Make Your Bed, Never Pass an Opportunity to Give Hope, and Other Advice From Keynote Speaker William McRaven | 2024 Asembia

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The retired four-start Navy admiral shared lessons learned from his training as a Navy SEAL and other parts of his life in his keynote address.

There was no mention of specialty pharmacy, value-based care, drug spend or GLP-1s. And healthcare came up only as the backdrop to some of his many stories, honed to deliver a pearl of wisdom. But William McRaven held the attention of the thousands in the audience at the Tuesday morning general session of the annual Asembia specialty pharmacy meeting, and he received a brief standing ovation.

McRaven, a retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral and former University of Texas System chancellor, oversaw the 2011 raid in Pakistan that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. A special operations expert, he also commanded troops that captured Saddam Hussein and rescued Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates. His 2017 book,“Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World,” was as a best seller and is based on a 2014 commencement speech he gave that went viral. He is now on the speaker circuit and is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the 2024 BIO International Convention next month in San Diego.

McRaven, 68, leaned heavily on experiences and lessons he learned during the grueling Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training he went through to become a Navy SEAL to talk about the virtues of perseverance, teamwork, character and standing up to bullies. But he also used the bin Laden mission to make a point about taking risks and recounted an encounter with an injured soldier at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to llustrate the power of hope.

McRaven praised former President Barack Obama for giving the go ahead to the bin Laden mission even though intelligence experts advised Obama that there was only a 40% to 60% chance that the tall man spotted pacing in an outdoor area within a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was bin Laden.

“I tell folks, look, irrespective of what side of the political aisle you might be on, I think this will go down as one of the boldest decisions in modern presidential history because we just didn't know whether or not the guy we called the “the pacer” was, in fact, bin Laden,” McRaven said.

McRaven retold the story that became the name of this book and was the salient anecdote in his viral commencement speech. During BUD/S training the instructors required the candidates to make their beds to an exacting standard. McRaven said the emphasis didn’t make sense to him (“I came here to be battle-hardened Navy SEAL") so he screwed up the courage to ask an instructor about it. The instructor told him that making a bed to a high standard was a simple task that would inspire accomplishment of tasks throughout the day and that doing small tasks correctly would feed into performing bigger ones correctly. McRaven said he has made his bed carefully ever since, including when he was serving in Afghanistan.

“My average day was probably about 20 hours a day,” McRaven said. “Sometimes I'd go days before I got back to my room. But when I got back to my room, and I opened that plywood door, the bed was made and the room was clean. And it gave me some sense of control of my life. I've told folks look, there's a lot of things you can do to start today but I would offer if you want to have a successful day, if you want to be successful, eh, start off by making your bed!”

McRaven said he also learned in BUD/S training that if you encounter a shark while swimming, don’t try to outswim the animal but instead punch it in the snout.

“The fact of the matter is that there are sharks wherever you go in the world,” said McRaven. “Sharks in the boardroom. Sharks in the hospital. Sharks in the classroom. You can’t always outswim the sharks. Sometimes you need to stand your ground and metaphorically punch them in the snout.” McRaven didn’t mention former President Donald Trump, but McRaven has been sharply critical of Trump on several occasions, including in some high-profile opinion pieces and interviews. Trump has dismissed McRaven as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and “an Obama backer” and suggested the bin Laden raid should have happened sooner.

McRaven told stories about two episodes in his life that occurred in a healthcare context. After he was seriously injured in a parachuting accident, his Navy career was in jeopardy. McRaven said help from a large group of people, including his wife, Georgeann, got him through a difficult time in his life. That experience, as well a Navy SEALs one with launching a small boat in the surf, taught him a lifelong lesson about teamwork and support of others. “As I look out at the audience, I know all of you have been through challenging times in your life. I tell younger audiences, look, in life, make as many friends as you can, have as many colleagues as you can, accept the goodwill of strangers because I don't care who you are, you really can't paddle that boat by yourself.”

McRaven also spoke movingly about meeting a soldier at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center who hadinjured by a rocket in Iraq. He had lost both legs, one arm and part of another.

“So I come over and I kneel down so I'm eye to eye with young man. I just didn't know what to say. What do you tell a young man who's lost both his legs, all of one arm, part of the other one? As I'm trying to say something, he must have seen something in my eyes, some sense of pity, some sense of remorse. And he looks at me and he says, ‘Sir, I'm 24 years old, I'm going to be just fine.’ I'm 24 years old, I'm going to be just fine. I never forgot that.”

McRaven continued, “This young man gave me hope, hope that no matter how bad my day was, it was never going be as bad as his. And if he could be just fine under these circumstances, maybe I could be. Hope it is the most powerful force in the universe.”

McRaven admonished the Asembia assembly to take small steps that could create hope. “I tell folks out there, you're probably not going to get a chance in your life to capture Saddam Hussein or rescue a Captain Phillips or get a bin Laden. But every single one of you, every single one, will have an opportunity to make a phone call or write a letter, to give a pat on the back, to give somebody hope. Don't ever, ever pass up that opportunity. You have no idea of the cascading effect.”

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