Learning from Heroes: Memorial Day Reflections

Memorial Day Morning, 2014

Memorial Day is a day, a weekend, in which we typically kickoff summer. Parades, picnics and festivals are all celebrations of the coming months. Yet through it all, we should not forget the solemnity for which the holiday was created. The sacrifices others have made on our behalf to retain our freedoms and our way of life. It is why the United States remains the most desired place on Earth to live.

Try to imagine the set of circumstances that places a young person in harm’s way that may cause them to make the ultimate sacrifice. The ability of our service men and women to function effectively in that environment speaks to the quality and professionalism of the training that comes out of our military. I believe that training has direct application to civilian life.

Adm. William H. McCraven, ninth commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, gave the commencement address at the University of Texas a few weeks ago. A portion of his address was covered in the Wall Street Journal last weekend, titled “Life Lessons from Navy SEAL Training.” It is worth reading, not only to learn what our SEALs go through in their initial training that is designed to “find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a SEAL,” but also to contemplate the applications of this training to everyday civilian life.

His first lesson has to do with making your bed every morning. A seemingly mundane task that must be done to perfection, every day. His point is that the day is made up of tasks – doing the first task right sets you on a course for doing the next one right. Doing the little things right is necessary if you are going to do the big things right.

In one lesson, he told the graduates that each day of Navy SEAL training had multiple physical events that needed to be achieved within standard times. If trainees failed to meet that standard, they were invited to a “circus” at the end of the day, which was two hours of additional physical training. He said there were some who were constantly on that list and if they stayed in the program, they got stronger and stronger – it built inner strength and physical resiliency. His point was that life is full of circuses. You will fail, and fail often. Don’t be afraid of the circuses – they build you up.

In another lesson, he talked about underwater demolition at night and how trainees must function in total darkness to accomplish the task. This is when “you must be your very best in the darkest moment.”

Think about the transition that he infers here. Success at being your very best in the darkest moment begins with perfectly making your bed every morning. Discipline in the little things builds the discipline for the big things. It establishes the core for success in the tasks we accomplish every day. What we know in the design and construction business is that when we take shortcuts in our processes and procedures we erode the discipline that is necessary to succeed in the big things. 

When we skip that mundane task we normally do, because we didn’t have the time or the resources to do it, we are usually reminded at some point why that task was important.

I am going to go and make my bed again. And say a prayer of thanks for all our service men and women, and especially those who sacrificed so that we remain blessed with the fortunes of living in this great nation.

"Times of great calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm."

Charles Caleb Colton

"We all naturally want to become successful ... we also want to take shortcuts. And it's easy to do so, but you can never take away the effort of hard work and discipline and sacrifice."

Apolo Ohno