In 1519, the Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortés and his 11 ships landed on the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula in what is now Mexico. They were far from home, and many of them must have been scared of the unknown world they encountered—so their hearts must have really sank when Cortés announced that he was burning the ships. Retreat was no longer possible. They had to commit totally to Cortés’s vision.
We all cling to something that makes us feel safe. We postpone action until we no longer feel fear, or we make merely shallow attempts never designed to succeed. To truly achieve the level of success we each desire, there are times when we need to “burn the ships.”
Business coach Travis Roberts recommends looking at the following “ships” to determine if one of them needs burning:
Your current job: Are you so comfortable where you are that you’re afraid to step out of your rut and try something new, something that might be more creative and fulfilling, something that would align your life more closely with the things you value most? Do note, however, that “burning your ship” does NOT mean quitting your job without a safety net.
Your field of employment: Have you been dreaming of a career change? Do you tell yourself, “It wouldn’t make sense to do that”? Maybe you invested years and money getting the education this field requires. Maybe it just seems too scary to walk away from financial security and try something else. But does this field make you feel disconnected from the values you hold most dear?
A bad business deal: Sometimes we stick with a bad business relationship, determined to make it work, because we don’t want to admit that we made a mistake. If there’s a relationship like that in your professional life, ask yourself: Why can’t you let it go? Would it be better for everyone concerned if you burned this ship? The same principles hold true for our personal relationships.
An unrealistic dream: Sometimes we can’t let go of a dream, even though life keeps telling us it will never come true. It’s one thing to keep working against the odds in order to achieve something great—but it’s another thing altogether to keep trying something for which we truly lack the abilities or resources. Make sure your goals aren’t just fantasies that are impossible to achieve. Be realistic enough to burn a dream that could be getting in your way of discovering a practical way to match your values with your goals.
Keep in mind, though, that the point of “burning” these “ships” isn’t just to give up and die. Cortés burned his ships so he and his men would be freed from ties to the past, able to commit themselves without reserve to the future. We, too, need to examine ideas that could be holding us back, motivations that are no longer relevant or goals, and even those goals that aren’t serving us any longer. When we identify and free ourselves from those things, we will be able to give our all to becoming the best we can be in our personal and professional lives.
Photo credit: Diego D’Ambrosio on Unsplash