12 Life-Changing Career Tips From Navy SEALs



You’ve probably worked with successful people before — co-workers who seem to have it all together and land on their feet no matter what challenges they face. But people aren’t born successful — they have to work at it. Such is the case for Navy SEALs, who have proven themselves time and time again by triumphing in the face of extreme mental and physical challenges.

The members of this elite group don’t achieve success on their own. Instead, they use proven strategies and draw from the strength and resourcefulness of their teammates in order to accomplish their objectives. Getting career advice from well-respected Navy SEALs could help you taste success in your professional life and set goals that you’ll actually achieve.

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1. Wake Up Before Everyone Else Does

In a Business Insider interview, Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL and co-author of “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” said that waking up early helps you get a jump on the day. Willink still wakes up at 4:30 a.m. even though he doesn’t have to, because what he can accomplish in that time outweighs the discomfort. One of the advantages of waking up before everyone else is freedom from typical distractions, which can allow you to increase your focus and boost your productivity.

Although you don’t have to wake up at 4:30 a.m., Willink recommended getting up earlier in the day rather than later — and waking up at the same time every day. If waking up early is an issue for you, Willink suggested going to bed earlier to make it easier.

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2. Acknowledge That Small Things Matter

During his speech at a commencement ceremony at The University of Texas at Austin, Adm. William McRaven — the now-retired Navy SEAL commander who led the operation that killed Osama bin Laden — recommended making your bed in the morning to reinforce the idea that little things in life matter. McRaven said that if you can’t do the little things right, you won’t be able to do the big things right either. Even small tasks can influence what you achieve in the short and long term.

“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed,” McRaven said.

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3. Help Others to Help Yourself

James Waters, a former Navy SEAL platoon commander, said that the people who successfully completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training were the ones who valued their team above everything else. “Guys who ultimately make it would never even think about [quitting] because, even if they were in such dire pain, they just would never do that to their teammate,” Waters said.

Even if you prefer to do things alone, consider stepping outside of your comfort zone. Working as part of a team to support others can help you push through tough times during your career by bringing meaning and inspiration to your life.

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4. Seek Out Mentors

Choosing to look outside of yourself and reflect on what you can do to make yourself better at your job could ultimately make you a better person. In an interview with Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” former Navy SEAL officer Chris Fussell recommended finding three mentors:

  • Someone with seniority who you’d like to emulate
  • One of your peers who you respect and believe is better at the job than you are
  • A subordinate who is doing better than you did at your previous job

“If you just have those three individuals that you’re constantly measuring yourself off of and who you’re constantly learning from, you’re going to be exponentially better than you are,” Fussell said.

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5. Be Willing to Do Hard Work

Willink believes hard work is one of the keys to a successful career. “That means arriving at work before anyone else, staying later and always being prepared. It means studying all facets of your job to become more knowledgeable. It means becoming a student of leadership, working to build relationships with your team, and putting in the hours to accomplish the mission. If you can do all that without hard work, you are not pushing your capabilities to the limit, so step it up,” Willink said.

Doing as little as possible won’t help you reach success. Instead, you have to be willing to invest time and effort into your career to get where you want to be.

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6. Take Ownership of the Good and the Bad

Willink recalled an important lesson he learned after he was involved in a Navy SEAL mission that went horribly wrong. “I could have looked to blame other people, but I knew in order to maintain my integrity as a leader and as a man, I could blame no one but myself. I took responsibility for everything that had gone wrong and also for creating and implementing new tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure nothing like that ever happened again,” he said.

Taking ownership of all actions and consequences — both positive and negative — is a testament to your integrity and influences how others view you. This is especially true if you’re managing others or aspiring to become an effective leader.

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7. Be Humble

According to Inc., Leif Babin, Willink’s co-author, once said, “No leader has it all figured out. You can’t rely on yourself. You’ve got to rely on other people, so you’ve got to ask for help, you’ve got to empower the team, and you’ve got to accept constructive criticism.”

In your career, you don’t need to have all of the answers. If you don’t know an answer, be honest and make a promise to find out. If you try to act like you know everything all the time, you’re likely headed for disaster.

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8. Realize the Power of Microgoals

In “Navy SEAL Training Guide: Mental Toughness,” author Lars Draeger outlines the mental traits that allow SEALs to succeed in the most challenging situations.

One of those traits is setting goals. According to Draeger, SEALs identify the objective and break it down into smaller pieces, and they repeat as many times as needed to dissect the objective into minute-by-minute goals. By doing this, SEALs can learn to direct their focus on thing at a time and avoid distractions.

To use this in your career, follow the same steps: Rather than contemplating a huge goal that seems insurmountable, determine your outcome and keep breaking it down until you’ve created a group of microgoals that you can achieve more easily.

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9. Visualize Your Success

Imagining specific actions and visualizing success before a challenging event is a strategy that some surgeons and athletes have used to help them succeed in real life, according to personal development website Examined Existence.

Navy SEALs have used this visualization strategy to help them complete an underwater exercise during training. The SEALs are attacked by their instructors, who try to sabotage their scuba equipment and leave them without air. The SEALs who made it through the training without failing were the ones who prepared themselves mentally using visualization techniques prior to the exercise. Then, when the attack happened, they were able to systematically work through it instead of succumbing to fear.

By visualizing your step-by-step path to success — including how to overcome any obstacles — you’ll be better prepared to succeed during the actual challenge, whether it’s a sales pitch or an interview for a position you want.

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10. Get Back Up and Keep Moving Forward

During SEAL training, extraordinary punishment isn’t uncommon, even for small infractions.

McRaven provided an example. “For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed, into the surf zone and then — wet from head to toe — roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand,” McRaven said. “The effect was known as a ‘sugar cookie.’ You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.”

Even though you might experience disappointment and setbacks in your career that make you feel like giving up, don’t. The key to success — and getting your career back on track — is to keep moving forward.

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11. Think Before Judging Others

McRaven reflected on how he was placed in SEAL boat drills with the tall trainees due to his physical stature. The tall trainees would poke fun at the “munchkin crew” — smaller guys who didn’t exceed 5 feet, 5 inches tall — but their good-natured ribbing didn’t change the training results.

“Somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh — swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us,” McRaven said.

Avoid judging others in the workplace by keeping an open mind. Otherwise, you might miss out on a chance to build rapport with your teammates and create a beneficial outcome for all.

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12. Be Willing to Take on the Sharks

Part of the SEALs’ training involves swimming in a shark breeding ground in the waters near San Clemente, Calif. “[Instructors] assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not that they can remember,” McRaven said.

“But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position, stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you — then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout, and he will turn and swim away,” he said.

Whether it’s your boss, colleague or client, be willing to take on people who make unfair demands or accuse you of something that you know is not true. You can address the situation and stand up for yourself by challenging them in return.

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