11 inspiring quotes by Bill McRaven, the Navy SEAL admiral who oversaw the bin Laden raid

Sgt. Jared Gehmann/U.S. ArmyAdmiral William McRaven, then head of SOCOM, in Afghanistan in 2013. The former Navy SEAL stepped down from his role on a defence advisory board days after issuing a harsh rebuke against President Trump
  • Retired SEAL Adm. Bill McRaven had an illustrious 37-year career in the Navy.
  • The commando served in the elite SEAL Team 6 before he was fired by the unit’s commander, Richard Marcinko.
  • Following his firing, McRaven rose through the ranks, eventually commanding the Joint Special Operations Command.
  • While he served alongside America’s most elite fighters, he oversaw the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips and the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
  • The retired SEAL has had his share of controversy, most recently butting heads with President Donald Trump over the president’s attacks against the media and move to strip the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who’s been a harsh Trump critic.


“Changing the world can happen anywhere, and anyone can do it.”

SSG Sean K. Harp for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/FlickrThen-Adm. Bill McRaven at his retirement ceremony in 2014.

This was just one of many famous quotes to come from a 2014 University of Texas commencement speech.


“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

In the now famous speech that has been viewed over 4 million times on YouTube, McRaven gave University of Texas’ graduating class advice on how to change the world.

His first tip: Make your bed.

McRaven explains the mantra, which later became the title of a #1 New York Times bestselling book, will help people start each day by accomplishing a task – then one more, and another. It also helps emphasise the importance of the “little things.”

“And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made – that you made,” he said. “And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

Read more: A Navy SEAL commander explains why you should make your bed every single day


“It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar, and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward changing ourselves and changing the world around us will apply equally to all.”

Read more: Here’s the story behind one of the most iconic photos from the bin Laden raid


“Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up a ‘sugar cookie.'”

US Navy

In Navy SEAL training, sailors who failed at basic tasks had to perform extra training at the end of each day. These SEAL hopefuls had to jump into the surf then roll around until completely covered with sand – earning the nickname ‘sugar cookie.’

During his UT commencement speech in 2014, McRaven said that many who became frustrated that their hard work didn’t pay off often quit. The lesson, he said, was that the true test is how one recovers from failure.


“Work hard. Be humble, and I think that will serve you well in life.”

Sgt. Jared Gehmann/U.S. ArmyMcRaven, then head of US Special Operations Command, in Afghanistan in 2013.

“The great [leaders] know how to fail.”

McRaven addressed cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point during a ceremony for its seniors who had 500 days left until graduation. His speech, called “A Sailor’s Perspective on the Army,” detailed leadership lessons he learned from Army officers during his 37 years in service.


“If you want to be a SEAL, you must do two things: Listen to your parents and be nice to the other kids.”

Sgt. Jared Gehmann/US ArmyMcRaven reenlists a Navy SEAL in November 2013 at Camp McCloskey in Afghanistan during a Thanksgiving visit.

McRaven gave this piece of advice to a young boy who wrote the SEAL asking if the Navy’s most elite commandos were quieter than ninjas.


Read more:
Boy sends question about ninjas to head of Joint Special Ops, gets a response


“It’s not just about holding people accountable, it’s making sure the people around you understand that their effort is worthwhile.”

During a speech at UT’s Moody College of Communications in February 2017, McRaven talked about the connection between leadership and communication.


“You may be in charge, but it’s never about you and you can’t forget that.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class James Ginther/US NavyMcRaven presents a flag to a family member of a deceased US Navy SEAL during a ceremony in Ft. Pierce, Florida in 2012.

During his speech at Moody College, McRaven said leaders always need to be aware of the impacts their decisions make on their subordinates.


“There is nothing more important to a democracy than an active and engaged press.”

Tech. Sgt. Ave Young/US Air ForceMcRaven speaks to service members at Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland, Texas in January 2018.

After his speech at Moody College, McRaven published his thoughts about the American press and President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks against the institution.


“I would consider it an honour if you would revoke my security clearance as well.”

Staff Sgt. Sean Harp/Defence DepartmentMcRaven salutes at his 2014 retirement ceremony.

McRaven authored a blistering rebuke of President Trump’s move to revoke the security clearnace of John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director who has been a harsh critic of Trump.

In the Washington Post op-ed, McRaven defended Brennan as a “man of unparalleled integrity” and said it would be “an honour” to have his own security clearance revoked along with Brennan’s.

Trump responded by calling McRaven a “Hillary Clinton fan.”

Read more: ‘You have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children’ — Navy SEAL who oversaw the Osama bin Laden raid rebukes Trump

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.