During the Roman Republic, the river Rubicon acted as a sort of frontier line between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the northeast and Italy proper, controlled directly by Rome, to the south.
In 49 BC, perhaps on January 10, Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he deliberately broke the law limiting his imperium, his authority to control his army.
As he led his army across the Rubicon river into Central Italy, Julius Caesar is credited to having said the following words, “Alea iacta est”.
“The die has been cast.”
The phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has since been used to describe an individual who commits to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase “passing the point of no return”.
The most common boundary that many of us struggle to cross in life is the one that lies between who we are and who we’d like to become.
It’s generally intimidating because of the work it takes to get to the other side. Is it worth the time, the energy, the pain, the commitment? Are you even capable of crossing the distance between the two? What is going to happen in-between, as you suffer in order to reshape yourself into someone you’re proud of?
These are all valid questions. The answer is not the resounding “yes” that people often hope, because we often forget that there’s no going back. The plethora of inspirational quotes and self-help advice neglects this part.
And this is why our subconscious mind tries to sabotage us. There’s no going back.
If Caesar had failed, if he had been defeated, him crossing the Rubicon would have been seen as an ignorant act of defiance in the face of obvious limitations.
“John crossed the Rubicon, and look at him now.”
I find that the answer lies in what we expect to find on the other side of the river.
On the other side of the Rubicon, there’s a no man’s land few are willing to cross.
The no man’s land is inhabited by our most persistent demons, by the deadly sins of the mind, by our fears, our inability to assume responsibility, by the good intentions that backfired.
You must be willing to venture deep into this desolate landscape.
I remember reading a lot of self-help books during my early twenties. As I was struggling with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, I’d feel this great discomfort at reading about the mindset shift that was required of me.
In more ways than one, reading those books made me feel more anxious and depressed.
Most people aren’t self-aware because it’s painful to be so.
Most people never assume responsibility for their lives because it’s painful to do so.
Your expectations, knowledge, and perceptions have to be readjusted.
Think of a man who’s never worked out before going to the gym for the first time. It’s painful to watch. Initially, the man will struggle, but slowly, with time, they will begin to see the struggle for what it is: the painful process of being built of literally something else than most people.
After a few years, they won’t even be able to fantasize about a time or place when they’re not working out, when they’re horrendously out of shape.
Just like you never forget how to ride a bike, you never quite get to cross the Rubicon back to your former self.
By pushing well past the point of no-return, we are forced to either adapt or die.
Granted, in the trenches of day to day adult life, we’re rarely presented with such opportunities, but what if we were to seek them out on purpose? What if we were to treat each habit, each action, as if our lives depend on them?
Because, in more ways than one, they do, because change is only possible when we promise ourselves that we’re not going to give up, no matter how much it hurts.
The no man’s land, the place inhabited by all our fears and failures, no longer scares us.
When faced with the possibility of death, few things scare us.
When it’s do or die, we all tend to do.
Once you cross the Rubicon, you’ve got to keep moving
In physics, Newton’s first law states that an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will tend to stay in motion.
When we push past the point of no return, we struggle to gain momentum.
If given the chance, we would very much like to return to a place of comfort and safety.
That’s why so many lose the entrepreneurial game. A big part of their mental energy is spent on trying to figure out a way to somehow, someday, return to the Rubicon.
But, you see, Julius Caesar never crossed the Rubicon back into Cisalpine Gaul.
If you treat each habit you want to develop, each goal you want to reach, as passing a point of no return, you will stop looking backward. All your mental energy will go towards building momentum, towards becoming an unstoppable force.
The people who succeed in life are the ones who either find a way to become successful or make one.
If you continue pushing in the right direction, you will begin to notice that you are doing the improbable.
The beginner is one step closer to becoming a master.
If you keep going, you will soon do the impossible.
At some point, we all want something that seems a bit out of reach.
It’s not out of reach.
It’s just on the other side of our fears, on the other side of the Rubicon.
We must face these fears, and we must venture deep into a new land, we must embark on the strange and perilous odyssey of becoming someone entirely different.
It is this border of pain and suffering that tests our commitment to our dreams and goals.
Whenever you find yourself questioning your ability to turn a dream into reality, remind yourself of these things:
- You never fail unless you give up.
- As you build momentum, you will find it easier to keep moving forward.
- There’s no going back.
If we’d treat life as a game of do or die, a lot more of us would, for lack of a better thing, accomplish their dreams and ambitions.
Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon because there was no other way. It felt like he was headed towards certain failure, yet he was also headed towards the possibility of success.
Sometimes, the success that is most meaningful to us resides alongside failure. They are so close together that they almost touch.
The man who decides to step into a gym, after years of sedentary life. The child who wants to learn how to ride a bike. The professional who has to develop new skills and abilities. The entrepreneur who’s struggling to get new clients.
Everything worth having in life lies beyond the point of no return, and only those who promise themselves to never, ever, ever give up are worthy of them.