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Are you prepared to burn your boats?

Some people complain about a lack of achievement and/or success in their personal and professional lives but don’t realise that they may be, unintentionally, playing a large part in their own failures.

Certain ancient Greek, Roman and Viking military commanders displayed a deep understanding of human nature and what motivates people. When invading alien lands, they would make sure their troops understood what was expected of them. To make it bone chillingly clear, the first chilling order they would bark at their troops once they were on shore was, ‘Burn the boats’.

Imagine what it must have felt like for you as a soldier who has travelled to a foreign and completely unknown land far from home to stand on that foreign shore not knowing what awaited you over the dunes and watch your only hope of escape to the safety of the seas and possibly home going up in flames.

Do you know what that does to you?

Firstly, it makes you focused. When your alternatives have been eliminated and your only means out of there has turned to ashes, you no longer think in terms of, ‘If this doesn’t work out, I can always come back to the boats’.

When we have alternatives, we’re a lot more relaxed and unfocused because we know that, if what we’re doing doesn’t work out, we can always try something else. When you think in terms of no alternatives, you make very sure that what you’re doing or going to do will be done properly.

As you conduct your life and work, do you secretly give yourself alternatives – lots of back doors through which you can escape if things get a bit too difficult? If you do, you’re not doing yourself any favours because you’re not going to be focused on making things work or succeed.

Secondly, it makes you committed. A lack of commitment is a global epidemic. Because we live in a ‘me’ society where everything is designed for the convenience of ‘me’, we no longer have to commit to things. People grow up with a fear of commitment. They’re not prepared to commit to a relationship, a job, a project, an agreement … You name it, they won’t commit to it. In fact, we live in the most uncommitted generation ever.

If you want to succeed and find fulfilment, you’ve got to become committed to your cause, what ever it may be. Commitment causes you to act with purpose and intent, and it’s only by doing that that you will be prepared to overcome the obvious obstacles and challenges that are a normal part of life.

Thirdly, it makes you determined to succeed. If you know you have to succeed or be killed, you’re going to fight like your life literally depends on it. Thankfully we don’t generally find ourselves in situations where we are literally fighting for our lives, but if we performed our work like our life depended on it, we would work very differently.

If you believe your life depends on being punctual, you will be punctual. If you believe your life depends on finishing a project when you say you’re going to, you will. If your life depends on managing people effectively, you will.

Obviously, our lives don’t depend on these things. Maybe that’s why we’re not so focused, committed and determined to succeed.

Life rewards those it sees are prepared to burn their boats. Why don’t you burn some of those boats you’ve been keeping on the shores just in case things don’t work out? You might achieve a lot more than you thought you could!

Article by Alan Hosking
Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine,, and a mentor to Next Gen and other leaders. He is an award-winning editor, a trend spotter regarding global and local work patterns, and a Panel Member of Deloitte ‘Best Company to Work For’ Survey. His editorials appear on numerous on-line business websites both locally and internationally. He has been a Contributing Editor for two UK-based international HR magazines, and has appeared on radio and TV on numerous occasions.

Alan is one of the country’s leading authorities on first-time parenting and is the author of the best seller ‘What nobody tells a new father’ which has sold 77000 copies.

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