Don’t Back Down from the Sharks – More Advice From Admiral McRaven

Admiral McRaven has dealt with plenty of sharks in his time – real and metaphorical. As a Navy Seal in training, he had to complete night swims through waters he knew might have sharks in them – and he had to find the courage and the determination to let his desire to be a Seal overcome his fear of the unknown.  Later in his incredibly distinguished career, he was a part of the team who handled the capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein – the ”Butcher of Baghdad”, a man who inspired fear in all his followers.  It was important to let Hussein know that he was not intimidated, nor could be in their dealings.

We all have “sharks” in our lives.  They may be challenges we would rather not face, and people who would like to intimidate us.  When we are young, we often come across those who seek to use fear and intimidation to control their social environment – people we know as bullies.  But not even parents and teachers are immune to bullies – they exist throughout our lives.  And with so many online spaces at our disposal, poor and controlling behaviour can and does occur everywhere.  And when learning online, and spending more time online trying to connect with others during isolation, you may be coming across some very disrespectful behaviour.

McRaven would give you this advice:

“Bullies are all the same; whether they are in the school yard, in the workplace, or ruling a country through terror. They thrive on fear and intimidation. Bullies gain their strength through the timid and faint of heart. They are like sharks that sense fear in the water. They will circle to see if their prey is struggling. They will probe to see if their victim is weak. If you don’t find the courage to stand your ground, they will strike. In life, to achieve your goals, to complete your night swim, you will have to be men and women of great courage. That courage is within all of us.  Dig deep, and you will find it”.

It can be challenging to stand up to the “sharks” in our lives, but we feel better – and more in control – when we do.

If these sharks take the form of challenges, try embracing challenge as an exciting prospect for growth.  Find the benefit that makes it worth tackling, whether it be a new skill to learn or the chance to spend more time with someone you can learn from.

If your shark is a person, remember that standing up doesn’t have to be about confrontation.

  • You can choose to gently point out that something is unkind
  • You can extricate yourself – or another person from a confrontation by pretending you are needed elsewhere.
  • You can gently reinforce friendly behaviours – “we don’t do that here”.
  • Remember humour also diffuses tense situations.

And you can always, always seek help.

It is a mistake to think that seeking help or advice shows weakness – knowing when you need help shows great insight and openness to learning, as we explored in our last article.

Wolves travel in packs for safety – and seeking help is just asking your pack to be there for you.

So when it comes to sharks in your life – dig deep.  Find the courage to embrace challenge, seek help or use a strategy to diffuse a situation.

This is one of a series of articles inspired by Admiral William H McRaven’s Make Your Bed Speech – focusing on little things you can do to change the world.


Photo by PIRO4D