Burning the boats

by - March 11, 2015

How many times have you stared at something that seemed unattainable and heard that familiar lament of “what if” within your mind? How many times have you wished you had the guts to break free from everything that defines you and just go for broke, laying your heart, soul & life on the line?
Sometimes you do not realize how close to the unattainable dream you were until you have all but lost it. You look around you and see all the little noises that make up your day – the waiter who serves you breakfast, the people who cross your path at work, the strangers and friends on Facebook, the opinions on twitter, the stories in the news, the whatsapp jokes – and you realize that in focusing on all of these things and being safe lost amidst them, you let yourself lose track of the things that truly mattered to your heart.

Sadly, sometimes, by the time realization dawns and you try to chase after what you know matters, the journey has already become one unlike any you have ever attempted before. And you are left standing at the bottom of that mountain wondering, “How do I make this journey? How do I do the impossible? When losing seems to be the logical conclusion, how do I tell myself to move forward and take the first step? Why not just turn around and walk back to where you were safe?”

That is when you need to do a Cortez.

In 1519, 600 Spaniards with no armour, 16 horses and 11 boats landed on the island plateau of Mexico. Their target: the legendary gold and Aztec jewels. Hernan Cortez, the Spanish conquistador leading this group, really did not have anything going in his favour. For six centuries before this, far better and larger armies had attempted to lay their hands on the jewels but failed. Cortez knew this well. Rather than begin an immediate assault on the Mayans, Cortez chose to stay on the beach where the boats had docked and inspire his men with speeches. He painted a glorious picture of the treasures that awaited them and how prosperous their future would be. He showed them how this was unlike any other battle they had ever faced and instead was a battle that would redefine their lives forever. 

He made them see the dream of happiness.
And then he burned the boats.

Hernan Cortez’s act effectively cancelled any lingering thought of a retreat by his men. There was now no safe place to go to should the battle turn against the Spaniards. The only way they were coming back to Spain was by defeating the Mayans and using their boats now. Cortez had thrown down the ultimate challenge to his men: Live the dream that victory will bring you or die trying… there was no in-between.

History acknowledges Hernan Cortez as the first man to conquer Mexico in six hundred years. He did it because he removed the safety net and made the jump. The will to win knowing losing was not an option helped his men trump all the logical odds. 

A time comes in all of our lives when we need to filter out the white noise around us and focus on the dream that is life-changing but seemingly unattainable. It is the moment when we need to stop listening to the murmurs that say “It can’t be done” or “Don’t do this. You are doomed to fail.”

Once we see the dream of happiness and realize what we stand to lose, we can take the first step towards it. And that involves giving up the comfort and security of the life we have led till now (our safety net) and choosing to be something more – to truly believe we can succeed because failure is just not an option. When the option to retreat or give up and let things remain the way they were no longer exists, then the drive to win is at its peak.

Recent developments have helped clear my vision and show me how close I was to a dream had I not doubted myself. It was far better than any gold Cortez would have imagined and yet quite rare and precious. And now – for factors beyond my reach - all is seemingly lost and I stand at the bottom of that mountain again, a familiar place.

Except this time, I cannot be the guy I was who shrugs his shoulders and wipes away a tear of loss. This time, I find myself asking the pacifist in me to finally sit this one out and let the inner Hernan Cortez out. I realize now that giving up the safety nets around me is the only way I can achieve the impossible. It is a scary thought and I truly empathize with those 600 Spaniards standing there at the beach, watching their ships in flames. But I also know now the value of what Cortez did.

It is time for me to do the same. It is time for me to burn my boats and walk away from the safety of the shore. Because sometimes, even if all the odds are against you, you find that you need to persevere for the things that matter most to you.


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