by Karin Sun, co-founder of Crane & Canopy
Last month, at the University of Texas at Austin’s commencement ceremony, Admiral William McRaven, one of the most respected leaders in America, shared his speech on how to change the world, drawing from his experience in the Navy SEALS. His first lesson was a rather unusual one for the graduating class. However, many of the mothers in the audience surely smiled at his first piece of advice.
“If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.” The Admiral mentioned a variety of reasons why making the bed is important, including discipline, pride, order and a sense of accomplishment. He reasoned that even if a day goes terribly, coming back to a made bed makes everything better.
Growing up, my mother made all three of her children make their beds every morning. At the time, I did not understand why. Was it not easier to jump out of bed and run off to class than spend two minutes pulling and tugging the duvet cover in place? If the bed was just going to be messy again at night, what was the point? Perhaps my mother wanted us to make our own beds so that she would not have to make them all herself. But that was not the case. On family vacations, regardless of how nice the hotel was, she always made a point to make the bed before leaving the hotel room, despite her knowing that the cleaning lady was just down the hall.
Age 2, sitting in bed.
It was pointless to argue with Mom so making the bed became part of our daily routine. Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, the bed was made. Every day, the three of us woke up at the break of dawn, made our beds, got dressed, brushed our teeth, ate breakfast, and hopped in the family van and got to school, just in time for our 6:30 a.m. classes. We perfected our morning routine under Mom’s critical watch. Nothing deviated from the routine for 13 years.
It was only when I got to college, when I stood at the foot of my twin bunk bed at Harvard that I realized that I was truly free. I could go rogue and no one would ever know. My mother would no longer be watching, and my roommate Danielle would never tell. Nonetheless, as I contemplated whether to make my bed, I started to understand why it was so important to my mother. For her, a made bed did not simply confer a sense of accomplishment, provide the good feeling of returning home to a clean room or represent discipline and order. Rather, by requiring my siblings and me to make our bed every morning, my mother was preparing us to face the challenges life could throw at us. Making the bed every morning meant we had to start our day. The battles we faced growing up, like taking that chemistry test, running for student government or wearing the right clothes to school, were clearly not a matter of life and death. Yet, these obstacles seemed scary and insurmountable to us at the time because there was always the possibility of failure. The easy and safe thing to do was to stay in bed and to not face the day. Knowing that we could conquer the simple, predictable task of making the bed enabled us to get out of bed, providing us with a stepping stone toward the more difficult challenges ahead. It was the least glamorous part of the day, yet getting out of bed to make the bed meant that we were going to be part of the story, regardless of the ending.
My current guestroom - the most colorful spot in my home.
Some of my favorite bedding and colors
As a Navy SEAL in training, Admiral McRaven had to perform the simple task of making his bed to perfection every day. For Navy SEALs in training, this was a necessary task to perfect before moving onto bigger things. To be able to operate under the most dangerous of situations and execute with the utmost perfection, a Navy SEAL’s job is one of extremes. For us more ordinary folk, it’s important to realize that to be able to achieve success, we also need to embrace the mundane and routine.
Soon after bidding farewell to Corporate America to start my own company, I sat in my bedroom. Long gone were the days of colleagues to interact with, a fancy cubicle to sit in, or leftover birthday cake to scavenge. I had no deadlines or timelines. The task at hand was ordinary at best. Time moved at a snail’s pace. During those days, it was easy to not get out of bed, not get dressed and not do anything at all. But every morning, I got up, made my bed, got dressed and brushed my teeth. I’m glad I did, because every day as I got going, I made progress. Since those days, I have traveled the world, hired an incredible group of staff members, helped people in need and built my dream.
At work, staging the perfectly made bed.
As I listened to Admiral McRaven’s address, I kept thinking about the mothers in that audience, each so instrumental in their children’s successes. By the simple act of getting their kids out the door every morning, these moms moved their kids a small step closer towards reaching a milestone. After all, it was never glamorous to have their kids make their beds, drive them to practice and make them do homework. But they knew that there would never be glamour without the mundane. The reminder to “make your bed” that every kid has heard from his mother isn’t just a daily reminder, but a daily encouragement. Admiral McRaven’s speech is an ode to all mothers who see their children as keys to the future: If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.