Time to Draw a Line in the Sand …

September 13, 2018
James Whittaker
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“You can’t have courage without fear.”

Jocko Willink

There are two sets of circumstance in life: what we can control and what we cannot control. Regardless of how we feel, we are where we are right now because of our decisions to this point.

When we reach a crossroads in our life—or find ourselves in a moment of discomfort, unhappiness or even tragedy—we ask ourselves, “How did I get here?” But a more constructive course of action is to:

  • Accept what’s in the past because it’s outside our control
  • Focus on a clear definition of what success looks like
  • Prepare a bulletproof plan to make it a reality

An interesting paradigm shift occurs when we draw a line in the sand and take personal responsibility for our circumstances. First, we let go of the pain that’s been holding us back, allowing us to move forward unencumbered. Second, we realize that we have far more power over our own circumstances than we had ever imagined. Finally, it empowers us to make better decisions—on the condition that we have prepared a clear definition of success.

In 1836, during the Battle of the Alamo, Colonel William Travis received a letter from his foe, Mexican General (and also the country’s sitting President) Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, demanding instant surrender. The general and his 1,500-strong battalion had the Alamo and its 150 Texan soldiers completely surrounded.

Twenty-six-year old Travis gathered the Alamo defenders together and explained that their demise was not only probable but imminent, leading to two simple choices: either die courageously defending the Alamo or willingly surrender to the enemy. Travis pulled out his sword, drew a literal line in the sand, and asked for volunteers to cross the line and join him—against unsurmountable odds—to continue to defend their position

With their course of action agreed, Travis responded to the surrender letter with cannon fire. As the siege continued, he wrote a letter addressed to the people of Texas and across America:

Fellow citizens and compatriots;

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken.

I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch.

The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country.


William Barret Travis

Lt. Col. Comdt.

Travis died in the ensuing battle, but his message inspired the region. When Travis’ letter was received, reinforcements arrived and defeated Santa Anna, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to be admitted as the 28th member of the United States.

Today, Travis’ letter of defiance is regarded as a “masterpiece of American patriotism”. The simple act of drawing a line in the sand gives us a conscious acknowledgement that the past is irreversible and reminds us that all we have control over are our thoughts and the decisions we make from this point onwards. Today’s decisions are tomorrow’s realities.

Your future isn’t written; it’s never too late. If you’re sick of accepting whatever fate hands you, take purposeful action—even if you’re afraid to take the first step. After all, you can’t have courage without fear, as the earlier Jocko Willink quote reminds us.

Victory or death. The choice is yours.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

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