Letter No 43 - Go ahead and put all your eggs in one basket

Yesterday I spoke to a 20 year old girl who said she had taken a gap year to study for the NEET exam. She went all out with preparing for this exam. She kept no backup plan. Her friends kept saying that she should enroll in a college also, just in case she doesn't get through. But she said no. She didn't want to give herself an excuse to slack off.

She didn't make it through the NEET selection. She lost a year. Now she has enrolled in a graduate college and she feels very passionate about the subject she has chosen. But she is wondering whether she made a mistake by not having kept a backup option then.

She asked me what I think.


The Chinese word '破釜沉舟' literally means "breaking the pots and burning the boats".

This ancient saying refers to Xiang Yu, a fierce warrior from Chu State, who grew tired of his army commander, General Song Yi, sitting on his butt for 46 days, hoping for a safe moment to attack. Xiang Yu killed General Song and took over the commanding post. One night, he took his army of thousands and they crossed the Yellow River, where the enemy army had camped.

Upon reaching the other side, he ordered his men to burn all the boats and bridges they had used to cross over. There would be no going back. They were stuck. They would either fight to victory, or fight to death.

After nine brutal battles, the Chu army finally defeated the mighty Qin troops – an army several times its size. His soldiers fought like no other, as they knew there was nothing to fall back on. They left us an unforgettable legacy: when you 破釜沉舟 (Pò fǔ chén zhōu), you’ll boldly go ‘til the end without ever looking back.

This ancient story has become a powerful metaphor for sheer determination to fight all the way to the end, by getting rid of all means of retreat.


Today none of us need to fight battles unto death or victory. So does this metaphor still make sense?


I believe so.

I meet many people who have powerful goals and dreams. And they also backup plans. I'm not against having a backup plan. But, so many people end up putting 80% of their energy on their backup plan rather than on their main goal!

What did my young friend I spoke about above lose by not having a backup plan? One year of her education. Agreed.

But what did she gain? This is a question worth thinking about.

According to me, she gained many things.

  • A sense of determination. You should have heard the strength in her voice. Most young people (and even old people) I meet lack that sense of determination and hunger. Hunger is an asset. This hunger of hers will take her places.
  • An ability to take decisions for herself. So many people struggle with this. We keep seeking advice and gathering information. We lack the courage to take a decision. She took a decision. And will do so again, and again, and again. She will rock.
  • A belief that even after failure, there is victory. To me this is the most precious learning. People who don't have failures, play too safe. They end up being too fearful of stretching themselves or setting ambitious goals. Failure opens our hearts. We will that failure will not kill us. We can walk again. We will set ambitious goals once again.
  • The power of focus. The only way to create something of our life, is by focussing our energy and abilities. This young girl harnessed the power of focus by putting all her energy into a powerful goal. She developed the ability to become like a laser beam... sharp and intense. This will always be a massive strength for her.

I believe the value of these learnings are much much much more important than the cost of one year of her academic life.

Why are we so scared of 'losing' one or even three years. This loss is an illusion.

You academic 'speed' is not everything!

There is so much one gains every day and every moment of life when one takes a decision to harness their innate potential.


Yes, I'm propagating putting all your eggs in one basket.

Towards the end of our conversation, my young friend asked me - "How do I know if a decision I took is right?"

I told her I don't know. It's right if it feels right. There is no way to know for sure.

You just take a decision, and then do whatever it takes to make it right.

Sure, as long as you are not losing your health or mental health, as long as you are not being exploited, as long as you are not in a toxic environment - you just stay with it and make it work. Thats the only way.

If you put your eggs in one basket, you will have only one basket to look after!

And of course you should pad and place the eggs nicely in that basket, so even if the basket falls, all eggs don't break.

If you'd like to read more on this subject, I recommend this book "The One Thing" by Gary Keller.


And then, remember that we have different dimensions to our life, and in each we have some eggs.

Career - have one direction, put all your energy in it. It could even be 'to explore', or 'to sell', or 'to create'.

Health - bet on one big idea - don't keep trying every new health fad that hits the town.

Social life - be clear what social life means to you, and how much of your energy you wish to invest in it.

Spiritual - explore as much as you want, but you need to put your faith behind one idea. Else you will go crazy in the 'spiritual buffet'.

Relationships - put all your energy in one relationship, the one with yourself. All others will take care of themselves :-)

Close some doors.

Keeping too many doors open will drain your energy. Your energy will go out though those open doors, but you wont.

You will just keep standing there and staring at all those open doors, and wondering where to go. All of them look so promising.

Close some doors. Boldly and confidently skate through one. You will surely find a way to make it work. New doors will open. Once again, close some through and go through one.

After all, you can only go through one door at a time.

And we are talking about doors, not windows. Windows are for looking out, doors are for walking through!


Here is a song by a band I love - The Doors. Jim Morrison prods us to challenge our assumptions about the existing order of things. You and I don't need to go to the extremes Jim went, but we can certainly break through some of our comfort zones and extremes of safety.


You know the day destroys the nightNight divides the dayTried to runTried to hideBreak on through to the other sideBreak on through to the other sideBreak on through to the other side, yeah