In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes made history when he ordered his men to “scuttle” their ships after they reached the shores of Mexico from Spain. The men had made the long grueling journey across the sea from Spain, and they were growing weary from war with the Aztecs. Cortes wanted to make sure there was no way for his men to retreat…so he ordered his men to burned the ships where they anchored just off the shore. This act of leadership guaranteed that there would be no chance of retreat from battle…or their mission to conquer, tame, and develop the new land. His decision to “burn the ships” quickly became the stuff of legend.
In the weeks leading up to the new year, I searched for an impactful “personal mantra” for the upcoming 2023. (I encourage you to find your own mantra for the year!) For months, I kept running into the story of Cortes, his men, and those ships. Either on the pages of books I was reading, podcasts I was listening to, or in the very steps I was taking on my ever-evolving journey to a healthier lifestyle. I’m a firm believer that if God keeps telling me something over and over again…it’s for good reason. So during my quiet time, I sat and pondered the significance of this story. What was God trying to tell me? How did this concept of “burn the ships” relate to my life at this particular stage? Then it hit me. I was literally living the concept of “burn the ships”.
Over a two week period, from Christmas to New Year’s Eve (Courtney and I are teachers…we were blessed to be off for 2 weeks), Courtney and I (and our daughters) had been working through the Japanese custom of Oosouji (Oh-Soh-jee). It’s a concept that I discovered about 6 years ago. Basically, traditional Japanese families take the last few weeks leading up to the new year to completely deep clean their house, and in the process, get rid of everything that they don’t need anymore. But it goes further than physical “clean”. They believe that the Oosouji is a great time to get rid of any mental baggage as well. Releasing one’s self from past experiences, stresses, and anxieties that might have held them back the throughout the year. I’ve been wanting to attempt Oosouji since the day I read about it. It only took 6 years, BUT WE FINALLY DID IT! It was great. We threw so much “crap” away that we haven’t used in years, that our street was filled with garbage bags in the days leading up to trash pick up day. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a larger than normal utilities bill next month to cover the extra garbage we had for the city workers to pick up. (sorry fellas)
In addition to our Oosouji deep clean, Courtney and I had the opportunity to go through our closets and get rid of the massive amounts of clothes we had hanging up that no longer fit. As I was bagging up clothes to be hauled off to Goodwill, my mind kept reminding me of a few times that I had been told, “Don’t throw away all of your clothes…you might need them again”. With every shirt or pair of pants I bagged up, I said to myself, “Nope! Not going back!” Even before I locked in on my “battle cry” for 2023…I was living it out. BURN THE SHIPS! I was not going to allow myself to go back to that old lifestyle! The act of getting rid of those old (much bigger) clothes…was me burning my ships!
I didn’t stop with clothes! Throughout my 75 Hard experience and my continued process of living healthier, I had grown accustomed to the whole “no alcohol” thing. Since starting the 75 Hard Program and the Live Hard lifestyle, I may have had 3 glasses of Jamison Black Barrel. That’s three alcoholic drinks in the span of 8 months. SO…I really saw no reason for me to have my rather massive stash of bourbon (around 60 bottle of various…expensive…kinds of bourbon). So on New Years Eve, after we threw a pretty large party at the house (and poker game in honor of a fallen comrade), I made the announcement to my friends and family that the liquor cabinet was open, and if there was a bottle that they wanted, they could have it. The Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, and Wellers were gone in a matter of seconds. After the night’s events, the liquor cabinet is pretty sparse, which is totally fine. I don’t miss…or need the alcohol. On the rare (very rare) occasion that I want a drink…I’ll buy a glass…no need for a bottle. Please note, I’m not against drinking, bourbon, or any adult beverage (in moderation), that’s just not a part of my past life that I want to include on my new journey to overall wellbeing. Nope! Burnin’ That Ship!
These past few days have brought even more clarity with reference to the Burn The Ships mindset. I now spend time doing 10 minutes of personal visualization a day (a part of 75 Hard Phase 1), and I’m noticing that things that I used to hold near and dear to my heart aren’t in the version of our future that I’m visualizing. TV shows that we used to watch religiously (we haven’t spent more than 5 hours watching a “TV show” since we started down the path of physical, mental, and spiritual growth), restaurants and bars that we used to visit on a weekly basis (we may have eaten out 8 times since May 15, 2022), and even certain isles of the grocery store (we try and avoid the middle isles and do our grocery shopping on the perimeter walls), no longer take priority. Nope! Burn Those Ships!
The plain truth is, IF WE ARE GOING TO TRULY BETTER OUR LIVES…we’ve gotta make sure we don’t retreat back to the things that caused us to be unhealthy. Just like those early conquistadors, we can’t leave a path back to the habits and mindsets that damaged us physically, mentally, and spiritually. BURN THOSE SHIPS!!! It’s a simple concept…but it can be hard as heck.
I’m currently going through and cancelling an abundance of subscriptions (memberships, channels, magazines, etc.) because I want true financial peace. I don’t want these monthly bills to nickel and dime my finances to death. We are teachers and money is already tight. There are a lot of things in motion this year (2023) that are going to require extra income…and I’m not willing to compromise anything to the detriment of these newly formed goals. God has given me a vision of what can be IF ONLY I PUT IN THE WORK AND STAY FOCUSED…so I gotta burn the ships to maintain His plans for my life.
What does this look like for you? I have no clue. That is between you and God. Maybe you need to walk away from a toxic relationship that has you so screwed up mentally that you can’t think straight. Maybe you need to walk away from an addiction that’s been holding you back from being all you can be (food, drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling). Perhaps you need to stop eating certain foods that are causing your body to age more rapidly that normal and shortening your lifespan. Maybe you need to find a new job…one that encourages advancement and rewards you for being the awesome employee/leader you truly are. Maybe you need to stop looking for reasons to run from God, and start realizing that His grace, love, and mercy are the tools you’ve been needing to help you break the chains of depression, self harm, and self loathing. Whatever it is that has kept you from being the best you that you can be…you need to leave those ships out in the bay and BURN THE SHIPS!
As a youth pastor, head pastor, and church planter, one of the concepts that I try to teach people is the idea of “repent”. If you’ve been in a church service of 5 minutes or longer, you’ve heard the term. We often view it as a negative word because it’s usually being shouted at us by a preacher who just informed us how wicked we are and that we’re, “GOING TO HELL IF WE DON’T REPENT!” The fact of the matter is, the word repent means to understand that what we’ve been doing is not in our best interest AND then do all we can to turn and walk away from that particular act or situation…and do all we can to not ever “go back”. It’s two parts. Turn! Walk away! As we attempt to create a better life for ourselves, we need to “repent”. We gotta turn from old destructive habits, relationships, and situations, AND walk toward something better. God! Health! Mental Clarity! Purpose! Family! Once we start walking, we have to make a conscious decision to NOT GO BACK! In other words, we have to BURN THE SHIPS! Leave no chance of retreating back into “old ways”. We cannot go back to the person (habits, and mentality) we once were!
Take the time to do a deep dive and decide what ships need to be burned. In your personal life. In your business. In your relationships. In your very thoughts. Thoughts? Yes, thoughts! We have to stop thinking negatively about ourselves and our potential, and start trying to think about how we can be the “best us” we can be.
A great first step to start burning our ships is to find a tribe of folks who are likeminded and want what’s best for us. Family, friends, and co-workers who are willing to hold us accountable and will let us know when we screw up. Accountability partners who don’t mind stepping on our toes and telling us like it is. I encourage you to purposefully plan out HOW you’re going to find these people, and pray about WHO best fits into the position of “accountability partner(s)”.
As we start the process of planning out our strategy and goals for this new year…we need to be intentional. Be specific. Be prolific. Be consistent. And most of all…be ready to BURN THE SHIPS!