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Life Advice: Burn Your Boats … And Then Panic

by Z.S. Roe //

Decision making – there’s no escaping it.

Should I take the job or should I not take the job?  Should I have kids or should I spend my time and money on myself?  Should I buy a house or rent an apartment?  Should I make a cup of tea now or wait until lunch?

Throughout each day we make countless decisions.  In most instances, those decisions are easily made with almost no thought at all, such as the tea example (and, yes, I think I’ll wait until lunch).

Every now and then, however, Big Life Decisions (or BLDs for you corporate folks) are forced upon us, sometimes in moments of crisis and other times in moments of seeming normality.  An old joke suggests that when you make plans, God laughs.  God’s apparent mean-spiritedness aside, the joke makes a depressing but accurate observation:  there are no guarantees in life.

Good idea or bad idea?

Good idea or bad idea?  You be the judge.

Still, we make plans anyway because it’s what we do.  And when we fall off the horse (or the horse just dies as we’re riding it), we’re often advised to get back on – try and try again, as they say.  Sometimes, though, we feel the need to trade in our (possibly dead) horse for … well, maybe a Shetland pony, telling ourselves that, “Hey, we only live once, so why not try and better ourselves?”

Frequent readers of this blog will know that the glass company I worked for recently laid off all of its employees and closed its doors for good.  Hello unemployment line.

With a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a Bachelor of Education, you’d think glass work would be the last thing I’d choose as a career.  And you’d be right.  But, after not being able to find work as a teacher and needing some kind of job to pay the bills, I took the only job I could get:  I got a job as a full time glass cutter.

But now I’m back where I started:  with no job and two dusty university degrees packed away in a box somewhere at my parent’s house.  Moving forward, however, I’ve decided to place emphasis on my writing skill and experience (limited at this point though it is) and leave the glass industry behind me.

It’s a big decision (a BLD, if you will) and one I’ve not made lightly.

In making this decision, I’ve sought the advice of family and friends, and all of it has been greatly appreciated.  What’s resonated most with me was an analogy my dad made.  In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico with six-hundred men and the hope that he might be the one to finally conquer the Yucatan Penin­sula, despite having arrived with fewer men and resources than previous aspiring conquerors.  And he succeeded, too.  But how did Cortés inspire such success in the men under his command?  He did so by ordering them to burn their boats after landing.  And so, having to choose between either fighting and winning or dying, they fought and won.

Having recounted this story to me, my dad then said:  “Maybe it’s time for you to burn your boat.”

Hearing this, I was surprised to feel a very sudden and strong relief.  Maybe I can make a career change, I thought.  Maybe I can better myself.

And that’s what I’m doing.  Mind you, at the moment it feels like I’m still on the beach watching my boat sink and wondering if it was such a good idea to light the bugger on fire after all.

Only time will tell, I suppose.

My question to you:  How do you make your Big Life Decisions?

Opinion is a weekly(ish) column of just that, my opinion. While opinions are like noses and everyone has one, mine are especially snotty. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.


2 thoughts on “Life Advice: Burn Your Boats … And Then Panic

  1. A funny post…and it was only a suggestion. It’s always easier for someone else to tell ya to burn your boats. But doing it is tough. From time to time I still think back to the boat I burned and wonder what was I thinking!!?? But like you said, only time will tell. Here’s some wise words from a business man whom I highly respect (Fred Smith). He wrote a article entitled ‘Don’t Look Back’… Here are some snippets from that article

    “Look all you want before starting, but once you begin —-move on. Fears may plague you…criticisms may come thick and fast…self-doubt may creep in…problems will surface, but don’t give up or look back…

    You can make course corrections when necessary, but always drive through the windshield, not the rearview mirror…

    So many people are not willing to recognize a genuine failure when it happens. It may seem incongruous at this point to mention failure after I have stressed so heavily the value of not giving up, but they are not incompatible. Failures are inevitable.

    Recognize them, accept them after you have made your best effort. Then bury them in the graveyard of your experience. Churchill was known by his famous, “Never, never, never, never, never give up.” A scalawag offered another viewpoint which is equally helpful: “When the horse is dead, dismount.”

    Wisdom calls us to know the difference and act accordingly.”

    At least the flames from the burning boat will keep you warm and give you light 😉

    Posted by scottyroe | July 17, 2013, 9:28 am
  2. Very well written, and i know you can better yourself!

    Posted by Anonymous | July 17, 2013, 6:27 pm

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