Today I wanted to talk briefly about the point of no return.
Now, I’m not going to be talking about it in a mystical, movie-thriller sort of way, but when it comes to launching out towards that dream or that goal, maybe starting that business or whatever it is, I think there can be two types of points of no return - one is mental, the other is physical, and I’ll build that out in just a second, but first, what do I mean by point of no return?
In one sense, at its simplest, its a commitment. A decision. Let me share a story you are likely familiar with from primary school history but it illustrates perfectly the point.
In 1519, the Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando Cortez decided that he wanted to seize the treasure that the Aztecs had been hoarding. He took 500 soldiers and 100 sailors and landed his 11 ships on the shores of the Yucatan. Despite the large army under his command, he was still vastly outnumbered by a huge and powerful empire that had been around for 600 years.
Some of his men were unconvinced of success, and being loyal to Cuba, they tried to seize some ships to escape to there. Cortez got wind of the plot, and captured the ringleaders. He wanted to make sure that the remainder of his men were completely committed to his mission and quest for riches, so he did something that seemed completely insane to his people: Cortez gave the order to scuttle his own ships.
His men resisted, wondering how they would even get home, and his answer was: “If we are going home, we are going home in their ships!”
The path forward was clear for Cortez – All or nothing, 100% commitment. The option of failure was gone – Conquer as heroes, or die.
The ships were sunk – He kept a single ship to send back the “royal fifth” (the king of Spain claimed 20% of all treasures). By doing this, the level of commitment of the men was raised to an extreme level, much higher than anyone could have imagined.
Incredibly, they succeeded in this unlikely feat. In six hundred years, no one else had been able to conquer the Aztecs and plunder their riches. They were able to do it simply because there was no choice, no fallback – the ships were gone, the only alternative was death.
Now, our alternative in almost every case is not as extreme as death, and thats a good thing, but the idea that we will not turn back is so important.
So real quick lets talk about those two different kinds of points of no return - first mental.
Here, we are talking about the ideas in our head and we are often our own worst enemy. I know for me, if I just keep an idea spinning around in my head, its just another idea or dream. One key to moving forward is adding a level of accountability to the situation by telling someone about your decision or commitment to forge ahead. Yes, this means putting yourself out there, risking failure, but in the way too often used cliche “no pain, no gain” - you just need a consequence of not moving forward, and sometimes, just someone else knowing can be enough. Maybe it needs to be a group of people, family or friends - or a more public group of people, your readers, blog followers, etc. Whatever the case, making the decision and commitment to burn the ships mentally, will raise, like it did for Cortez’s men, the commitment level to a more extreme high.
The other kind of point of no return is physical, and this one is right in my face right now with a current reality that I am facing that is a pretty big home renovation.
For me, demo day was a big physical point of no return. Once you rip out drywall, and insulation and everything is down to the studs, you have no choice but to live in a skeleton of a house, or start to rebuild. And like most home renovations, mine has come with its fair share of “curveballs” and things I did not expect. Like, finding little to no insulation behind the walls! What!? It gets down to 20 below here in the winter - so thats a problem! Wasn’t in the budget but now we adjust, and regardless, I’ve got to fix this! I can’t just stick to the plan and slap the drywall up and say, “Oh I’ll get to it later”. But anyway, I’m getting off track - for me through out this project, there are other issues that have come up, and each step along the way, I’ve got to push through my fears or doubts and get this project moving! We are moving into this new place in 3 weeks and I literally still have a shell of a room for a kitchen and dining room. BUT, the more I keep plugging way, and putting another step in the process behind me, the more confidence it breeds to continue on.
And that is really the point.
The fear of “what if” will control us - like Cortez’s men - what if we are defeated, what if we fail? And when the option of retreat was removed, it dramatically raised the level of commitment.
So what is your point of no return on YOUR dream right now? Is it simply adding a layer of accountability by telling someone your plan? Writing down that goal and pasting on the wall in your office or cubicle where others can see it and ask you about it? Or is it a physical demolition like my current reality? Well, now the room is gutted, time to put it back together in dream plan fashion!
Either way, I hope you burn the ships. Take that step, that leap, even if it feels way bigger than you can handle, I promise, the rush of knowing it’s “do or die” time (so to speak) will most often be when we surprise ourselves and rise to the challenge and accomplish way more that we ever thought possible.
I can’t wait to hear what YOUR point of no return moment is, in fact, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hop on the website and drop a line - I’d love to hear from you!