9-5 Escape Plan Pt 5 – Burn Your Boats

In 1519 Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico, along with around 600 Spaniards on 11 boats. Conquerors seeking the riches of the land had tried with much greater resources to take the Yucatan Peninsula many times and failed. Cortés took the tact of inspiring his men to act, to disregard the risk and focus solely on the rewards. Three words would go down in history, “Burn the boats.” Cortés became the first in 600 years to conquer Mexico. Without an exit strategy, there were only two choices: win or perish.

This story is commonly applied to success because it is a powerful reminder of what we can accomplish when our livelihood depends on it. If you don’t have to do it, you probably never will.

‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”
– Timothy Ferriss, 4-Hour Workweek

That being said, this option should be considered with a healthy dose of rational thought. Surely it is better to achieve your ideal work life in two years rather than six months if it means that you don’t go through bankruptcy in the process.

Burn Your Boats: If I don’t jump in feet first, I am never going to do it, and that is not acceptable. 

The concept is pretty clear: Quit your day job and __________. Nearly any end goal can be inserted here:

  • go back to school
  • write a book
  • travel the world
  • start a scuba shop

This is where you insert your purpose in life, in a form that you can monetize. The trick is to realize that with the internet, you can get paid for nearly anything.

I follow a travel blog. The author quit his well-paying day job to travel for several months. He shared his experiences, photographs, tips, recipes, and more on a personal blog. By the end of several months he was able to secure free travel to multiple destinations in order to boost tourism. He also secured advertisements on his site and picked up freelance work when needed. He has now been globetrotting for four years.

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

Burning your boats requires a few prerequisites, including excellence and a great attitude. After you have poured your foundation, prepare to cut the cord:

1. Make a plan so comprehensive that your rational friends can get behind it. This doesn’t need to take a ton of time, but it needs to be thoughtful. What is that you want to do? How will it make money? Whose done it before and how did they make it successful? Give them a call or send them an email. Thank them for blazing the trail and ask for their best piece of advice for someone who wants to take the same road. What’s your timeline? What is your plan B and plan C?

2. Identify the immediate and potential consequences. What will you be sacrificing to make this plan work? Security? Eating out? Your wife’s expensive hairdresser? By the way, if your sacrificing something of someone else’s, better seek out their buy-in first.

What are the potential consequences? You may have to go begging for a “job” again. You may lose your savings. You might not have the ability to pay for your kids’ college education or fund your own retirement.

Steps 1 and 2 ground your motivation: 1) It is possible and I have a plan, 2) I really need to work hard in order to avoid ___________ (pick the most emotional potential consequence – for me it would be tucking my tail between my legs and applying for a 9-5).

3. Test out your plan. It’s much better to figure out that you don’t actually enjoy dealing with teenagers every day before you quit your job and invest in a surf shop. Or to find out that Quicksilver is building the Taj Mahal of surf shops right next to your planned location.

Run your idea past a few key experts:

  • Someone who has already done this or something like it
  • A financial geek to test your assumptions
  • An industry expert who could share some insight

Develop a pilot and validate your concept. For example, I hope to make a decent living writing someday. The first gig I got was a local free publication. I spent 6 hours on an article and received $40. Well, I technically haven’t been paid yet. Clearly not a viable income source yet.

4. Burn your boats. Once you have successfully tested your concept and your plan has been reworked a few times based on the expertise and experiences of others, remove your exit strategy and your distractions. Quit your job.

Please don’t burn your office, its a metaphor.

Getting to step 4 is a lot easier for a single dude in college whose immediate and potential consequences are negligible.

However, most of us are already a few thousand miles down the road before we realize that when the brochures said “scenic,” they meant a week long reprieve in a tropical location once a year, only to return to the daily grind on the asphalt. The burn your boats option is the equivalent of plowing through the guardrails and down an embankment to get off the freeway. There is no going back.

Put in some due diligence before you go off-roading and stay creative. You can always find temporary income if you get in a bind. Fully committing to the life you desire is the only way to make it reality.

How could you burn at least one boat in your life to make yourself more committed to your goals?

  1. Great post! A lot of very insightful ideas. Interesting to think about what can be accomplished when our backs are against the wall.

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