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How Burning Bridges Can Lead to Success

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What's the backup plan?

When I left Google in June 2012, I didn’t have one. I only knew one thing: It was my destiny to become an entrepreneur and the time had come. Those already entrepreneurs probably remember the raw emotions that stirred inside the day it all became official. For me, I found the experience quite frightening and exhilarating. 

Related: When It Comes to Finding Your Path. Don't Overthink. Do.

Focus on a single outcome.

In 1519, Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, famously ordered burning the boats as his troops prepared for the impossible conquest of the Aztec Empire. Well, this may be false. Some sources, like Matthew Restall's Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest indicate he scuttled (or sunk) the ships to prevent a mutiny. Nonetheless, it's a vivid story and an apt analogy for preparing to take on the startup world.

As actor Will Smith explained in an inspiring interview, having a Plan B only distracts from pursuing Plan A.

In my case, I “burned the boats” by creating a mission and brand centered on my top value: a freedom lifestyle. (Many would say this is foolish, which is OK because I’m not speaking to them.) 

I define freedom lifestyle as a person's having the ability to do what he or she wants, when and how desired. It's an intentional and adventurous way of life, with the individual making a lifelong commitment to crafting and sharing his or her unique genius.

Any entrepreneur, solopreneur or wantrepreneur may feel a similar drive in life. Having a mission and leveraging it is critical. 

Related: Here's Why You Need to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

The repercussions of having a lifeline.

Although an unconventional approach, burning bridges provides laser focus to the entrepreneur. The outcome becomes clearer and there are less distractions. Having options may seem like an effective risk-mitigation strategy, but it will only hurt the entrepreneur. A person with a backup plan is likely to use it, which results in settling for far less than what he or she desires.

A backup plan is the sum of all the entrepreneur's worries, fears and disaster scenarios muddled together into one half-hearted game plan. Anyone who doesn’t burn the bridges will find that his or her focus will habitually (and unconsciously) shift toward the obstacles. 

The proof all around.

Which people can serve as role models? What success stories resonate the most? Through my study of successful entrepreneurs, I’ve consistently observed the following traits and many startup leaders take pride in these qualities and identify with them on a personal level:

Following high standards and pursuing an insatiable thirst for growth and knowledge 

Exhibiting unwavering confidence in achieving desires -- to the point that this becomes part of their identity

Showing a commitment to creating value for others and contributing beyond satisfying themselves  

My notion of burning bridges is not about someone carelessly abandoning his or her connections and past. Rather, burning bridges is a form of "inevitability thinking": By creating intentional shifts in mindset and choices, taking action toward goals becomes inevitable -- along with success. Here are some steps for doing so:

Related: 7 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Master Self-Awareness

1. Identify the ultimate outcome or desire.

Define this goal in a crystal-clear fashion and be sure there's a strong underlying “why” behind the desired outcome. My ultimate outcome is to give people the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to become successful online solopreneurs and live a freedom lifestyle. 

2. List all worries.

Spend time to write down the various disaster scenarios, fears, worries and potential backup plans. Then toss the paper or trash the document. Better yet, burn the paper (carefully, please).

3. Define the first action.

Specify the initial step to take toward the goal. Imagine a line of dominoes all leading toward the result. If there were one massive domino at the front that could set the whole process in motion, what would it look like?

For me, the first powerful step was starting a blog and publishing the first post. That led to consulting, creating products, building a community, speaking and now writing pieces like this.

4. Prepare to struggle.

Entrepreneurship is not always glamorous and there will be dark days. But one step beyond the dark days is where the lesson lies along with eventual success. Be ready for the struggle and remember persistence is everything.

5. Celebrate wins and other winners.

Celebrate small wins and find other winners to be influenced by. As Tony Robbins has said, “proximity is power." The fastest way to grow is by spending time with people who have already arrived at their destination and met with success. 

Related: Leadership Lessons From Alexander the Great

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