How to Be an Inspiration When Tragedy Strikes

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Make Your Bed" by William H. McRaven. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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When tragedy strikes and you feel like you’re at your lowest, what can you do to rise up to the challenge and be an inspiration to those around you? How can you learn from former SEAL Admiral McRaven about the importance of inspiring others?

In his book Make Your Bed, Admiral McRaven shared several tragic stories from his SEAL days. He asserts that in the darkest of times, you should raise your voice to be an inspiration those around you.

Read on to hear McRaven’s tragic stories and how he learned to be an inspiration when tragedy hits.

Rise Up to the Challenge and Be an Inspiration

Life encompasses many tragedies. You may lose a loved one, a job, or a dream. Terrorists may fly planes into buildings, and viruses may ravage a nation. There will be many moments in which your spirit gets crushed and makes you lose hope for the future. 

These are the moments in which you must search for the best version of yourself. You must rise up to the challenge of moving forward with strength and dignity. In the darkest moments, do what must be done to show the world your best, and you can survive anything. 

How Navy SEAL Admiral McRaven Rose Up

One of the most difficult tests the SEAL trainees had to pass was the final dive training mission. They were required to swim underwater for 2,000 meters and attach a practice mine to the bottom of a target vessel in San Diego Bay. They had to use a bubbleless SCUBA tool called the Emersion closed-circuit diving rig. This rig was known to malfunction, and rumor had it that some trainees had lost their lives during previous missions. 

As McRaven and his fellow trainees stood on the beach awaiting orders for this mission, a thick fog rolled in, obscuring their already reduced line of sight. The commanding instructor seemed to sense the increased danger when he delivered the orders to the trainees. He warned the men that they would be in complete darkness and may become disoriented or separated from the group. He told them they would have to perform to the best of their abilities. They could not let fear, exhaustion, or a lack of confidence stop them. In the darkness, they had to rise up to the challenge and become warriors.

McRaven never forgot those words over his career. And he saw this sort of behavior in many men and women over the years. Most notably, he was always awed by the strength these service members showed after one of their own was killed in combat. They would take part in the ramp ceremony, in which the casket was draped in the American flag and placed on a plane to be taken home. 

After paying their respects, these men and women had to rise above their grief and go back to combat and fight another day. They couldn’t let the darkness overcome them. They knew their fallen soldier wouldn’t want them to give up. This type of strength in the face of their darkest moment showed McRaven what it meant to be an inspiration and to do your best in the darkest hour.

Offering Hope and Inspiration

Life is nothing without hope. In the face of life’s most difficult challenges, a little hope can go a long way in bringing people back from darkness. If you strive to be an inspiration, you can give even those suffering the most a reason to keep moving forward. 

You and those around you will find yourselves stuck in the mud. You will feel exhausted and at the end of your rope. In these moments, sing loudly for all to hear. In other words, raise your voice during dark times to be an inspiration those around you. Be the one who makes a difference in someone else’s life by giving them hope for the future. It only takes one person to show someone that tomorrow will come. 

Hell Week in the SEALs

Hell Week in SEALs training was the ultimate test of whether the trainees had what it took to be in the toughest branch of the military. For six days, cadets did not sleep, suffered constant harassment from the instructors, and moved through endless endurance activities. More cadets quit their training during this week than at any other moment. One of the most grueling activities of this week took place in the Tijuana mudflats. 

After McRaven and his group arrived at the mudflats, they were ordered into the mud. They ran calisthenic drills and competed in races and other competitions. The mud was wet and cold, and moving through it was like running with anvils attached to your legs. After the drills, they had to sit in the mud until morning. 

McRaven and the others were chest-deep in the mud their third night of Hell Week. The ocean breeze was cold and blowing hard. They were drenched, filthy, freezing, and bone tired. With three more days of Hell Week left, many of the men started to lose their resolve. 

One of the instructors told the men they could come out of the mud and sit with the officers by a fire pit. They would be served coffee and chicken soup. They could relax for the night. The temptation was strong, but if you chose to quit, it meant quitting the SEALs.

A trainee next to McRaven started climbing out of the mud. McRaven tried to stop him, but the pull of warmth and rest was too strong. Then, out of nowhere, someone started singing. It was a common song, and soon each trainee joined in. The instructor tried to shut the singing down. He insulted the class leader for his conduct and threw out a slew of threats. But the men kept singing. The trainee who’d started to climb out resettled next to McRaven. 

The instructor smiled and went back to the fire. The singing had brought the men together and given them hope. If one of them could find the strength to sing during this horrendous moment, they could all find the same strength and survive the night. And they did. 

When You Suffer a Loss

McRaven saw a similar effect at Dover Air Force Base years later. The worst day of casualties the American military suffered in the War on Terror took the lives of 38 SEALs and Army soldiers. All of the families were waiting for the arrival of the bodies, and the atmosphere was grim. McRaven had attended many fallen warrior ceremonies, but he still felt incompetent in assuaging the family members’ suffering. 

On this day, he watched as one man, Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly, made his way from family to family. Whatever he said to them had a profound effect on the family members, and McRaven saw hope return to their faces. 

Kelly had lost his own son in the war years before. He and his family struggled with their grief, but they were able to make it through. His words to the families that day were words of encouragement and strength. He showed these families that surviving this tragedy was possible. He tried to be an inspiration for them to hope for a better tomorrow. 

How to Be an Inspiration When Tragedy Strikes

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of William H. McRaven's "Make Your Bed" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Make Your Bed summary:

  • Why making your bed each morning gives you a small victory to start your day right
  • The 10 lessons Admiral William H. McRaven learned during his time as a Navy SEAL
  • Why quitting is easy, but regrettable

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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