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Burning the bridges needn't be all negative.

Summary: When you get rid of the safest options, the best ones may open up for you

By Tommy Weir, Special to Gulf News

" Pa Bu Chim Ju ? What's that?", I asked.

I was having lunch during the Eid break with the regional president of a multinational. "It's a four-word idiom for what you call burn the bridge," he replied. But, there's more to it than that.

Over lunch, I learnt that the saying actually means "to face the battle, destroy any food supplies and sink the ship you travelled on". In other words, with no way back, the only way is forward.

The regional chief explained the literal meaning of the words: Pa is the Korean character meaning "break", bu is a sot (a heavy Korean pot used for cooking rice), chim means to sink, and ju is ship. So, break your sot and sink your ship. No going back.

The idiom originates from a story about Chinese warlord, Xiang Yu. During the Battle of Julu in 207BC, he was called upon by Song Yi, a minister of the insurgent Chu kingdom, to help the rebels in their fight against the troops of the Qin dynasty.

On arriving at the encampment, Xiang Yu couldn't believe his eyes. The insurgent fighters had been sitting idle for 46 days, in hope that the enemy would simply tire out while fighting other battles. They had become lethargic from inaction, and Xiang Yu decided that drastic times called for drastic measures.

Wasting no time, he rallied his small army and led them across the river into battle. The soldiers were outnumbered ten to one, and facing an impossible situation, Xiang Yu ordered them to sink their boats and destroy all but three days' worth of rations. Pa Bu Chim Ju.

By burning the bridge, General Xiang Yu forced his men to make a choice: prevail against the odds within three days, or perish with no supplies or means of escape. His message was clear: victory is the only option.

With all avenues of retreat cut off and with supplies dangerously low, Xiang Yu's soldiers had no choice but to defeat the enemy and seize their supplies. Their leader had promised them they could use the enemy's sots if they won. And they did! With death the only alternative, the rebels defeated the mighty Qin army.

In Xiang Yu's times, radical action came about because his soldiers took control of what they could. They had the power to remove the possibility of retreating, which meant they had only one option: to go forward. This shifted the control from the hands of a larger and stronger opposition to theirs.

They could do little to change the fact that they were drastically outnumbered, but what they could control was their personal conviction, determination and bravery.

Thousands of years on, Pa Bu Chim Ju has come to represent unwavering determination. Now as then, you have the choice between taking control, even when everything seems chaotic; or giving up and allowing others to decide your destiny.

If you tend to believe that everything in life is out of your hands, then you need to burn the bridge as quickly as you can and take control. Don't surrender to the idea that the world is too complex for you to predict or successfully control the outcome of events. People who succumb to that kind of thinking tend to credit or blame others rather than themselves for the way their own lives unfold.

Why would you ever want to give away control over your success to someone else? While there are many things that you can't control, there is still plenty that you can. It is you who chooses to retreat and accept defeat, just as it is you who chooses to keep moving forward.

Even in the most challenging market conditions, your life is yours to control, and your effort and hard work are what lead to positive outcomes. To take bold and aggressive moves, build your internal locus of control and believe that the outcomes of your actions are the result of your own abilities.

In times of stress and uncertainty, take control by creating your own burning the bridge moment. In order to survive, take away all choices except to the option to succeed. Make it impossible to retreat and return to the way life was before.

The writer is a CEO coach and author of 'Leadership Dubai Style'. Contact him at

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 18, 2017
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