Editorial notebook

Burn your ships to succeed

All of my life, I’ve been told that I always need a plan B, a backup plan, for almost everything I do. As I progressed through my first year of college, what became increasingly evident is that most of the time, I won’t have my life completely together, and I won’t have backup plans for the important things, and that’s okay.

In 1519, when Hernán Cortés landed on the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in modern-day Mexico, he had his men scuttle and burn his ships. Imagine how baffled his men were at this order. Why? Cortés didn’t want to give his men the option of running away from the difficult challenge ahead of them. Cortés’ bold decision made his men fight harder than they ever had, because they simply had no other choice. After the battle ended, Cortés became the first man to conquer the Aztecs.

I bring up this story because Cortés instruction to burn the ships highlights an important lesson, especially in college: what’s possible when there isn’t a plan B.

Now look, I’m sure back (for some of you, way back) when you applied for college, you had backup colleges in mind, just in case you got that dreadful letter of denial from your dream school (or schools), and that’s okay! You could have written the best essay of your entire life, but sometimes things just don’t line up in your favor. Having a backup plan is the smart thing to do sometimes; but other times, it encourages you to take a step back, closer to your comfort zone, where you’re not fully giving it your all.

It’s a classic battle between rationality and motivation. When there is only plan A, when all of your ships have been burnt, you’re forced to give everything you have to achieve that particular goal. I challenge all of you not to settle for what’s second best. I challenge you to burn your ships, to get rid of self doubt and fear and to eliminate the obstacles in your life that may be stopping you. I challenge you to work past your failures and all of those mistakes. Without a plan B, you have no other choice but to continue fighting and make your plan A possible.