Sometimes good processes produce bad results. It’s part of life and the sooner you wrap your head around that, the easier it will be to accept those failures when they occur and move forward. Speaking of failures…
“True leaders must learn from their failures, use the lessons to motivate themselves, and not be afraid to try again or make the next tough decision.”
“Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.”
Again, McRaven states, unequivocally, you will fail. In fact, if somehow you never fail you probably aren’t pushing your own limits. You’re leaving potential on the table. It’s only truly a failure if you don’t learn; if you allow the obstacle to stop you. Learn from the failure and move on.
“Of all the lessons I learned in SEAL training, this was the most important. Never quit. It doesn’t sound particularly profound, but life constantly puts you in situations where quitting seems so much easier than continuing on. Where the odds are so stacked against you that giving up seems the rational thing to do…Life is full of difficult times. But someone out there always has it worse than you do. If you fill your days with pity, sorrowful for the way you have been treated, bemoaning your lot in life, blaming your circumstances on someone or something else, then life will be long and hard. If, on the other hand, you refuse to give up on your dreams, stand tall and strong against the odds – then life will be what you make of it – and you can make it great. Never, ever, ring the bell.”
Inspiring words from a battle tested leader. Be disciplined, don’t be afraid of failure, don’t quit. I can’t argue with any of these things and though they sound like mere platitudes, they’re coming from a man who has seen the best and worst of what this world has to offer. As strategies for life, you could do much worse.
As I mentioned before, Jocko Willink’s book is equally inspiring by far more tactical that McRaven’s. The Code provides very specific, very concrete actions to take to become “an Eminently Qualified Human”, a term I love because it is both crystal clear but broad enough to include everyone at every stage of life.
How do we become that Eminently Qualified Human?
The book itself is divided into three sections, as suggested by the title: “The Code”, “The Evaluation”, and “The Protocols”.
The Code is about identifying the things you strive to achieve. Literally writing them down.
“Meandering through life, instead of becoming who we could be – instead of attaining our highest possible manifestation of being, we simply become…whatever we become. We fall short. In so many ways, we fall short. But this need not be our fate. We do that by chasing the ideal. Our ideal. An ideal we must define. An ideal that we must codify in no uncertain terms so we know what we are striving for. We must have a code to follow.”
I think many people who haven’t read or listened to Jocko much have a preconceived idea of what he’s about. That it’s all about working out, and jiu jitsu, and preparation for war. I think that’s an ill-informed understanding though, as I’ve never found him to be overly prescriptive about what is right for YOU. He’s trying to provide you with tools that will help you succeed at whatever you’re trying to do. The Code is one such example where the book provides a 10-point code with items like,
“I will take care of my physical health…”
“I will not waste time. Time is precious.”
These things are true but they’re also broad enough to make room for everyone. Willink’s book also points out,
“The Code is not perfectly suited to everyone. But it is not unalterable. You can modify it if needed. Customize it for you and your life…And while we may never be able to live up to this code, we will be better for having tried.”
The section “The Evaluation” goes on to talk about the broad strokes of becoming your best including Health, Personal Development, Professional Development, Character/Leadership, Relationships, and Preparedness/Safety. Under each subsection there is a discussion of what these areas mean and what maximizing performance in each area might look like for you.
“Most people are capable of getting better. Once they know the right attributes and understand what the parameters are and how to assess their performance, a lot more people will get closer to their goals. Can we actually get there? No, we can’t. Being eminently qualified isn’t a status we achieve, or a conclusion we reach. Being eminently qualified is being on The Path that does not end. It’s the way of living life where we accept that with every single day there is more to do.
…The Eminently Qualified Human knows there is more to do.”
And then, on a very tactical level, Jocko provides a literal evaluation. A multi-point matrix to measure your day to day, week to week performance across all the areas previously mentioned. It’s a measurable, objective way to truly gauge whether or not you’re making your way on the path.
“The Evaluation is not designed just to grade yourself, but also so you know what you’re trying to become. It requires humility and a brutally honest self-assessment. No one else is scoring you. Don’t compare yourself to others. This is about your capacity compared to your performance. It is you against you.”
The final section, “The Protocols,” provide very detailed, specific actions steps to take when things go badly. Steps for when you’re off the path. Things like a breakup, loss of a loved one, or have financial problems. These steps are empathetic in a way Jocko’s persona might not suggest. They recognize that often times a period of mourning is appropriate given a setback or loss. But they also acknowledge that, like that warm bed and soft pillow in the early morning, our mourning can become an unhelpful source of comfort that can only be overcome with a plan of action. The Protocols acknowledged that being an Eminently Qualified Human still means being human after all, and that though we should be moving down The Path, the Path isn’t necessarily a straight one for any of us.
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World by Adm. William H. McRaven and The Code. The Evaluation. The Protocols. Striving to Become an Eminently Qualified Human by Jocko Willink are two relatively brief books that are just right for the current graduation season or for anyone who wants to continue to grow, to learn, and to thrive. I can’t recommend them enough.
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