Rule #11: Burn Your Ships

In Darren Sugiyama's book "The Icon Effect," he outlines 25 success principles to live by, told through a story about Vincent, a young aspiring entrepreneur who is recently divorced, broke, and confused about his future.  Vincent meets a billionaire mentor (The Icon) that teaches him these 25 rules and changes the course of his life.

The following is an excerpt from The Icon Effect.  Rule #11: Burn Your Ships.


            I listened intently as he told me the story of Hernando Cortez, the Spanish Conquistador and conqueror.

            The Icon explained, “In 1519, Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez landed on the shores of the Yucatan in Mexico, with his army.  The goal:  To destroy the Aztecs and seize their treasures. Cortez, like you Vincent, had an all-in type of personality.  Now, you want to talk about being a great leader, Cortez led more than 500 soldiers and 100 sailors to leave their families behind, and sail from Spain to Mexico, to overtake the Aztecs.  He led a fleet of eleven ships.”

            I remember learning about the Aztecs in history class back in high school.  I said, “Weren’t the Aztecs like the most powerful empire at that time?”

            “Yes.  In fact, the Aztecs ruled for over 600 years.  But my man Cortez… this guy was no joke.  You see, what made Cortez such a great leader was that he had the ability to get 100% buy-in from his people, because he led by example.  His belief system was so strong, that it became contagious.  It was all or nothing with Cortez. And in this particular conquest, it was destroy the Aztecs, or be destroyed,” The Icon explained.

            He continued, “When Cortez landed on the shores of the Yucatan, he gathered his men together and explained to them his game plan, which was summed up in three simple words:  Burn the ships.

            “What?” I shockingly interjected.

            “Cortez literally told his men to burn the eleven ships they arrived in.  Here was his philosophy:  We either take the Aztecs or we die trying, but we will not give up and retreat back home.  Now, at first, his men freaked out.  ‘Burn the ships!’ Cortez repeated.  Vincent, I’m telling you, Cortez was a man after my own heart,” The Icon said.

            I smiled, perhaps because I knew what The Icon was getting at.  He was likening burning the ships to burning bridges. 

            I remembered seeing a quote in a frame hanging on the wall in Joseph’s office that read, “The greatest pleasure in life is burning bridges that lead to a life of mediocrity, and accomplishing things that other people said you could not do.”

            The Icon continued recounting the story of Hernando Cortez, speaking louder and louder, as I could see him becoming more and more passionate about the whole idea of burning the ships.

            “And so Cortez’s men burned the ships, and when they did, they morphed into more than just an army.  They became obsessed believers.  You see, that’s what it takes to become as successful as Joseph here,” as The Icon pointed towards his protégé-turned-superstar.

            “From the very beginning, Joseph was obsessed.  I mean, the guy stalked me in the lobby of my own office, trailed me into the elevator with a $300 bottle of tequila, and by the time we reached the first floor, he’d convinced me to go to lunch with him.  He was obsessed, just like Cortez.  Just like you.  That’s why I believe in you.  That’s why I know you’ll be successful,” The Icon said.

            Hearing The Icon utter these words gave me the confidence I needed to believe.  I didn’t believe in myself yet, but I believed in The Icon, and if he said he believed in me, that’s all I needed to hear.

Rule #11:  Burn Your Ships.


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