It seems like yesterday, but it was nearly seven years ago. I was at the crossroad of my career and was facing an important decision. The outcome would greatly impact my future.
I had spent the past 8 years working in the job of a stock market analyst. My job was comfortable, and the money that came with it was good enough. But something seemed missing. I took a few years to realize this, but what was missing was the need to have complete control over my life and decisions. I did not like someone else calling the shots for me and maybe, in a phone call, deciding what my future would look like.
And thus, after much deliberation and after ensuring that I had sufficient financial cushion to support me for a couple of years, I quit my job.
The first year was tough. Compounding the fact that I was trying to build credibility, brand myself and make meaningful connections in a new field, I was also dealing with the arrival of my second child.
When I decided to quit my job, and the day I handed my resignation letter to my boss, I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills. Now, as I look back to those first few months of starting on my own, I remember that I had no regrets. I was committed to my new direction and had burned my boats.
There was no looking back. There was no Plan B.
Focused energy and serious intent pushed me to do your best work. I had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I did not look over your shoulder. Everything then — all my thoughts and efforts — were focused on succeeding in the new reality. And it worked, Maybe, I got lucky!
The concept of burning boats traces back to one of history’s most inspiring leadership stories from 1519. Hernán Cortés led a large expedition consisting of 600 Spaniards, 16 or so horses, and 11 boats to Mexico. His goal was to capture a magnificent treasure said to be held there. Upon arrival, Cortés asked his men to destroy all their boats. This sent a clear message to his men: There is no turning back. They either win or they perish.
You might assume that Cortés’ men would have become dejected, with no exit strategy in place to save their lives. Instead, they rallied behind their leader as never before. Within two years, he succeeded in his conquest.
At its essence, burning boats represents a point of no return. It is a psychological commitment where you recognize that you have crossed a line never to cross back.
Figuratively, it means to commit oneself to a particular course of action by making an alternative course impossible.
Now, when I quit, I did not do it without preparation. It would have been a suicide if I’d done that.
Instead, I worked towards improving my skills in writing well, and learned the basics of technology and online marketing, to be able to do things on my own.
I bought a laptop and started developing content for my investment education initiative during my travel to and from office (at times, I found people staring at me as I typed on my laptop while standing in the local train).
But then, I never prepared a business plan and never had a plan B.
This might sound like a foolish decision, but in hindsight, I think whatever little success I’ve made of my work over the past seven years, it’s because I focused on the only thing I wanted to focus on. Because I had no plan B…no escape route.
All I said to myself was, “You want it so much, then just do it!” And then I quit.
What about you? What boats do you need to burn?