Want To Achieve Greatness? Burn Your Ships!

| March 26, 2014

Achieve Greatnes, Brun Your Ships-Jay-PlattEDITORIAL – The academy award goes to Matthew McConaughey; the Grammy to Jennifer Hudson; and the Heisman Trophy to Johnny Manziel. One of these comes from the acting world, one is a singer, the other a college quarterback. So, what do they all have in common?

While some might say they’re lucky, something more than luck has allowed these individuals, and others like them, to accomplish what they have. To get where they are has required them to do things that most people can’t imagine. Like all people who’ve achieved greatness, they’ve had to “burn their ships in the harbor,” as the following story (relayed to me years ago) illustrates.

A general was to land on a foreign island with several hundred soldiers. Their mission was to seize the beach and hold it until reinforcements arrived the next day.

The enemy, however, were known to be a fierce and ruthless adversary who’d never lost a battle.

As the soldiers were departing their ships, the general heard some of them telling one another that if the going got too tough, they’d simply retreat to the ships and sail away.

Upon hearing this, the general ordered that all the ships be burned in the harbor. His men, with nowhere to retreat, won the battle and held the area.

I hope you got it because within that story lies the key to achieving a big goal in any area of your life. All you have to do is follow the example and there is no telling what you can accomplish.

The thing I’ve found, though, is most people aren’t willing to “burn their ships.” They (like the soldiers in the story) want them there in case things get too hard they can use them to escape with. So, don’t be like most people.

Decide today, right now in this moment, that you will follow the general’s example, and do what you must. In short, you will burn your ships in the harbor. Once you do, great things can happen. And, you’ll be following the lead of all who’ve made a mark in this world.

People like the young musician who moves to Nashville, against the advice of his friends and family;

Or the actor who goes to Hollywood, in hopes of landing a big movie role;

Or the business person who risk his or her life savings to fund their business start-up.

I’m not saying those types of decisions are for everyone. But, we all can learn from their example.

Maybe for you, it’s committing yourself to your marriage, to remain together, for better or worse, and really meaning it.

Or maybe it’s a commitment to graduate from college, or to stop smoking.

Regardless of what it may be, the principle remains the same. You have to be willing to keep going, no matter how hard you’re hit.

When things get tough, you must remain committed to your decision. You must be willing to give it your all. Because if you do, you can’t be stopped.

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26 Comments on "Want To Achieve Greatness? Burn Your Ships!"

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  1. Laura Padgett says:

    We live in a world that does not always ask us to rise to the fullness of our potential. Often it expects only mediocrity and allows us to make every excuse to stay right there. I appreciate that you push your readers out of their comfort zone “the level places” and ask them to rise to higher expectations of themselves and others. More of that is needed in our world. Thank you for your commitment to greatness!

  2. Alan says:

    Jay, great point. Commitment to a worthy goal is paramount and leaving no backdoor steels the mind and engages the friendly cooperation of the Universe. I wonder if this is where the expression “burning desire” originated?

  3. Angel H says:

    Jay, great article!! My ship is lot & burning!!
    Inch by inch, it will burn!!

  4. Chick says:

    Another great article Jay, I need to set fire to my ship and stand!

  5. Monica Griffin says:

    This is great advice, Jay. Thank you for being committed to helping us stay motivated and unstoppable!

  6. hope bishop says:

    I love this. It has truly become a disposable world. I promise to NEVER give up! I want to always be mindful of what is worth fighting for

  7. Mary Alejandro says:

    Jay Platt, this is awesome. You always seem to know just when someone needs that extra push (me)!!! I am looking for match, lighter or anything to put that “ship” to burn. You inspire me to NEVER give up and keep going even when things look tough.. THANK YOU….

  8. Christy Shuttlesworth-Skinner says:

    Great advice and find myself struggling with letting that sense of security go. As I try to teach my daughter that you can’t always take the easy route in life and you have to have confidence in yourself that you will succeed. It’s hard for a teenager and unfortunately it doesn’t get any easier as an adult. Articles like this help keep me motivated and reminds me that sometimes you stand alone and just because you are standing alone doesn’t mean your wrong. Thanks!

  9. Ross Quintana says:

    This also shows the power of focus and the advantage that focusing on what is before you can bring to the total outcome. As in life we need to focus on the now and not that past.

  10. Shannon Pierce says:

    GREAT editorial:) Many parents can learn from this advice. When you keep thinking you must always be their to catch your kids during their college Life and adult short falls. Honestly, I see this mistake made from my generation and current generations. Love your kids enough to encourage them to stand on their own and teach them, with the good comes the bad… they will thank you in the end. (my kids always knew, you will only return to live at my house once, so make sure you save that invitation for the most serious of crisis.)

  11. Stephanie says:


  12. Annie Marie Peters says:

    Thought-provoking article, Jay! It’s easy to live our lives with a safety net. We never become truly daring with our decision making, because we feel that safety will always be there. I really like the ‘burn your ships’ analogy, and I’m going to carry that with me. To achieve greatness, sometimes you just have to light the match and never look back.

  13. Julie Gayler says:

    This truly inspired me to think about what I had done with the ships in my life as related to my own goals. Such a great message.