Burn the Boats Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Burn the Boats is an inspiring call to go all-in on your dreams, create a point of no return, and let the lack of a Plan B propel you to success, written by a high school dropout turned million-dollar investor.

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Burn the Boats Summary

What did you do when you were 14? Chances are, it wasn’t hatching a plan to drop out of high school by 16 — not in order to leave school behind, but in order to go to college two years earlier. That’s what makes Matt Higgins unique.

Starting from a small apartment in Queens, New York, with three brothers, a sickly mother, and little to eat except government cheese, Higgins has made it in every sense of the word. After a successful career in journalism, public relations, and the sports industry, he launched his own investment firm, RSE Ventures, and even appeared as a guest on Shark Tank.

What’s the #1 thing that allowed Higgins to climb out of poverty and into the spotlight? Burning the boats. Based on a story in which a military general forces his troops to destroy their own boats in order to eliminate retreat as an option, this metaphor suggests creating a point of no return and putting all of your effort into Plan A.

“The mere act of contemplating a Plan B sets in motion a feedback loop that dramatically lessens the probability that Plan A will come to fruition,” Higgins writes in his book Burn the Boats: Toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potential.

Here are 3 lessons from this bestseller to help you implement the strategy that has worked for Higgins time and again:

  1. Trust your gut, because it works for you even when everything else doesn’t.
  2. In the right dosage, anxiety can help you perform at your best.
  3. There are 4 principles that will help you burn the boats again and again.

Are you ready to cross the Rubicon and make your dreams come true? Let’s burn the boats!

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Lesson 1: Your instincts work for you even when things go wrong — learn to trust them.

Higgins started working when he was just ten years old. Unfortunately, being a child, his salary was capped at $5/hour. With his brothers moving out in their teenage years and his overweight, eventually wheelchair-bound mother getting sicker by the day, Higgins knew he had to make more faster.

At 16, he dropped out of high school, studied for the GED entry exam, and entered college two years early. It was a bold plan that required his full focus and buy-in — and if he hadn’t stuck to his gut, he never would have seen it through.

Trusting her gut also made all the difference for Kaley Young. Her father was a New York City firefighter who helped during the 9/11 disaster. He also invented the Cup Board Pro, a cutting board with a container to catch and dispose of food waste easily. Unfortunately, Kaley’s dad died of cancer, the seeds of which had been planted during his 9/11 deployments.

Three months after his death, he was finally invited to Shark Tank after being rejected multiple times. Instead of throwing away the letter, however, Kaley trusted her gut and went on the show with her siblings. Eventually, all sharks cooperated on a deal, and the product became the best-selling cutting board in the entire Williams-Sonoma retail chain.

Your gut is working for you even when things aren’t working — and it’s a muscle that gets stronger the more you train it. Trust your gut, for no one is living your life but you.

Lesson 2: Nervousness can help you perform, but it must be balanced just right.

When he was finally invited to be a guest shark on Shark Tank, Higgins knew he deserved the opportunity. From being NYC’s youngest press secretary to heading the Ground Zero rebuilding efforts to becoming the Vice Chairman of the Miami Dolphins, he had more than put in his time. Still, he froze with anxiety the first day he walked onto the set.

While some nervousness can actually push us to up our game, too much of it is detrimental. It’s a fine balance to strike. How can you do it? First, Higgins suggests, don’t deny the anxiety. Accept its presence and try to work with it instead of outright denying it.

Sitting on stage paralyzed as the other sharks were already haggling over the first deal, Higgins managed to turn his anxiety into excitement with some positive self-talk. That’s one tool you can use. And if your anxiety runs too high? Higgins has 4 tips for that too:

  1. Find reassuring evidence, like a scientific study proving you’re doing something right, for example.
  2. Meditate daily, which Higgins admires and aspires to but admits he doesn’t do every day.
  3. Pick the right partner, if only for the situation. For Higgins, his wife has been a savior at various times, but it could also be a gym buddy.
  4. Show your Achilles heel and fix it. If you know something is your weak spot, get on top of it, for example by asking a friend to rehearse a speech you’re about to give with you.

Lesson 3: As you burn boat after boat, use 4 principles to grow your success.

Okay, once you’re in the water and your anxiety is under control, what do you do? You start building new boats. Higgins has worked in journalism, construction, sports, and many other industries. He reinvented himself again and again, and so can you.

Luckily, 4 principles will come to your aid as you take on new, daring adventures, Higgins says:

  1. Use every advantage you have. If you’ve built an audience on Twitter for your past comedy career, you can still leverage it while trying to make it as an actor!
  2. Big leaps over incremental gains. Thinking small does nothing for you. Why work at a private equity firm when you can raise a $10 million fund yourself? That’s exactly what one of Higgins’ friends did, for example.
  3. It gets easier. Your skills and experience, no one can take from you. Every time you burn the boats again, you’ll have more confidence than the last.
  4. What can you do today that you couldn’t do yesterday? With new lessons and new abilities come new opportunities. Always look to the horizon, never backwards. Pick a new challenge, and burn the boats again!

Whether you’re trying to be a world-class painter, million-dollar entrepreneur, or first-rate parent, chances are, you’ve got everything you need. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do what you dream to do the most — and then burn the boats and make it happen!

Burn the Boats Review

Burn the Boats is a refreshing book from a man worth studying you likely haven’t heard of. It’s not perfect, but Matt Higgins proudly presents and convincingly tells his story. The book is replete with examples from all walks of life, which will show you that you, too, can burn the boats and succeed!

Who would I recommend our Burn the Boats summary to?

The 14-year-old who thinks about dropping out of high school, the 26-year-old young professional who thinks she’s not mature enough for a leadership role, and anyone who has a big dream they’re scared to go all-in on.

Last Updated on December 15, 2023

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!