Sink Your Ships to Improve Your Life: A Lesson from Cortés the Conquistador Life Coach

There is a lot of advice out there about how to get off your duff and go toward your right life. Heck, I’m a life coach, so this is what I live and breath. I always welcome a fresh way to approach this topic, though, and this time I learned a little something about self-help from an unusual source – a Spanish conquistador from the 16th century named Hernán Cortés.

It’s probably been awhile since you’ve taken a world history class, but here’s a quick refresher. Long ago, in 1519 to be exact, Spanish forces led by Cortés arrived in Central America for the conquest and colonization of new territory. The Spanish were ultimately declared victorious in 1521 with the defeat of the Aztec empire. That’s the short of it.

Their campaign was bloody and far from smooth, however. At one point, a group of Cortés’ men tried to flee. Cortés addressed the mutiny by scuttling his ships. Translation: he sank them, leaving his men no choice but to conquer or die. In the words of Andy Bernard from one of my favorite shows, The Office, this was kind-of a dick move. But it worked. And although I don’t necessarily support the brutal takeover by the conquerors, I think Cortés was onto something by giving his men no way out. Here’s why…

For most of my adult life, I always had a fallback boat to carry me home to safety if I was too afraid to move forward. Although I hate to admit it, that boat came first in the form of my father, and then later in life, my husband. I would retreat anytime I had too much fear to forge into difficult territory, like figuring out my purpose, and putting myself out in the world to share it. And just to clarify, I’m not referring to paralyzing fear; I’m talking about general resistance to my own expansion and growth (the kind that Steven Pressfield so eloquently describes in The War of Art, which I highly recommend for anyone who aspires to create anything from a work of art to a new business). For me, this resistance usually showed up as laziness. Or apathy. Or hiding behind previous accomplishments or accolades. Or even manufacturing a façade of busyness by focusing on menial, easy tasks, which kept me from having to do the real work of personal development and soul growth. Sound familiar?

Having a father or husband as a fallback may not resonate with many, and I get that. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, especially as a woman who stubbornly likes to think of herself as empowered. But I think we all have a safety boat in some form that we know we can return to if our dream conquering is just too scary or doesn’t go as well as planned. Maybe it’s an unfulfilling but dependable or financially rewarding job. Maybe it’s a friend or family member who you know will always be there to support you. Or maybe it’s your super-secret plan that if everything goes to hell in a hand basket, you will sell all your remaining possessions and become a mole person.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having a fallback. But is it possible that your fallback is keeping you from springing forward? If so, what would happen if you pulled a Cortés and metaphorically scuttled your safety boat? I’m not suggesting you key your boss’s car or cut ties with that supportive family member or friend. I am, however, suggesting that by removing your fallback in a constructive yet meaningful way, you might have the incentive or oomph to conquer those dreams that you’ve been meaning to get to since you graduated with stars in your eyes and visions of world domination.

I cannot say enough good things about my father and my (now ex) husband. I feel incredibly blessed to have had their support in past years. But I have metaphorically scuttled those boats, leaving me no choice but to stand on my own two feet and step into my purpose. It might not look quite as life-and-death as it did for the Spanish explorers, but it’s pretty damn terrifying. It’s also pretty damn exhilarating, and about damn time.

So, is there anything in your life that you’re ready to Cortés? If so, and you’d like some help with that, contact me to set up a complimentary strategy session to discuss your goals and what is getting in your way.

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