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Thanksgiving Lessons: Don't Ring the Bell

· Psychology,US Navy SEAL,William McRaven,Sociology,Personal Development

Over Thanksgiving Week, aside from the inherent overindulgence of delectable food, mingling with old friends and relatives and catching up on multiple seasons of favourite programmes, I read a book by Admiral William McRaven called, Make Your Bed (2017). At the end of the year, many of us might have struggled with disappointments, career challenges, self-doubt and even failures, either personal or professional. Another year has gone swiftly by, and there might still be thousands of unread messages in our inbox that we have not yet gotten to. It’s that time of year when we reflect and refine our goals for the following year or else think of all that we could’ve possibly done in which time had been spent wasted on frivolous activities. After all, the time we had spent scrolling through social media could’ve been invested in learning a new language or skill instead and surely we would’ve been fluent by now had we not been distracted by productivity disrupting social media sites. We could certainly beat ourselves up mentally for every little thing we perceived we had done wrong in the past year, every decision made, or else, we could treat it as part of our education that adds value to our collective experience. Isn’t the road less taken inevitably a more interesting and rewarding journey than the traditional one that has already been paved?

Admiral McRaven’s book is an easy read, filled with anecdotes, but which describes the psychological and physical training endured to become part of the US Navy SEALs. Although the US military is not without scandal and public criticisms of some of its members, I think however, Navy SEAL training as described by Admiral McRaven could also illuminate the difference in education between men and women as a larger aspect of society. In the Navy SEALs, men are taught to be mentally strong, to endure harsh criticism, to face tough odds, to be calm under pressure, to work as a team. Could it be that generally, women give up too easily? Are women taught to quit when under pressure or when there is an obstacle or looming thoughts of failure? Are women taught to quit just because life isn’t fair?

“Gentlemen,” he began. “Today is the first day of SEAL training. For the next six months you will undergo the toughest course of instruction in the United States military.”...The instructor continued. “You will be tested like no time in your life.” Pausing, he looked around the class of new “tadpoles.” “Most of you will not make it through. I will see to that.” He smiled. “I will do everything in my power to make you quit!” He emphasized the last three words. “I will harass you unmercifully. I will embarrass you in front of your teammates. I will push you beyond your limits.”

(Excerpt From: Admiral William H. McRaven. “Make Your Bed”, 2017.)

Certainly, not all of us would have the physical strength and endurance to undergo harsh climates, extreme temperatures nor would be inclined to swim in the ocean filled with sharks, but I think the psychological training of Navy SEALs could be beneficial in the education of both men and women, in order to become mentally strong, to not falter at the first sign of defeat, to be able to endure harsh criticism without losing faith in our goals.

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The US Navy SEALs give insightful strategy on how to deal with sharks in the ocean. It was necessary to stand one's ground, to not run away, to not look afraid, then stoutly punch the shark in the snout when in close proximity, and the shark would swim away. This strategy could similarly apply to tactics in business and also to one's personal life.

Sheryl Sandberg gave a Ted Talk a few years ago on Why There Are Too Few Women Leaders. And in her talk, the answer was simple, women quit. Women leave their jobs when things become competitive, women decide to take on less responsibility when undergoing personal challenges, women simply decide to quit.

Video excerpted from Admiral McRaven's 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, Austin. For his full address see:

In Admiral McRaven’s book, the only men who make it through to become Navy SEALs, do so because they don’t quit. He writes that it was important to respect everyone, and this could certainly apply in our current technocratic society filled with many class divisions. Everyone comes from a different background and may have valuable experiences or skills that could complement our own. Admiral McRaven writes, “Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never, ever give up...then you can change your life for the better.”

Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls refers to the church bells ringing when a person died during the Spanish Civil War. In a parallel ideology, Admiral McRaven describes a large brass bell in the middle of the square that a new recruit could ring 3 times if he decided to give up on his training. It meant that he no longer had to wake up at 5 am, undergo physical training, obstacles, mental strength training and he could go back to his normal life. Ringing the bell meant giving up, but he said that most people who had rung the bell would regret it for the rest of their lives.

I recently wrote an article about how eighteen women in the UK Parliament had decided not to run again due to media and personal harassment that they had undergone as MPs. Certainly we cannot judge those decisions made by those women, as we do not fully understand their personal circumstances. However, would those women regret their choices later in life?

In his book, Make Your Bed, Admiral McRaven also goes into detail about his parachuting accident which left him seriously injured and bedridden for several months, in which took a long time for him to recover. At the time, he had thought his military career would be over, and he went into a self-pitying phase, but through the support of his friends and family, he had made a full recovery and would eventually move on to become a two-star Admiral. He writes that making one’s bed every day, to pay attention to the little things, to set a task for oneself each day helps in achieving the larger goals, but it was also important to surround yourself with people who also want to help you achieve your goals, because one couldn’t do it by himself or herself alone.

Despite the numerous worries and injustices that might plague many of us, I think this Thanksgiving, we should be grateful for the little things, and indeed be responsible enough to make our own beds every day.