burn the ships shipwreck

People in the business world and particularly in the real estate space sometimes look down upon employees and people who choose to rely on a job while they start and grow their business.

There's this idea that the only way to make it work is to take a reckless leap of faith and ‘burn the ships’ so you can’t turn back.

It makes for a compelling story… but is that really the right way to play this? We’re going to talk about that today.

Links and Resources

Episode 72 Transcription

Seth: Hey everybody, what's up? This is Seth Williams and Jaren Barnes, and you're listening to the REtipster podcast. Today is episode 72. By the way, you can find show notes for everything in this episode at retipster.com/72.

Today, Jaren and I are going to talk about something that we've sort of noticed and kind of bothered by for many years. It's this idea of a job, the dreaded “J-O-B” being a curse, something that needs to be shunned and something that needs to be basically moved away from “at all costs” as soon as possible.

I think what makes this kind of tricky is because for somebody who is an entrepreneur and wants to be financially free and wants to do the whole self-employed thing and start their own business, undeniably there's always going to be an element of that, where you do want to get away from your job, and you want to cut the cord and live life on your own terms.

But there's this attitude among a lot of voices online and hardcore business owners where it's like a job is downright evil, like it's wrong. And anybody who has a job is somehow failing as a person and the only way to handle that situation is to do what they call “burning the ships” or “burning the boats” or “burning the bridge” or whatever you want to call it. Where you basically cut ties with that permanently so that you can't go back. Basically, given yourself no other option, but to move forward towards the path of “success”, the place that you want to go.

We're going to unpack that a little bit today and share our thoughts about that whole mindset and that philosophy. Where that is getting it right, where that is getting it wrong and kind of how we look at this situation.

Jaren: Yeah. I'm excited to dive into it, man. Because I know for me, especially when I first got started in real estate out in the Bay Area, there was like, I don't know, like this elite-ism among aspiring entrepreneurs and existing established entrepreneurs. That just was like, “If you're an employee you're automatically a lower-class human being. If you work for somebody else, you don't work for yourself, you're just less, you just kind of suck”. And we would use language like “The Employee Mindset”.

I remember a lot of my peers that left good jobs. I left a really solid job to go pursue this real estate flipping business that was doomed to fail from the beginning. I just remember, we thought so highly of ourselves with almost $0 in our bank account, just scraping by doing the “starving entrepreneurial” lifestyle as opposed to the starving artist's lifestyle of somebody who's pursuing music as their full-time thing. Every single person that started is now working a full-time job, as an employee. Myself included.

Seth: So, it didn't work out for them?

Jaren: Not at all. Not a single one of them. The only people that I've ever seen actually transition out of it into being able to sustain themselves long-term in a business that they own is very slow, very methodical, lots of contingency plans, lots of savings. And everyone I know - You, Brett, Tyler. Everybody that I know had a strategy to transition out.

I just kind of feel like we owe our audience something that I wish somebody gave me when I was first starting out and kind of pull the curtain back and say, “This is not sound good on a stage when you're trying to hoorah the crowd”. But I think the stories of people “burning the boats” and going after their thing, their backs are against the wall, it's very inspirational. It makes it a very good movie, but it's very much an outlier. I think most people don't cross the bridge into owning their own business full time and as their primary source of income without doing that slowly. I think most people have to do it slowly.

Seth: Yeah. I think the reason why this idea catches on so much and why people love to tell this idea is because it makes for a really compelling story. It's sort of like this hero's journey where they're up against incredible odds and somehow, they overcome them. And it is a great story when it works out well.

Those are typically the stories you end up hearing about. Those are the types of people that do get interviewed on podcasts and all this stuff. But the people that don't make it, a lot of times you're not going to hear those stories because they're not fun stories to hear about and it doesn't sell books and it doesn't work well, motivational stage and that kind of thing.

I remember I heard about this a long time ago, the band Blink-182, sort of this punk rock band and their drummer, Travis Barker. I remember seeing some interview at some point where he was talking about how… I don't remember all the details, but what I remember was that when he was young and he wanted to be this drummer in a rock band and really make it in music, he went out and got these tattoos going all the way up to his neck. Like tattoos that couldn't be hidden. And sort of this idea was like, “I'm going to make this happen so that I can't go to a white-collar job. I'm going to have to make the Rockstar thing work”. And of course, it did work for him and that's great for him. And that's a great story.

But what if you got a bunch of neck or face tattoos and then, “Oh, well, the rock star thing, like 99.9% of other aspiring musicians doesn't work out?” And now what? You've just ruined a lot of chances that even if these alternative routes weren't going to be your final destination, they still would have been very helpful as a way to get you to where you want to go in the meantime.

When I think about this idea of “burning the ships”, essentially what it's saying is that you're making a permanent life-altering decision without all the facts, without all the foresight and implications of that decision. You don't know where it's going to go, or if it's going to pan out the way you plan. There are a lot of things that just in my own life I can think about that I've really wanted at certain points that were not the right thing for me, that I was not the right fit for. And it took me some pain and discomfort to figure that out. But if I had “burned the ships” and give myself no other option, man, I'd be in a pretty rough spot.

Jaren: Yeah.

Seth: When I think of this idea of “burning the ships”, it seems like sound advice for somebody who is fighting an addiction or trying to move away from a situation or behavior that is indisputably undeniably 100% bad. Like there is no redeeming value in the place that they're at and they have to move away. There's never a situation where it's going to be okay to leave that option open. So, like that, I understand. I can totally get why this “burning the boats” advice would make sense. But when we're talking about starting a business, that honestly sounds like some of the worst advice I've ever heard.

Jaren: Tell me how you really feel.

Seth: Well, you're cutting off all forms of security and you're cutting off all of the fallback options. And in my opinion, that's not a smart move. It makes for a great story when it works out well, but more often than not, I think it doesn't work out well when somebody does that because it's a foolish decision in the first place.

If somebody is considering “burning the ships” for one reason or another, it's important to think about “WHY”. Why is it necessary to eliminate all your other options? What does this do for you? Is it because the feeling of commitment is exciting and feels good? Because if that's the case, I think it's important to also remember that committing to something is not the same as doing it or accomplishing it. It's surprisingly easy to trick ourselves into believing that committing is the same as doing. I'm guilty of this. I've totally had this feeling before, but it's like, “Hey, I am going to do this.” And in my mind, it's like, “I've already done it”.

But man, I got to tell you, every business I've ever tried to do has always a hundred percent of the time ended up being a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. Sometimes so hard that it's like, “Well, I don't want to do this anymore”. And other times it's hard, but not something I couldn't overcome. So, this idea of cutting off all your other options when there's a lot of unknowns and frankly, there's nothing inherently evil about having a job. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Jaren: I think for me, where it really falls apart is at least my personality, I can't speak for other people because I know other people perform well under stress, but if my back is against the wall and I'm not okay financially, I make really dumb decisions because I am very emotional. I can't get out of the side of my own head. I thrive in an environment where there is no stress. If I have like a fight with my wife or if I have other factors that day, it really plays a toll on my productivity. I do not perform well under stress, unfortunately. And that's just a personality thing of mine.

When I have in the past taking this advice and really tried to like, “No matter what I'm going to make this happen”, I end up being all over the place and not being able to be wise in my decision making.

And I want to say too like, I get it. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. When we first started the conversation about employee mindset and stuff. There is an employee mindset, for sure, that is not a good mindset to have. The clock in clock out, just do the bare minimum to get by or to get your paycheck. That has never resonated with me. I remember the first real job that I got. I was working as a security guard at the hospital where my mom worked at. My mom was a labor delivery nurse until she retired.

I used to get so upset when my manager would say, “Jaren, you have to go take lunch now”. And I'm like, “Well, I'm doing my routes. I'm doing stuff. Why can't I take lunch later?” And same thing with 15-minute breaks. I didn't like that cog in the wheel stuff. But not every job is like that.

For example, the job that I have here at REtipster, autonomy is a really important aspect for me to perform well at my job. And Seth gives me a lot of autonomy. I know I'm really fortunate and I'm really blessed to be here, but there are other jobs too and other career paths that have autonomy or have other things that allow you to function more from an entrepreneurial, or I don't even know if it's entrepreneurial. It's more like just being a contributing voice to the problems at hand, like being an active team member. I think any job you work at, you can just be somebody who just collects a paycheck or you can be a part of the core team that's actually moving the mission of the business forward.

Even there's a book by Dave Ramsey called “EntreLeadership”. That's a really good book about how you can be entrepreneurial-minded and still work for another company. So, I don't think that the issue is being an employee inherently. I think that the issue is how do you think as a person and what's your mindset, what's your approach to life?

Because there is higher-level thinking and there is a better mindset to approach stuff in the entrepreneurial world. But that doesn't mean you have to be the owner of an LLC that solely provides for your income. While you're building your dream, while you're building your business I think it's much smarter to go get another job or go work for somebody who is successful in the business that you want to be successful in and get paid to learn and then go and do it on the side until your side business replaces your income and you have some savings and then make the jump.

Seth: Yeah. And you were talking earlier about this idea of getting really emotional and making emotional decisions when it really matters. Like you're depending on this thing to support you full time. I know we've talked about this before in our office hours, things we do for the land investing masterclass and that kind of thing. But this idea of going full time with your real estate business, it's a massive decision.

When I think about like a lot of deals that I've done in the past, the reason I was able to hold out for the best possible deal was because of the fact that I wasn't depending on them working out. I was a hundred percent fine walking away from anything that didn't make good financial sense. And if it was a situation where like, “No, no. We have to do a deal somehow somewhere, or this whole thing falls apart”. Like if you put that kind of pressure on yourself, it's a perfect environment to start making dumb decisions because it's just human nature. Who wouldn't feel that kind of pressure if they had no other option and they felt like they had to make this thing work? I think you can certainly get there, but it's really important not to take that leap prematurely before you're ready, before you can really weather a storm or a few months of uncertainty that is inevitably going to happen at some point.

Jaren: Yeah. I do think there is a place if you're like, let's say you're 18 or 19 years old, or you just graduated high school and you're still able to live with mom and dad and you don't have the responsibilities of a wife and kids and all that stuff. I think in those circumstances, if your family is in a case of supporting you, pursuing a business instead of say going to college for a designated amount of time, I think that in those circumstances it could make sense to go “all in” and just say, “Hey, I'm going to be living in mama's basement for the next couple of years and just put all my attention and effort and all my resources into building a business instead of going to get a job”. I think that that could make sense. But if you're in a position where you have to contribute to make sure that your family eats every month, I think that it is noble and honorable to provide for your family and put your dream as a side hustle and lose sleep, like sacrifice to make it happen.

You can work during the day, spend time with your family in the evening. And then a few hours while everyone's sleeping, instead of going to bed at 09:30 or 10:00 o'clock, go to bed at 12:30 and take those couple hours to build your business. I think that's very feasible. And I know you, you even shared Seth, when you were building your business, you would take your lunch hours, you wouldn’t want to go out and hang out with the guys. You would sit there and work on your thing and you put those hours in. And I think that's what it takes to make the transition successful if you're in a situation where people would depend on you.

Seth: I think some people are just in different situations like you were saying, Jaren. Some people just have a lot more at stake. They have a lot more to lose than other people do. When I think of my situation when I was 23, it wasn't really that hard to take a big leap and do something like this because my living expenses were low. I didn't have kids. Like how far was there to fall when my career was just starting anyway? I had some expenses like some baseline had to be covered, but it's not like I was in the most expensive stage in my life. Whereas when I look at where I'm at now, I've got two small children and just a lot more happening.

And if I was like cold Turkey going to just stop everything I'm doing now and start something totally different with no promise of that working out, that's a heck of a gamble. I just don't think it has to be that way.

I think if somebody is trying to cut the cord and make this big leap, I would think it would just be helpful to think about like, “Why do you think it's necessary to force a particular destiny on yourself?” What makes you so sure about this thing working out? What evidence do you have to believe that you are going to succeed at it? Not just the person you're following who happened to succeed at it, but the person that you heard about who did well of it, because the person that you heard about who did well at it, they may have a totally different set of attributes, a totally different situation than you.

Just because there is a proven case study of somebody who did well. It doesn't mean that you're going to match up with that. Is it possible that there is something about this particular path forward that's actually not good for you and you just don't have the experience to see that yet? I don’t know. There are just a lot of stuff to think about. And there are a lot of question marks with any new business venture and it might not be prudent to just “burn the ships” so to speak.

Jaren: Yeah, my biggest thing, man, I want the listeners today to really hear me out when it comes to shame, because I feel like the “Gary V's” of the world and the “Grant Cardone's” of the world and maybe not them directly, but a lot of the culture that goes around a lot of the business influencers, they really look down on you if you have a job. And I will speak firsthand that my land business has done way better since I've been working at REtipster and I had the consistent income of REtipster that helped me just like relax and like, calm down. And my business has grown because of it way more than it was growing when I was trying to pursue it full time.

I want to also say I understand if being your own business owner is your dream. We're not trying to shun your dream. You can definitely make your dream happen, but we're just trying to encourage you to be more realistic and making it happen. It's kind of goes back to that whole conversation about “The 10X Rule” versus “The 80/20 Principle”.

I think that it would be better for you to have a very clear goal. Like, “I live off of my land business. I live off of my real estate business”. And then reverse engineer that and figure out the steps that need to happen for that transition to be a reality. Whereas if you just kind of approach it, as like, “Yeah, I'm going to do it”. Kind of like the 10X kind of approach of “I'm going to ‘burn the ships’ and no matter what this is going to happen, or I'm going to die trying”, you could really miss your dream. You can miss your destiny if that's your destiny if you don't go after it methodically and with wisdom. And there's no shame in that. There's absolutely no shame in working two jobs or three, driving Uber or doing some side hustles while you're pursuing your main gig.

Seth: Yeah. I think what makes it hard because I totally agree with you Jaren, it's important to dispel the shame idea behind this or just you're living a less worthy life or you're a less person because you haven't taken this huge audacious risk to do something great. I think what's hard to accept about that is that a lot of times going slow and being careful and waiting, it's just monotonous. It's a long, boring, slow, not exciting process to do that. I'm very familiar with that. It took me basically like almost a decade to get to where I wanted to go. And there were lots of times when I was like, “Man, is this ever going to work? Why is this taking so long? Look at this guy over here who got there faster. What am I doing wrong? How am I failing and why did he succeed? How was he smarter than me?”

There’s lots of self-doubts that can creep in. But C.S. Lewis has this quote where he said, “I don't believe good work is ever done in a hurry”. He started talking about something different, but it's kind of related in that for a lot of the best things in life to get there in one piece and the best possible shape, it just requires patience and just consistency and a long-term vision of where something is going. It's not always the funniest way to get there, but it’s the safest way to do it in a way that has the highest likelihood of you doing it right without sacrificing a bunch of stuff like losing relationships that you don't need to lose.

Jaren: Yeah. Now, man, I think we pretty much hit it right on the head. And I know this might be a bit of a short episode if we ended here, but I don't know if I have much else to contribute to the topic.

Seth: Yeah. I know. And that's pretty much it. It's just the idea of we're sort of acknowledging that it's very easy to fall victim to this idea that the people who are really the heroes, they're the ones that do this overnight or they're the ones that just hit the nuclear button on their job and somehow make it work. But it's like, in my mind, it's almost sort of like very fortunate fools. That's obviously generalizing. Some people might be really smart at it, but statistically, there's way more people, way more people who fail when they do it that way. And it's not because they're any less capable, it's because that's just not necessarily the wisest way to proceed. Great things just take time and that's okay. And it doesn't make you a coward. It makes you a prudent person I think to take the time you need.

Jaren: No, a hundred percent. And something that I have been learning a lot about recently, I've been really getting into the whole Profit First model, if you guys haven't heard of it. Profit First is a financial management system for small business owners and it is radically changing my life. And something that kind of helped rid me of shame and rid me of comparing myself to others is just because somebody has a really flashy business that makes a lot of revenue, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're thriving financially.

When you go to these business conferences or you go to these networking events, they'll throw out their deal flow and then they'll throw out their revenue. And that really doesn't matter when you pull back and you look at how much money they're taking home. They might be killing it and I don't want to over-generalize, but there are a lot of people who behind closed doors are still living paycheck to paycheck. That's just a big paycheck to paycheck.

Our goal with when it comes to business and real estate, it should be financial freedom. What I'm learning the slow and hard way is that financial freedom takes discipline. How much you make, like how much revenue you're bringing in through your business it does play some factor, but you would be shocked at what you can do if you manage money well. And that's what I'm really trying to transition in, especially in light of Covid-19 and everything that's going on. I'm just realizing, man. Managed money is much more powerful than lots and lots of dollars coming in and out of your bank account.

Seth: Yeah. The whole Profit First model is a pretty big game-changer. It can rid a lot of stress out of your life that it doesn't need to be there. Like if you just have a solid framework with which to manage the money that's coming in, like yeah, that's pretty smart. Definitely a good book for anybody to check out.

Jaren: I really, really am getting a lot out of it. It's a process to set up for sure. I'm head deep in setting up like seven different business checking accounts and all this crazy stuff. I have to call these banks and be like, “Hey, I'm not doing anything weird. I promise. I'm just opening up a bunch of accounts”.

Seth: I will say the audiobook version of that is a pretty good book as well. The author Mike Michalowicz. I can never pronounce his last name. He does a lot of ad libs and adds a lot of commentary throughout the book. He doesn't just read it word for word from the text, but he'll insert comments as he goes through and it is pretty helpful stuff. So, it's almost like extra bonus content if you listen to the audiobook.

Jaren: And you might need to check that out because I actually read it and take notes and stuff.

Seth: Well, I think that's a wrap. Should we hit our little exit question here?

Jaren: Yeah, let's do it.

Seth: Okay. So, wait. This is the question. And this might be kind of a weird one, but what punctuation mark would best describe your personality?

Jaren: The exclamation point (!).

Seth: Yeah. I could have guessed that. And why do you say that?

Jaren: Because I want to make an impact with my life man. Impact is my driver. When you are writing a sentence and you want to make a “Hey, pay attention”, like a dent on the sentence, that's what you do.

Seth: Yeah. Cool, man, that makes sense to me.

Jaren: What about you, man?

Seth: I think for me, it's probably either the question mark (?) or the dot-dot-dot (…), if that counts. I don't know if it's because I'm slower or something, but I think I've learned over time that there's a lot of stuff in life I don't know. And I spend a lot more time like asking questions than giving answers. A lot of times I feel hesitant to give anybody an answer about anything. I know there’s a lot of times whenever I take a stance on something or state a fact, I always feel the need to add these caveats and disclaimers. Like, “This might be the way to do this”, which really doesn't help me honestly. I know people who read blogs and watch videos and stuff like they want solid a hundred percent certainty answers. Like they don't want caveats and all these complexities. But I know, that's kind of how I am. I think sometimes those question marks are well warranted. Like it's worth asking those questions and sometimes it's just me beating a dead horse kind of thing.

When I say the dot-dot-dot (…), what I mean by that is sometimes it takes me a while to fully form my thoughts. Like even just doing these kinds of conversations with you Jaren right now on this podcast. For me to have an opinion about this subject, about “burning the ships” or committing to a new business and that kind of thing. It took me like a long time just to write out my thoughts and understand what I even thought about this. I sort of vaguely had an idea, but for me to just like go lie without any preparation and have an opinion on that would be very, very difficult. I'd just be sitting here going “Ah” for a long time. So, that dot-dot-dot (…) means it takes me a while to really form my thoughts and opinions on stuff. Which again, I don't think is very helpful because people want just straight answers really quick, rapid-fire. And it's really hard for me to do that.

Jaren: Well to your defense though, I think when you do come to an answer, it's a very, very, very good, well thought out answer.

Seth: Thanks. I appreciate that.

Jaren: I think one of the reasons why people resonate with our content at REtipster versus other places is because you've set that expectation that if you read an REtipster article written by Seth, it's going to be like step one to step Z and it's going to cover every aspect of it. And it might be the last thing you need to read on the subject. And that's people who want to go out gun blazing, and they're right about everything. Especially in my wife's culture and kind of the post-Soviet Union, kind of Russian culture.  Like my sister in law works in that community quite a bit. She has her former boss and some other people, they're amazing people, but you cannot tell them anything. They know everything. And it's a cultural thing because if they are honest and like, “Hey, I don't know. Tell me about direct mail marketing. Tell me about this. I don't know anything about that” - That's a sign of weakness and you don't have it together. You're not leading strong.

Seth: It seems like a huge liability to me, man.

Jaren: It is.

Seth: It’s begging for trouble in life if you have to speak with authority on something you don't know. It’s crazy to me.

Jaren: I understand from a leadership standpoint, there's this tension, right? Because you have to facilitate strength and all that. But I don't know, it's hard to figure out that balance between being vulnerable and authentic and not knowing what you don't know and also conveying strength in your environment. But I prefer your style of teaching and your personality because I know that if I ask you a question, it's going to be real. It's going to be authentic and very well thought out.

Seth: Yeah, I appreciate that, man. Thanks. I do know, just from experience, when I think about any statement I've ever made or email I've sent or whatever, in a flippant way where I really didn't think about it, I just did it. I kind of like to blame for the most damage I've ever done in terms of explaining something the wrong way or hurting somebody's feelings or saying something that I would regret in the future. That always happens when I don't take time to think it through. And I think as sort of like increasingly become more of a public person through REtipster. It almost underscores it again and again and again. Like, think very carefully about what you're about to say because you could either really help somebody or you could do a lot of damage here. So, I'm just acutely aware of that. I don't know. It's a blessing and a curse, I guess.

Cool. Well, listeners out there, I hope you guys got something out of this. Again, not that we're the ultimate authority in the right way, but I think there's a lot of validity to what we just talked about and our thought process. So, what do you guys think about it? If you have different thoughts about this, feel free to head over to the show notes retipster.com/72 and you can leave a comment there. Let us know what you think.

And also, if you guys want to pull out your phones right now, if you're listening on your phone, go ahead and text the word “FREE”. F-R-E-E to the number 33777 and you can join our email list if you want to and stay up to date with all this stuff we're doing. You get access to a ton of free content stuff that isn't only talked about on the podcast or the blog.

Thanks a lot for spending your time with us. I hope you're doing well in business and life and we will talk to you again in the next episode.

Jaren: Later guys.

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About the author

Seth Williams is the Founder of REtipster.com - an online community that offers real-world guidance for real estate investors.

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