Failure Makes You Stronger: Learn From Your Mistakes

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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How does failure make you stronger? How did Navy SEAL Admiral McRaven break free of his cycle of failure to become successful?

In McRaven’s book, Make Your Bed, he describes two events that took place while he was in the SEALs that solidified the belief that failure makes you stronger. Thanks to those lessons, he was eventually able to prove himself as a strong SEAL leader.

Keep reading to learn about McRaven’s journey and how failure makes you stronger.

Use Failure to Your Advantage

Failure is part of life. No matter how hard you try to succeed or how much you try to avoid failure, at some point, you will fail. The law of averages dictates it. When you fail, you can cower with defeat and give up, or you can let failure make you stronger. 

Accept that everyone makes mistakes. Learn from those mistakes. Don’t be afraid of trying again. If you can persevere through the consequences of failure, you will be better prepared for other difficult challenges that lie ahead. 

Failure Makes You Stronger

In Make Your Bed, Admiral McRaven describes an event in which he learned that failure makes you stronger. In SEAL training, everyone has a swim buddy. These buddies are attached at the hip, figuratively and literally at times. If one buddy fails, both buddies suffer the consequences. McRaven learned this lesson after a particularly grueling training swim one day. He and Marc, his swim buddy, were well behind the other cadets when they crawled out of the water. 

The training instructor ordered them to fall into the plank position and began berating them for their poor performance. He questioned whether they had what it took to be a SEAL and added their names to the Circus list. The Circus was an event at the end of the afternoon of training. All those who’d failed during one of the day’s events had to do another two hours of calisthenics. 

The Circus created a nasty cycle of failure. The extra exertion left those in the Circus more fatigued than usual the next day. And because of that extra fatigue, it was likely a cadet would fall behind or fail again during that day’s training. Of course, this failure earned him another spot in the Circus. The Circus was meant to separate the strong from the weak. And many men quit after falling into the Circus cycle of failure. McRaven and Marc got caught up in this cycle for days. 

The last test for SEAL trainees was a 5-mile swim off the coast. You had to finish the swim in a certain time to graduate. After four hours, McRaven and Marc dragged out of the water. Just like before, the instructor ordered them into the plank position. And just like before, he told them that they had embarrassed their fellow trainees. Then, after a moment, he broke character and told the men to stand up. In fact, McRaven and his buddy had finished first. Because neither had quit during their time in the Circus, they had grown stronger from the extra training thus proving that failure makes you stronger. 

Learn From Your Mistakes

This lesson came in handy years later when McRaven was fired from his SEAL team command post. He’d tried to implement changes to how the team operated, and his bosses didn’t approve. He was demoted and transferred to another SEAL regiment. Everywhere he went, the other officers looked at him like a failure. McRaven thought about quitting, but he didn’t. He remembered the lessons he learned in training and that failure makes you stronger. 

Eventually, he was able to prove himself as a strong and capable SEAL leader again. He was even given his own team after a few more years and later became the head of all West Coast SEAL teams. The decision to learn from his mistakes not only saved his career but also helped him reach heights he may not have felt compelled to work for otherwise. 

Failure Makes You Stronger: Learn From Your Mistakes

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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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