Own My Growth

Helping folks with practical tips to manage themselves better

Burn The Boats

burn the boats

Two interesting stories from history.

In 210 BC, Commander Xiang Yu led his army of invaders against the Ch’in Dynasty. While his troops slept, Xiang Yu torched his ships and then told his troops that they had to either fight their way to victory or die. Apparently, his troops won 9 consecutive battles after that.

There is a more later-day version of the same story. In 1519, Hernán Cortés, the Spanish commander responsible for conquering Mexico, burnt the ships in which they got to the shores of Mexico. He created a point of no return for himself and his men where they were left with no choice but to move forward.

The term “burn the boats” comes from these two stories. 

There are situations where we have to make decisions even when we are not clear about which path to take. What do we do then? We figure out the facts, evaluate the risks and use our judgment to move forward. That said, once we decide, we have to be willing to stick with the decision without allowing our fear and uncertainty to derail us. 

We look for safety nets and escape routes as a way to protect ourselves from hurt and pain. Unfortunately, having options distracts us from committing the necessary effort and focus to succeed. But, conversely, when we eliminate the options, our focus improves, and we discover an inner strength that we did not know we had.

  • Are you a would-be entrepreneur holding on to your job while trying to set up a business? Or
  • Are you in a cushy corporate job, but your heart is in the social enterprise you want to join? Or
  • Are you a student looking to join that Ivy League School without giving yourself the comfort of a safe option?

Sometimes, when you pursue anything worthwhile, you should be prepared to burn the boats and move forward without looking back. 

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