Burn Your Boats

I’d like to start this post by sharing a little piece from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich with you: 

A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a decision that ensured his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers in the boats, sailed to the enemy’s country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave the order to burn the ships that had carried them. Addressing his men before the first battle, he said, ‘you see the boats going up in smoke. That means we cannot leave these shores alive unless we win. We now have no choice. We win or we perish.’ They won. Every person who wins in any undertaking must be willing to burn his ships and cut all sources of retreat. Only by doing so can one be sure of maintaining that state of mind known as a burning desire to win, essential to success.

Let’s look at how this might apply to you and your life, and the likely outcomes of either burning your boats, or not.

Should you burn your boats and go all in?

Most choose not to, but the decision is often absent from good thought or reason.

It’s easy to come up with reasons, it’s entirely different to have logical, justified reasons.

“But what if it doesn’t work?” … a great example of an illogical emotional response.

Good reasons not to burn your boats

Despite that fact that most reasons will not be good ones, some of you reading this will have a legitimate excuse in needing to postpone going all in. Notice I didn’t say never do it.

If you’ve got a family to feed and no financial cushion, it wouldn’t be a very good decision to go all in without downside protection of having an income source in place in the possibility of failure. You’d put your family at risk.

You don’t have to make stupid decisions to be successful. You have to make logical decisions.

If this is your situation, your immediate plan of attack isn’t going all in, it’s mapping out a plan that would put you in a situation that will allow you to go ‘all in’.

Maybe that’s cutting expenses to enable you to save more money. Or picking up extra work. Or both. The more cushion you build up, the more runway you give yourself to go all in.

Maybe it means starting your business on the side so that once you start getting traction, you can more confidently go all in knowing you won’t put your family at risk.

(Note: When I say “all in”, I don’t mean gambling every last dollar, I mean deciding what type of cushion you want based on your situation, and going all in with your time/money, excluding the ‘cushion’ money.)


“But entrepreneurs don’t have jobs!”, you might say.

I think this has become popularized by people selling info about entrepreneurship, and it’s often regurgitated without proper understanding.

In most situations a job is not optimal. However, it’s not wrong to hold onto a job to cover expenses while putting yourself in a better situation to pursue an all in play.

I often hesitate to suggest jobs to people as many just latch onto it like a life vest instead of an income generating stepping stone to fund a cushion, which would fund your ability to burn your boats.

I didn’t suggest getting a job and then hoping something will magically change one day. That’s what most people do, and why nothing changes for them.

You should be hustling picking up skills, money, and anything else to enhance your cushion, as well as your probability of success.

Be careful not to get comfortable continuing down a route that won’t result in your desired income, or lifestyle.

Example: If you’ve got 2 months of living expenses saved and a family that depends on you, having a reliable income source is probably a good idea.

If you’ve got a 2 year cushion, you might be fooling yourself if you’re still not pursuing what you want.


I get a number of questions from readers asking if they should quit their jobs to pursue their dreams. Some of them have no dependents and are in jobs that aren’t even providing a significant income for them.

If you’ve got limited to no downside, and a job that isn’t producing you with significant capital, it’s a no brainer to burn your ships and pursue your goal without distraction.

Even if you aren’t entirely sure how to do what you’d like to do, committing the time and mental energy will give you the skills and knowledge to figure it out. No one knows what to do when they’re first starting a journey. Those who commit figure it out. Those who don’t commit because they aren’t sure what every step is, will never find the roadmap from the sidelines.

I remember back to when I was just getting started, and I made the decision to bet on myself and burn my boats.

I’d moved across the country and was living in a studio apartment. I didn’t really know anybody, I was focusing entirely on poker and making some real estate bets.

I didn’t even have a bed. I had a pull­out couch and a little wooden table and chair I found on the ground outside when I moved in. I would literally do nothing but play poker, look for real estate deals, and sleep. That was all I did all day. With the dedication to poker I started consistently making a lot of money each month.

I wasn’t “poor” when I burned my boats, but I definitely didn’t have a lot of money.

An “easier” route would have been to get a job like everyone else and convince myself it would magically lead me to the life I wanted.

But, instead I burned my boats because I knew it wouldn’t.

My downside was pretty limited.

You can’t really go down from living somewhere you don’t know anyone in a tiny studio apartment with nothing but a pull out sofa.

There was no downside at all.

A lot of people with limited downside are choosing the incorrect route for their goals. They wait until they’ve skyrocketed their monthly expenses with houses, cars, kids, etc… before considering taking a risk, and then say “well it’s tougher for me because I have more expenses”. Ya, it definitely is but no one but you set yourself up to play the game that way.

There’s nothing wrong with having more expenses, I just want to give realistic advice- it’s not optimal to have significantly higher expenses before you start investing in yourself if your ultimate goal is to do your own thing and be ‘ForeverJobless’. Each decision you make changes the way you’re going to have to play the game going forward. Higher expenses just means a higher cushion is likely needed.

A lot of people with limited downside convince themselves they need to “wait for the right time” to bet on themselves, and they often put themselves in a significantly tougher position to burn their boats. Increased expenses and/or the comfort in having a stable income makes it harder for them to leave and make the right bet.

And while you can absolutely start something on the side, and many people do, make no mistake it is more difficult than if you were all in on it.

Anything I’ve had real success in, whether it’s poker, business, fitness… at some point I was ALL IN on it. The focus from burning my boats to be fully committed is what allowed me the extreme results.

Reasons You Should Go All in

It sounds simple, but you need to decide what you want and do that.

There’s a very small percentage of people who go after what they want and don’t make any excuses. Those are the people you read about all the time and are inspired by. You don’t hear about ‘dabblers’ who never commit to anything. Why? Because they can’t get the results people who burn their boats get.

There’s plenty of people reading this right now who have ridiculous potential to do amazing things in the world, but they won’t because they are dabblers, and back up plan artists.



If they fully committed to what they want, it would be near impossible to not have significant results. They’re just passing through life dabbling at shit they don’t really want to do just so they can avoid committing to something they’d actually want to do. Their pulse might tell them they’re alive, but everything else inside is dead, because they know they’ll never be what they’re capable of.


Decide what you want and set up your life in a way so everything you do is related to accomplishing that goal.

In most cases there’s little to no downside. On the flip side, there is zero upside to playing it safe, as the safe routes and backup plans will not result in your desired outcome. The only thing they will do is slow down, or completely eliminate the chance of you achieving it.

It’s the simplest EV play ever. If you don’t know what I mean when I refer to EV(expected value), read my “Millionaire’s Math” post.

When I think about anything I’ve failed at, I can’t say I’ve ever been “all in” on them.

If there’s an aggressive goal I want to accomplish, I know I have to burn the boats and focus on it if I really want to achieve it.

Imagine if you had two runners. One ran hard the whole race. The other runner ran, but would consistently stop to do other things along the way. No matter how difficult the race is for either, one of them is essentially guaranteed to reach their end goal at some point, where the other probably never will, and if they ever do it will take a very, very long time.

Even if the person that burned their boats was significantly slower than the person that didn’t, they will reach their goal at some point, because they know which race is important for them to win.


Your competition has the same fears and doubts you do, so if you’re the one that fully commits while they’re dabbling, you will win.

And for the most part you’re not competing against anyone but yourself, but once you get to the point where you have competitors, and you’ve burned your boats and they’re dabbling… good luck to them.

Burning your boats will give you an advantage that many of your competitors will not have.

Is going all in risky?

Everyone talks about the downsides from going all in.

They talk about the fears, the risks.

Want to know what they don’t talk about:

When you’re all in on a meaningful goal you’ll have the best time of your life. It’s hard to understand until you do it. It’s like you’re playing the video game of your life, and no one knows you’re playing. It’s just you. Everyone else is just trying to survive at level one, but you’re trying to win the game. You’ll stay up all night to get to beat the game. It’ll take you a while to figure it out, but each step is exhilarating. And the prize for winning is life changing. Literally a life that changes.

How well do you think you perform dabbling?

To explain the ludicracy of it, try this:

Go apply for a job and tell them you’re going to dabble at it.

Will you get hired?

Of course not. Because you wouldn’t be able to perform very well dabbling at it. You won’t learn what you need to know quickly, you won’t execute quickly… you’d get destroyed by other candidates who made the job their focus.



Business is not any different.

Think about it, the same questions you’re wondering about or worrying about or have fears about, your competition is thinking the same things, but guess what? They’re probably not going to go all­in. So if you decide to make the leap, the chances that you’re going to win go up significantly.


Winning can be whatever you’re focused on.

It might be having a best selling book, or creating a top product or service in the niche you enjoy, etc… You don’t write a bestseller or dominate your niche dabbling.

You work all day and night if that’s what it takes. There’s a lot of entrepreneurs who say they want it bad. Yet, somehow they still have time for doing super low value activities like watching TV and going to the movies or bars and just kind of hanging out. I’m not saying everyone needs to give up those things, but if someone really “wants it bad”, I think it’s comical when they’re still spending a lot of time doing those things instead of going all in and burning their boats. They’re only fooling themselves if they think they’re working hard.

A lot of people’s response is “well if this fails, I can always do this, or I can always do that”. That means you still haven’t burned your ships, and it’s probably your backup plans or the fact that you’re dabbling with a lot of safety nets are making you comfortable enough to waste the time that should be going towards the thing you really want.


If you actually burn your ships, it’s a totally different mentality you have going into a project. The confidence you have from knowing you’re going to do whatever it takes to make things work, with no fallback plan, will give you an edge that’s unbelievably powerful. Your competition will not have this edge.

My proceeds from the PayPal acquisition were $180 million. I put $100 million in SpaceX, $70m in Tesla, and $10m in Solar City. I had to borrow money for rent. – Elon Musk

If you think about any of the richest people in the world, and/or anyone making huge impact(often correlated), they’re usually “all in” and have burned their boats to achieve what it is they’d like to achieve.

I’ve dabbled with ForeverJobless on the side for a while, doing it alongside other things I was doing.

Now that I’ve committed this year to writing I know the results I’ll get because I’ve already decided that’s what will happen. I put in that $0/hr work and bet on myself, and work backwards to my goal.

It’s not going to be magic when my results come to fruition, it’s an expected result based on deciding and committing, instead of dabbling.

If you don’t have what you want, stop telling yourself a story because you don’t have the money, you don’t have the time. That’s bullshit. It’s because you haven’t committed yourself where you would burn your boats. If you want to take the f**king island, burn your f**king boats, and you will take the island because people, when they’re going to either die or succeed, tend to succeed. But most of us give ourselves a way out and that’s why we don’t have what we want. – Tony Robbins

Decide what you want, and set up your life in a way so everything you do is related to accomplishing that goal.

If you dabble and constantly give yourself backup options, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve your desired result.

Most people dip their toes into the water instead of getting in all the way, and wonder why they never learn to swim.



36 Responses to “Burn Your Boats”

  1. Arthur

    Timely piece, loved the article!

    I think I’m already a convert because almost always my mindset isn’t on the side of “most people” when you mention it… Guess I’m already starting to think just like you instill us to think. Excited to see what kinda of results it will bring 2 years down the road!

    Still, I always get a gem whenever you publish an article, and in this one was when you talk that most people set themselves up for failure when they “just finish college and get that stable job so that I have a cushion” when in reality all they’re doing is growing their expenses instead of going all in when it matters the most. I haven’t thought about it that way. It’s good to keep banging on the the fact that we often get so fixated on the downsides of not playing it safe that we forget about the upside of risking it all for a far greater outcome.

    • Billy

      “in reality all they’re doing is growing their expenses instead of going all in when it matters the most”


  2. Dan

    One of the best articles I have read in a long time. Thanks for telling it straight! Dabbling makes us feel good with ourselves and keeps us safe but limits our upside! F#&k Dabbling, boat burning time!

  3. Paul

    Thanks Billy, great article and so true. The edge you get when you’re “all in” really is powerful and something your competitors cannot beat. They just don’t want it bad enough.

    Great points on keeping your expenses low too, and working for an income whilst building your business on the side. I’m working 7 days and 5 nights a week currently – 5 days in my industry (fin. services) and all nights and weekends on my project.

    It actually gives you energy (like going to the gym) and makes going to work so much easier. Just like your article says. It’s the best video game ever!

    Thanks for your high quality articles that make us think. Nothing really out there that compares mate.


    • Billy

      Appreciate that Paul, thanks! Keep grinding, as long as it’s on the right things it’ll pay off.

  4. Adam Franklin

    Great post Billy. I’ve always liked the burn your boats approach, which is what I did. Although, like you I started when there wasn’t much to lose. I’d like to thing I’d take the same approach if I was starting up now like many friends are.

    • Billy


      1. Stop looking so handsome.
      2. Curiosity question- if an opportunity presented itself to go ‘all in’ now, would you A. go all in(minus necessary cushion for living expenses), or B. cap the amount you bet due to wanting to guarantee staying at a certain lifestyle?

  5. Oshrat

    Thank you Billy for a brutally honest article. exactly what i needed to hear! ??❤

  6. Trung

    Very cool article. How do you constantly crank out topics like this? Pretty amazing skill set you have.

    • Billy

      At the moment, by spending an absurd amount of hours 🙂

      I like Teller’s quote:
      “Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.”

      My writing still needs plenty of work, but most of my posts take me a minimum of dozens of hours.

  7. Andrei

    Well Billy, you did it again, writing something where I think you are talking directly to me. Good job!
    I gave notice 2 weeks ago to my team leader that I’m looking for another job, effectively quitting. I wanted to do this at the start of the year, but after having a talk with him I gave up on the idea. Now I decided I don’t want to have a way out I have to quit this job.
    Now here’s the thing about your post that got to me. I’m working on my backup plan right now instead of focusing on getting more writing done and published, or looking for ways to get more visitors to my website, or optimizing my visitor experience by changing those nagging quirks of my website.
    I have a job interview…today, in 5hrs time. My logic/excuse behind it has mostly been of creating a monetary buffer of 6months to 1 year living expenses so I can go full in. I’m just over the 6 months right now and still aren’t sure it’s enough.
    I also recently finished reading The One Thing after you and others recommended it and it might be confirmation bias but the answer to “What is the one thing present in your life in one form or another” lines up perfectly with what I’m trying to get going.
    Oke…enough about me and my situation. If I were to ask you a question it would be:
    What is a good “buffer” for going all in?
    Thank you again for posting such grate articles.

    • Claudius

      6 Months is probably enough. Otherwise, you will just waste a few months till you have 6 months left either way.

      Also couldn’t you just get a job if it doesn’t work out in 5 months time? And what if it does?

    • Billy

      There’s no exact answer I can give you, a lot of it is based on what you’re comfortable, or comfortably uncomfortable with.

      If someone took all my money/assets I’d be comfortable betting on myself with barely any cushion because I’d have confidence in figuring things out due to knowledge/experience.

      If you know exactly what you could do, and don’t have dependents you don’t need a huge cushion. Keep in mind you can always go back to a job(in majority of cases).

      Writing can be a bit slower in terms of monetization depending on how you do it. Make sure you solve the 1st two steps(https://foreverjobless.com/how-to-create-a-business-that-prints-money/). If they’re solved, you don’t need much of a cushion. If not solved, solve them.

  8. ilya n

    Hi, great article once again! But why do you consider going out to bars a low value activity? Do you think the same of getting laid too? I think it’s ok for a young dude to blow off the steam once in a while.

    • Billy

      I wouldn’t read that far into it. Going to a bar is fine. People who go out every weekend and claim not to have time/money to start a business were the people I was referencing.

  9. ilya n

    When you dont have a family dependant on you how many months of living saved do you need to go all-in? Assuming you’re not sure you will make profit? For me, i decided i need 6 months of food+rent saved before quitting my job.

  10. Joel

    This is quite an eye opener. I fall into the category of guys who can do a lot if they decide to get all in. I have numerous ideas for business but am a real procrastinator; in my current business, I have not yet executed some strategies that will work to take us forward. I guess that this is the much needed kick on the backside. Got to work on the other businesses plus the article marketing business idea you put forward a while back. Thanks Billy!

  11. Chris

    Excellent article!

    I burned my ships early last month after handing a friend’s resumé to my boss. I’ve been building a business on the side for almost a year, and had stopped paying attention to my 401K. After a particularly frustrating day, I took a look and did some quick math: I had six months of cushion already saved and a few expenses that would outright disappear if I didn’t have a job to go to everyday. I drew my line in the sand at July to help get my replacement up to speed, but if he’s not hired in time, I’m still leaving. Mentally, I’ve already checked out and promptly take days off when I have more important things to do.

    My “why” (being completely present for my family, doing work that I love, and creating the life we deserve through entrepreneurship) became extremely clear once I focused on two very simple goals: 1.) I want to be able to give my wife complete support as we welcome our second child in July. 2.) Our oldest daughter starts 1st grade this year, and I want to walk her to and from school daily. From there, I cleared out all the noise and worked backwards.

    I can’t quite explain this part, but the true clarity came once I made the firm decision to quit my job and made it known. I think the shift in mindset that came from invalidating my fears, the extreme focus I gained, and the willingness to try new things without being “ready” allowed new opportunities to come in that would have been wasted on someone just intent on dabbling. Things that looked like obstacles before just kind of moved out of my way. My wife even began to act on some business ideas of her own that she’d only kicked around before.

    The ones who think I’m crazy for walking away from my “safe” job are comfortable receiving a paycheck and working towards retirement. They complain about their jobs (or I just see the quiet despair on their faces), but do absolutely nothing about it. The ones who get it have cheered me on.

    Keep putting out these great articles Billy. I can honestly say you’re one of the voices that helped me make the leap!

    • Billy

      You’re awesome Chris. Keep me posted on your progress can’t wait to hear your success story.

  12. Jonny

    Amazing post Billy, one of the best thing I could ever do was subscribing on your email list.

    I really liked the last sentence: “Most people dip their toes into the water instead of getting in all the way, and wonder why they never learn to swim.”

    If you ever find yourself in Medellin again, let me know and we can share a beer.


    • Billy

      “Amazing post Billy, one of the best thing I could ever do was subscribing on your email list.”

      Made my day!

      For sure, down for a beer if I make it back down there.

  13. Victor Silva

    Hi Billy, thanks for one more inspiring text. I was thinking about this burning your boat premise yesterday. I’ll tell a little about my personal progress before commenting about the subject of this post. I do it because your writings are my main inspiration and instruction. I’ve read all your posts, as you know, and I usually read them as soon as I see your e-mail, plus I did be a member of the Incubator, and I’ll probably do it again some time.
    I did introduce myself by e-mail to a respected authority on the field I’m about to enter and she was nice enough to reply asking for my phone so she can call me to set up a meeting when she comes back to Brasilia next week. It was a good experience because I was so scared of writing stupid things and closing that door forever… but then I sat down and although I spent a long time choosing the right words for a short e-mail, I did realize I wouldn’t do much better if I hesitated for a week or a month more, so I cut out on perfectionist extremism and set myself to write and send the e-mail on just one sit and it did well.
    About burning boats: my reasoning for not doing so even though there is cushion is that based on my past five years, it’s not very logical to assume I’m going to commit like I should. It’s hard to know it and I’d definetely have a hard time facing my family (I have a wife and a one year old boy) with such a decision. My conclusion before reading the text is that it’s ok to go all in but I must first prove to myself and my family I’m comitted to reach my goal, although burning boats is a great way to commit in the first place.
    Now there are some things I can do and have been thinking about doing for some time and I’ll start today. I’ll call the tv operator and cancel all sports’ channels that can be cancelled, so tv will not be an easy escape any longer. Would you be kind enough to tell me straight if you think I sin for playing it too safe?

    • Billy

      I think you’ve got ridiculous potential and I don’t think you give yourself enough credit. I think if you make yourself jump one of these days you’re going to have success. You understand the four step process in the Incubator very well, so I’m really confident with what you’ll do… but you’ll have to jump at some point. With a family you’ll likely want more of a cushion, but you’ll still have to bet on yourself at some point. If you’ve got something that passes the four steps, and you’ve got the cushion you’re comfortable with, pull the trigger. Worst case you learn, best case you succeed.

  14. Nora

    This is what I always, always forget: “Your competition has the same fears and doubts you do, so if you’re the one that fully commits while they’re dabbling, you will win.”

    For some reason, it seems like everyone else out there already has it figured out and is invincible to fear.

    Also, in a previous article, you mention that part of due diligence is talking to anyone and everyone in a space. Where do you go to find those people? I would imagine that people in the space wouldn’t be happy to talk to potential competition and give away valuable information.

    • Billy

      There’s a ton of people in most spaces, not necessarily just competitors. Who have you tried reaching out to so far?

      • Nora

        I’ve talked to and tested prototypes with people who would fit in my target market. That has given me really valuable information, and maybe that’s enough for me to move forward.

  15. Marc

    Hey Billy!
    Awesome Article! (As always!)

  16. Ender

    The great warrior mentioned in the beginning of the post is Tariq ibn Ziyad, a muslim commander who conquers Spain in 711.


  17. Lorenz

    Just amazing!

  18. Jack

    Billy, I think this phrase may become a motto for this blog – ‘Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself’.


Leave a Reply