The Day I Donated All of My Business Suits

I stepped into my closet, excited for the task before me.

I was going to get rid of all of my business suits.

Those business suits represented my corporate life, someone else’s dress code and someone else’s imposed expectations for me and my performance.

Photo by Tobias van Schneider on Unsplash

[**See bottom of this post for the reason this post is off-topic from referrals and client experience.]

When I started my first business I kept them around because I thought that is what I should do. My clients would expect me in a suit and they make me look older (not something I worry about now, a decade later).  The question I would always ask myself when debating whether or not to wear a suit for a client meeting was – “shouldn’t I look the part of a business CEO?”

But business #1 failed (not that the suits had anything to do with it).

[After reading this article, check out the Stacey Brown Randall Live Show (Episode 16) where I talk more about burning the boats in business.]

So when I started business #2, I decided a new code was in order.  Not just a new dress code but a new code for how I was going to run my business.  A new code for my mindset, attitude and actions.  I started my new code by first determining what my new dress code would be.

I prefer jeans over slacks, boots over heels and I know the more comfortable I am, the more creative and thoughtful I am with my work.

In fact, I once heard you are 13% more creative with your shoes off and while I can’t find the exact source to back up that statistic there are many of articles on the benefits of being comfortable to be creative. Like here, here and here.

I made the decision if a client, conference organizer or anyone else wasn’t okay with my blue jean/blazer look then they probably weren’t the right fit for me.  And that is okay.

But this post isn’t about professional dress code or whether you think how you dress impacts how you perform. Though this article from Forbes sheds some interesting light…make sure to read the entire article, specifically the part about how the data is based on self-reporting.

Back to My Closet

The excitement I felt standing in my closet was – for me – a long time coming.

I was taking control of my business in a way I hadn’t with my first company. And it all started when I pulled down those dozen suits, tossed them in a bag and donated them to charity.

That act of getting rid of the suits was for me a defining moment that would shape my mindset and allow me to fully accept that I could run a business that wouldn’t fail and I could find success. The act of releasing the suits was my “burning of the boats” moment.

Photo by Giuseppe Murabito on Unsplash

Burn the Boats

Have you heard the story of Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez and his “burn the boats” moment in his conquest to conquer the Aztecs in Veracruz?  I think Paul Wagorn from Idea Connection explains the story best.

“In 1519, the Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando Cortez decided that he wanted to seize the treasure that the Aztecs had been hoarding.  He took 500 soldiers and 100 sailors and landed his 11 ships on the shores of the Yucatan.  Despite the large army under his command, he was still vastly outnumbered by a huge and powerful empire that had been around for 600 years.

Some of his men were unconvinced of success, and being loyal to Cuba, they tried to seize some ships to escape to there.  Cortez got wind of the plot, and captured the ringleaders.   He wanted to make sure that the remainder of his men were completely committed to his mission and quest for riches, so he did something that seemed completely insane to his people:  Cortez gave the order to scuttle his own ships.

His men resisted, wondering how they would even get home, and his answer was: “If we are going home, we are going home in their ships!”

The path forward was clear for Cortez – All or nothing, 100% commitment.  The option of failure was gone – Conquer as heroes, or die.

The ships were sunk – He kept a single ship to send back the “royal fifth” (the king of Spain claimed 20% of all treasures).  By doing this, the level of commitment of the men was raised to an extreme level, much higher than anyone could have imagined.

Incredibly, they succeeded in this unlikely feat.”

With the safety of those suits to run back to now gone (translation = get a job), I was forced to look forward.

Now let’s be honest, if I really needed to, I could go buy more suits if I found myself in a position to need a job. I have been there and done that after my first business failed.

But I wanted a moment and a feeling I could reflect back on, rally around, and use for motivation that could push me forward when running my business got hard, the self-doubt crept in, or something just didn’t go my way causing a setback.

Your ‘Burn the Boat’ Moment

In business – as in life – you may have many “burn the boats” moments. Or you may only have a few big ones. But those “burn the boats” moments are definers of direction, intention and desire. They help us take action – willingly and sometimes not so willingly – to move forward and to stop holding ourselves back.

Those “burn the boats” moments can ignite a new level of commitment, as it did for Cortez’s men.  And with a new level of commitment, an amazing ride can be allowed to begin.  Whether it is a shifting an outdated business model, having to change tactics to stop a decreasing client list or jump start a pipeline of prospects, the ability to branch into new markets when you are comfortable and saturated in one.

A “burn the boat” moment takes courage, no doubt about it.  But standing on the other side of your “burn the boat” moment and using it motivation is a pretty incredible place to be.

Come join me.

As 2018 gets underway, consider if this is your year to embrace a “burn the boat” moment?


[**I wanted my last article of 2017 and the first of 2018 to be helpful and supportive in running our businesses. I wanted to provide knowledge and encouragement, plus to take a moment to focus on the bigger picture of growing and managing a company – whether it is just you as a solopreneur or if you are running a slightly larger operation, like a small business. Here’s to your kick butt 2018!] 

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