Taking Steps Toward Leadership–Pushing through

Burn the Boats!  No Looking BACK!  Don’t quit–persevere!  Noble words and very applicable to people who change their minds every 30 seconds.  I come across this every day.  Students that once they figure out that becoming a musician takes work, practice, dedication, and failure, quit and move on to something more pleasurable.  I know the learning process is worth it or I wouldn’t teach because  I am not teaching them how to play a single instrument, I am teaching them a process by which they can learn ANY subject.

Incoming associates that think they can earn a 6 figure income in a week and discover that it means contacting people on a daily basis and going to training weekly don’t show up and it becomes EASIER to not show up.  They just drift away and find something more pleasurable.  That’s why the turnover rate in some businesses (especially service-based, entrepreneurial businesses) is so high.  That’s why so many new businesses fail in the 1st 5 years. One business I’m in, the trainers are always saying, “If you have a plan B for your success here, your plan A won’t work.”  It’s difficult emotional journey, but if you work through it, you help a lot of people.  If you help people get what they want, then you get what you want.

Volunteer organizations like the church choir, Toastmasters, fitness classes, self-improvement groups–they all have a problem with retention because people do not think the results are going to be worth the effort.  No matter how many people stand up and say, “This ________________ changed my life!  Look at where I came from, and look at where I am now!  Yes it IS worth it to go through difficulties instead of avoiding them!”

These are all noble and glorious pursuits.  Yes, absolutely burn the boats.

What about the ignoble and inglorious pursuits?  There are situations where you are surrounded by toxic people, terrible working conditions, and a feeling of hopelessness.  BUILD a boat.  Leave messages on the beach.  Light a signal fire!  GET OUT!  Quit!  Leave!  The worst conditions are those that breed complacency.  If you don’t grow, you start to die.  Your spirit gets a little less bright, and you don’t see this happening because it is such a gradual process.   It absolutely affects your feeling of worth to the point where you don’t feel you deserve anything better.

I knew a coal miner once.  He and several other acquaintances worked the mines because their fathers had worked the mines.  Henry had a spark though.  He loved his coworkers.  The mining process was fulfilling and challenging to him.  He was always looking to find out more about managing a mine, improving processes, making the industry safer.  His buddy Bubba (really!  That was his name!) wanted to do anything BUT mining, but he wasn’t very good in school.  He saw no way out.  He hated going “into the hole” every day.  He confided in Henry that sometimes he wished he could be caught in a cave in.  2 different approaches to the same job, 2 different attitudes made going to work heaven for Henry and hell for Bubba.  Bubba needed to get out.  He needed to run so fast out of there that his hair caught fire.  He didn’t.  He became less conscientious about his safety protocols, and one day there was an accident.  Bubba wasn’t hurt, but his partner was permanently injured.  Bubba committed suicide soon afterwards.

I was a cook in a truck stop restaurant.  I could cook 6 omelettes at once, feed about 30 people in an hour, and still have a fairly clean kitchen before I started closing.  I had fun with the manager and the kitchen boss, but one day, the kitchen boss implied that I was “coming on to him.”  I was horrified.  Then the manager said I was useless and cost him a lot of money when I made mistakes.  Well duh.  But the way he said it infuriated me.  I walked out in the middle of a dinner rush and only went back to get my paycheck that he held hostage.  He had the gall to ask me why I quit.  I wanted to clobber him.  Don’t get me wrong!  I learned a lot from this experience.  I learned many new skills including activity management, personnel management, persistence, prioritizing…  I also learned that this was not what I wanted to do or be.  I believed I was suited for something different.  I did not want a career as a cook.  I wanted to make a bigger difference in the world.  I wanted to have a more significant life.

Having been a teacher for so many years and seeing the light come on behind those students’ eyes, I couldn’t go back to making cheeseburgers for people.  Moving forward took hours of study, difficult tests, endless “No, we’re fine” responses.  I have not arrived where I want to be and will continue to work toward that goal.  But here’s the thing about goals.  Sometimes tactical goals masquerade as strategic goals.  As you near it, it becomes obvious that there is something beyond that goal that is inspiring.  It is a new view.  And when you look back on life, it becomes obvious that there are some things you should have quit sooner, some boats you shouldn’t have burned.  I might have learned all those skills faster and more efficiently if I had taken another path.  What if I had stayed at that truck stop?  I wouldn’t live where I do now.  I wouldn’t have the skills I have acquired since I left.  I wouldn’t have the expertise in finance or speaking.  I would not be writing this blog.

Make sure YOU are the person that decides to burn the boats.  All those crewmen and soldiers stranded in alien territory, surrounded by hostiles, no practical experience in setting up a viable community DIDN’T HAVE A CHOICE!  It was an order from a mad man.  Granted, his philosophy worked.  If it hadn’t, no one would know, and the people on this ill-fated mission would have just disappeared from the face of the earth.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, make a concerted effort to succeed.  Look at the successful people in your business/club/organization.  Is that where you want to be?  Burn the boat.  If it isn’t, keep the boat, learn what you can from your experience, then sail like heck to your next goal.

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