Burn The Boats

leadership mindset transformation

It’s no exaggeration when I say that I work with some of the most committed and courageous human beings in this world.

Every day and in every area of their lives, my clients are pushing the limits of what is possible for them. They don’t just talk about it, read and forward inspirational quotes, and give advice to others. They walk their talk. They take action that makes them uncomfortable, action that feels risky, that doesn’t come with a guarantee of success.

Julius Caesar famously said, “If you want to take the island, burn the boats!” 2000 years ago when Caesar set out to conquer England by water, he found himself face to face with his own soldiers preparing to retreat because they were swallowed by their own fears--some very real and valid ones at that.

Caesar, who knew a few things about the art of war, ordered all the ships to be burned.  This was a powerful message to his enemies, but an even more powerful one to his own men.  With no ability to retreat, his army was now 100% committed to doing whatever it took to succeed.  And if they didn’t, it certainly would not be for lack of effort or courage.

My clients burn their boats every day. They do it by taking action in the real world. Action that can have them falling on their faces, getting embarrassed, and not succeeding.  But they do it anyway, because their commitment to living into their potential is unwavering.

We’re talking about folks who are in the public eye. When they take action, others are watching.  It feels risky to do things differently, yet they take that risk because as Beyonce sings in her song “Freedom,” “I’ma keep running ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”

Speaking of running, it’s my turn to burn the boats.

I’m preparing for a 52 kilometer mountain foot race in 4 days. This race scares the living daylights out of me, and you know what my version of holding onto the boats is? When I’m preparing for anything in which there’s even the slightest chance of public failure, I don’t tell anyone that I’m attempting it. So if I do fail, which in this case I have defined as not finishing the race ahead of me, since no one knew that I even attempted it, did it really happen? This is my version of if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, did it make a sound?

Yes, it did. When Beyonce says that winners don’t quit on themselves, I don’t believe she means that winners must always win. I believe she means that they never leave an exit door open.

So, I’m closing this exit door. I’m running a race that I already quit once when I was 3 years younger than I am today, on a course that is exceptionally snow covered. I will climb and descend 10,000 feet, holding on to ropes on ridges, and climbing metal stairs built into the mountain. And when I get scared, tired, and hopeless, I will remind myself that I am asking nothing of myself that I don’t ask of my clients every single day: dream big, take one small step after another, and burn the boats.


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