Over 500 hundred years ago in 1519 Hernando Cortez, the Spanish captain and explorer decided to seize the Aztecs, a mighty empire that had been around for thousands of years. Cortez took his soldiers and sailors and sailed south. Upon landing his fleet of ships on the shores of the Yucatan, the captain ordered his men to burn their own ships.
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The goal was clear for Cortez – conquer or perish. The soldiers saw no option but to win the fight, and they did. Unimaginable commitment to their goals led to their victory. Although the purpose of this conquest cannot be morally justified, it has been a source of inspiration for ages as to how with bravado and determination anything can be achieved.
But, what if the shores that Hernando and his soldiers landed on was not of Yucatan? And after having burned their ships, their death was the only remaining outcome. All that bravado and determination for nothing. The warriors would have been the victim of goal obsession. Having goals are critical, but the blind obsession of any goals can be perilous.
It reminds me of another story from the Huffington Post of Mike, a workaholic deal-maker from Wall-Street obsessed with making money. His main reason for slaving all day for money was to pay alimony to his three ex-wives. Ironically Mike’s obsession with earning more money was the main reason for his divorces. Another victim of goal obsession.
Marching confidently in the direction of established goals is essential for success. However, blind obsession with goals with brash overconfidence can end badly.
Traditionally we have been trained to remain goal-focused, with continuous adjustment to the approach if we were to achieve anything meaningful in life. Adapting strategies to relevant goals makes sense. However, we also require paying equal if not more and regular attention to the purpose of the goals.
I have come to realize that two critical factors could potentially save us from landing on the wrong shores of our purpose:
Build Exit Ramps
Imagine you are flying from Mexico to Toronto. A snowstorm is brewing making it impossible to land in Toronto. You wouldn’t want your pilot to blindly follow the path and fly the plane into the storm, but make some practice adjustment for landing the plane safely elsewhere before recharting the path. Goals are similar, sometimes needing a detour or a complete pivot to something entirely different. We need to keep our options open for continually reassessing the significance of our goals, and exit them when it’s relevance fade.
Avoid Premature Exits
There is a dichotomy with having an exit ramp and exiting prematurely. Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks. If the exit ramp is taken on week five, then we could potentially miss out on achieving the imminent goal. Pivoting goals at the right time are as important as sticking to the goals until the end. If the goals are still relevant then being persistent is key to achieving goals along with necessary adjustments to the approach.
In summary, burning your ships may not be the wisest decision for achieving goals. A balanced combination of keen purpose with clearly defined goals, supported by exit ramps and a healthy mixture of persistence and confidence will improve the probability of success.
Success to you!