Burn the Ships

It was the year 1519, give or take. I’m not a history professor.  Hernan Cortés was tapped by Diego Velázquez, Governor of Cuba, to lead an expedition into the interior of Mexico.  You may or may not know the story.  At some point before the launch, Velázquez got upset with Cortés (who was, in fairness, banging Velázquez’s sister-in-law) and revoked the charter.

This is where it becomes one of my favorite stories.

Rather than turn his boats around, Cortés instead stopped in various ports to recruit more soldiers, and headed for Mexico in what was essentially a full-blown mutiny.  He did it with around 500 men, a handful of cannons, and just enough horses to start a tiny dog food factory. A tiny factory, not a factory that makes food for tiny dogs.  We’re talking maybe 13 horses.  The point is, it was hardly what one would consider a conquering army.

With his middle finger pointed firmly in the direction of Cuba and his old boss, Cortés landed on the Yucatan near what is today probably an Iberostar Resort or a cruise ship dock, and proceeded to do what conquistadors do. But his men were complaining.  Governor Velázquez was threatening to come after them. A secret group of loyalists to Governor was planning to steal the boats and take them home.

So Cortés did the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. He lit the ships on fire.

That is commitment to a cause. Not some FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION platitude on a poster in boss’s office.  This wasn’t a NO FEAR sticker on a back windshield.  This was that pure, unadulterated, no-way-out-but-through, kind of commitment.

I imagine a few of his men complained and were promptly stabbed to death.

But the act of burning those ships was a powerful one.

It’s the kind of statement we should probably be making more often.  I am painfully aware of the frequency with which I keep one hand on the side of the pool.  Fear might paralyze us, but so can a safety net.

It’s easy to talk yourself out of starting a business when you have that cushy paycheck coming in from the job you currently hate.  How many times have you left that ex’s phone number in your phone, you know, just in case?  Hell, I struggled with this very thing when it came to publishing my book. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. No take backs.  How much safer is it to never pull that trigger? It’s the subconscious little things we do to keep ourselves from letting go.

We are fight-or-flight beings until you take flight off the table, and then we all become cornered tigers. It’s a powerful state, and you can’t really get there by accident. You have to show some confidence. You have to trust yourself. You can start small, but eventually you’re going to have to grab the gas can and light some things on fire.

It accomplishes two things. One, it lets people know you’re not screwing around. And two? Well, you might just be surprised at how clearly you can see by the light of those ships burning down on the coast.



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