Burn The Boats

There is a story, often repeated, about Cortez and his conquest of the Aztecs.  Cortez and his men sailed across the ocean from Spain and landed in the New World.  They were overwhelmed by what they saw, aghast at this new climate and new landscape.  The men were frightened and uncertain, but trusted in Cortez to lead them.  Their primary motivation?  Gold and the dream of riches.  As Cortez and his men battled inland each day, working further and further to conquer this land and its peoples, there was grumbling and muttering of discomfort and dissatisfaction.  According to the legend, Cortez gathered his men to lead them into battle.  His last order before they attacked?  “Burn the boats.”  There was to be no going back, so it was defeat or be defeated; there would be no running away.

I think about that story a lot, and more lately than I have in a while.  Something about a new year and new plans makes me want to put my toes on the edge of the water and wait and wait and wait to jump in.  I have so many great ideas that I want to tackle, so many exciting plans for the year ahead, but I worry that I’ll take on too much or focus more on the unimportant and neglect the things that matter most.  I fear that I will use those very legitimate reasons as means to avoid doing things I want and should do, simply because I am terrified of failing were I to try.

It’s an awkward position, really.  To be stuck between doing so much less, because I want to put my energy into the things that I know will last and that I can look back on with gladness and pride; and doing more, because I feel called and gifted to do it, and because I think it is the path I am meant to walk.  Which one of those gets precedence, and how much weight do I give to each?  It’s to the point that I wrote a whole blog post today about a plan I have for the new year, and I shelved it because I wasn’t sure I was ready to launch it just yet.  As in, hit “publish,” then scrambled to un-Facebook and un-tweet it because I choked.

My watchword for this year is “Pride.”  Pride in both senses: as the thing that causes us to think we are the makers of our own success (rather than recognizing that all we have and all we are has been entrusted to us, not earned); and as that feeling we get when we look at a job well-done and are pleased to have had a hand in it.  I want to avoid the first and embrace the second this year, in a way that I can hardly put into words.  I want to recognize, each moment of each day, that I have done nothing to deserve the amazing life I lead, and for which I am constantly thankful, and so I have no business letting my head get big and my britches get small (as they do here in the South when you are too big for them) out of pride.  I want to be humble.  At the same time, I want to look at the work I do and be proud of what I create–not because I think it makes me awesome to have done it, but because I want to know that I have been part of making something awesome while still acknowledging that talent and time and health and resources, all the things that go into making Good Work, all those are gifts. I expect it will be a delicate balance, this year.

And so: I am thinking about burning the boats.  I am thinking about what it means to leap and wait for the net.  I am thinking about how many baskets I have, and whether it’s time to move all my eggs to just one.  I am thinking about who I say I am and who I want to be, and whether those two things are the same–that’s the meaning of integrity, after all, that all the parts work together to create an integrated whole.  And I want to be that.

I’m not making resolutions this year, because I know what I want more than anything else: to be a good wife and mother whose actions demonstrate how honored I feel to perform those roles; to care for my body out of gratitude for all it puts up with from me; to take time with my work so that everything I produce is something I can point to and be proud of; to always put first things first and to constantly be thankful.  I don’t need to resolve all those things, because I know them in my core, and they are never changing.

What I need to do is to stop being scared of taking the first step, to stop making excuses, to stop being defensive, and make the change.  It’s time to admit my flaws, and correct them.  It’s time to forget my rationalizations, and step up.  It’s time to remember the “why” of who I am, and seek that each day.

It’s time to burn the boats.

Happy New Year, y’all.  Here’s to an incredible year where we don’t let fear make our decisions for us.  We are each as great as we allow ourselves to be–I just have to get out of my own way.  Exciting things coming up in the next few weeks–some plans, some announcements, some programs, all of it really cool.  Just give me a minute to watch these embers die down, and I’ll be ready.

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  • Rebecca S
    January 2, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    There is another phrase that is much like your story…A Zen proverb that says “Leap, and the net will appear.” I like it because it reminds me that just because I’m taking a chance and letting go, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m free-falling!

  • Kelly
    January 3, 2012 at 12:22 am

    What a lovely post! I am with you in so much of what you say. I pray God blesses all of your efforts to become the person you want to be!

    I’m pretty new to your blog, and appreciate your love of sewing. I bought your book and am hoping that finally at age 40, I can teach myself how to sew! I have had many teachers but this student has never got it. I have given up many times, but I hope this will be the year that I just keep plugging along! Love your book and the way you encourage. Thanks so much. 🙂

  • Diane Christy
    January 3, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Before I left my office for the New Year’s holiday I wrote three words in very large (Dirty Darren – newest fav font) letters and taped them to my office door.


    I often accuse myself of laziness, of doing just enough to get by but not really stretching or challenging myself to (what I consider to be) full capacity. You inspire me, Deborah, always. I am awestruck by your commitment to doing good work as well as GOOD WORKS. You are an amazing wife and mother, a woman of preternatural ability in the marketplace, and a fun and funny human being.

    Instead of “Let’s fold scarves” (Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion), I say “Let’s paint walls” or tackle any other project you’ve got in mind.

  • Kristy K
    January 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Tried to get to your last post – daily inspiration email, but couldn’t? Would love to be a part of that – if it’s still available? needlegrrl at gmail dot com

    I get so overwhelmed with all my baskets – sometimes I think it would be better to just focus on one, but there are so many projects and fun things to do! I have to not think about “how little” I can accomplish in the time allotted (and really, 15 minutes is an amazing amount of time when you think about it!) but think about the steps forward I can make!

  • Rachel at Stitched in Color
    January 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    What a glorious post, Deborah. I so agree with what you said about pride and how all of our successes are not ours but just entrusted to us. I pray that you will have the grace to burn those boats when you know it’s time. You’re definitely on the right path. And thank-you SO much for that chat on teaching classes. I would never have thought to structure the class with three versions, and that’s been so well received. You’ve been a blessing!

  • Kersten
    February 1, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Wow…have you ever thought of public speaking? I guess, technically, you already do.

    Your post has inspired and motivated me to get moving. I am completely on track with your thinking…

    “I know what I want more than anything else: to be a good wife and mother whose actions demonstrate how honored I feel to perform those roles; to care for my body out of gratitude for all it puts up with from me; to take time with my work so that everything I produce is something I can point to and be proud of; to always put first things first and to constantly be thankful.”

    I feel exactly that. It’s in my core and reading your words just now has deepened my resolve.

    Thank you!

    • Deborah
      February 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      Thank you so much for saying such nice things! I feel like this post, especially, just poured out of me. I hope I can live up to the resolve I felt as I wrote it. Best of luck to you, too!