When Failure Is Not an Option, Pull a Cortés

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.
Bob Marley
I try to avoid speaking in absolutes, because for every story and lesson I can express, there is another that could easily counter its argument by expressing a valid reason to do the exact opposite.

I know that I have said time and time again that life is not about reaching a goal, but enjoying the trip. I know that I have mentioned many times that you should let fate guide your life, and that a goal is just a general direction and not a destination. This mentality and general attitude will allow you enough breathing room to reach what destiny has laid out for you, giving you the ability to live to the fullest and see all the other opportunities that might happen to appear in the corner of your eye.

I know that I have said time and time again that it’s OK to fail, just as long as you learn and turn your failure into a learning experience. Successful people are not successful because they win every time, but because every time they lost, they learn from the experience and the loss didn’t stop them. You actually learn more in life from your mistakes than from your successes.

And I stand by these attitudes… until you hit the reality that every rule has an exception. You will be confronted with situations where you have to do what you have to do, where failure is not an option, and where you realize that you either succeed or die trying. That is when you have to pull a Cortés.

In 1519, Hernán Cortés, with some 600 Spaniards, 16 or so horses and 11 boats, had landed on the Yucatan Peninsula, with the intent of conquering the Aztec Empire. Every previous attempt by Conquistadors, with far more resources at their disposal, had failed miserably. So how did Cortés succeed where so many others had failed? Because for him and his men, failure was not an option. After an fiery speech to invoke the fighting spirit of his men, Cortes finished his elocution with 3 simple words, a simple command that would define their attitude for the rest of the expedition:
Burn the boats.
Cortés and his men had now only two options; ensure victory or death. In 1521, Cortés declared himself governor of Mexico.

What some people don’t know about this story is that Cortes and his men had burned their boats long before they reached Yucatan. This expedition was actually unsanctioned, an act of mutiny against a high ranking member of the Spanish government, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. So the day these men set sail, they knew the only way to avoid being condemned as traitors was to succeed in such a way that they couldn’t be accused of anything. Burning the boats was just to make sure the men remembered and so those who might go back on their word couldn’t get any ideas.

Sometimes you will be faced with situation where you will have to stand strong, where it’s all or nothing. Too many people fail because they understand that failure is an option. They plan ahead an exit strategy and already have prepared excuses on why they could fail. And this attitude creates a self-fulfilling prophesy.

To overcome this, your resolution has to be absolute. “Well, if this fails, I can always…” cannot even exist within your mind. Every breathing moment in your life must be dedicated to achieve your goal. Anything and everything else must be eliminated. You must remove your pride and your comfort. Live Spartan. Anything less will guaranty your failure.

Constantly consider what you are doing, not under the mentality of questioning it, but rather of seeing how to do it more efficiently and effectively. Results are the only thing to consider here, as time is of the essence. Intentions are a great thing to have, but unless they provide a measurable result, they are useless. Be daring, as fortune favors the Bold.

Believe in yourself, for you only have yourself at this point. By the time you are pulling a Cortés, it’s because everyone else already gave up on you. Prove them wrong. Remember those few that stood by your side during this time. It’s easy to stand by someone when everything is going great, but standing by someone while they battle a storm proves true loyalty.

Before you start considering taking this attitude as a life philosophy, keep in mind that a Cortés is the last result of desperate men, of someone that have nothing else to lose. These acts are not done looking for glory or for fame or even for success. These acts are done by men fighting for something greater than themselves. Only then can you draw strength from your soul, only then can you know just how strong you can be.