When you must win

Life does not give itself to one who tries to keep all its advantages at once.
Leon Blum
1872 – 1950

In 210 B.C., a Chinese commander named Xiang Yu was leading his forces against the Qin dynasty. They had crossed the Yangtze River and were preparing for battle. Xiang Yu ordered all the boats sunk or burned, told the men to gather three days of provisions each and then ordered all the cooking pots destroyed. He told his troops they would battle to victory or death.

Xiang Yu didn’t want his troops to believe they had the option to retreat, because having a fallback position often lessens resolve. He also didn’t want a portion of his troops guarding the boats or tending the cooking pots; he wanted all of his forces totally devoted to the battle.

As a result of these tactics, he fought and won nine successive battles. He destroyed the enemy.

It’s doubtful that Xiang Yu’s troops were happy about all the boats and cooking pots being destroyed. But the move was very effective. It forced the troops to be totally focused on the job at hand. With the river at their back and no way to retreat, they did what they had to do: they won.

Are there valuable lessons we can draw from this story? I think so. Most of us won’t be faced with fighting the sort of battle Xiang Yu did, but we all have challenges we need to overcome. And one of the biggest challenges we face when dealing with a problem or goal is staying determined. We often pursue a goal until we encounter some difficulty, at which point we’re quick to sound the retreat. We give up way too easily.

Even if we don’t give up, we often let our goals slip away because we’ve divided our attention between the battle, the cooking pots and the ships. If there’s a goal that we absolutely must achieve, we need to narrow our focus and get rid of all distractions. We need to eliminate other options.

Now, I wouldn’t advocate a fight to the death; you have to be smart enough to know when you’re truly defeated. But if you don’t have the resolve to see a project through despite some setbacks, you’ll never achieve those difficult goals.

I see far too many people try something only to back off when they hit a bump in the road. Then they abandon that project and move on to the next one. I see it with businesses, relationships, marriage — you name it. We’re far too willing to give up when confronted with the first challenge.

If you’re determined to achieve that tough goal, then sink your ships, destroy your cooking pots and resolve to stick with it until you’re victorious. You’ll win a lot more battles that way.

Think things through and fully commit. A half-hearted spirit has no power. Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes.
Epictetus
55 – 135 A.D.

Copyright © 2018 John Chancellor


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