Wisdom… Choosing Your Battles and Showing Off Your Scars

“Battle scars” have been on my mind a lot lately.  Whether catching my eye in the form of scratches all over my minivan, visual echoes of my injuries past, scraped-kneed offspring, or wounded spirits – I see battle scars all around me.  It has brought me to ponder the wisdom in “choosing our battles,” and all that’s to be gained from showing off those scars. Through the battles and with the scars, we grow in our selves, our roles, and the stories we bring to share.

In military strategery, there are traditionally three things guiding the “choose your battles wisely” thing:

  • *1* strategic assessment of the situation (e.g., can you “win”?),
  • *2* expenditure of resources (e.g., is it worth it, or too costly?), and
  • *3* long-term prognosis (e.g., which does more for you in the long run, engaging or not engaging?).

I think the same wisdom applies in our daily lives – whether in our roles as leaders, as parents, as colleagues, partners, or friends.

honestyintegrityrespectFirst, a word on the battles you should NEVER walk away from… yes, I believe there are some.  Here’s where we hearken back to having clarity on your core values.  {How is it possible I’ve not written about core values yet? Next time…}  There are a few things that are so core to what’s important to each of us as individual human beings, that we should never sacrifice them. Know what yours are, and never walk away from a situation that allows them to be compromised.  For me? Honesty, respect, integrity.  If you violate one of these core values in a situation that impacts me, it will be dealt with.  We can disagree, have different opinions, believe different things – but if it crosses a line into lying, disrespectful, or subversive behavior I can not walk away.

In many other cases, we may choose to walk away from tough situations for the same militaristic reasons listed above – either we perceive we can’t “win” or make an appreciable difference, think it will take too much time, emotion, or energy – or perhaps will be better for us in the long run.  The latter may often be the case where there’s a potential short-term cost to the relationships involved, and we wish to preserve them for the long term.  But give some thought to other potential long-term benefits from walking away…  Will someone else learn to do something or solve a problem for themselves?  Will others see you modeling restraint and learn from it? Will someone else feel empowered if you don’t step in?  Choosing not to engage can be less about us, and more about the potential benefits to the other people involved.   Sometimes “avoidance” is strategic, and highly beneficial.  But be clear, avoidance can also simply be avoidance – in which case it’s all about us, and not necessarily about best outcomes.  If you choose not to engage, reflect and be clear with yourself about why you’re not – make sure it’s a conscious best decision.

Sometimes we get burned – whether through choosing to engage or walking away. Hence, the scars.  For whatever it’s worth, I’m fairly pleased to say that I’ve arrived at a place in life where I’m over trying to hide scars.  Literally and figuratively.  I have burn scars, accident scars, and surgical scars – and I have dedicated a lot of time and money and creams over the years trying to heal and hide them.  My minivan (yes, the one I swore I’d never be driving) is covered in scratches and dings.  I’ve buffed and waxed and polished.  I’m done with all that now.  You know what? Each scar – each scratch – has a story that was scar_quotegained through living my life.  Each one comes with a story and a lesson.    They show that I’m not afraid to take risks, and that at times I’ve been a little careless.  That sometimes I’m wrong – that risks don’t always pay off, and things don’t always go as you’d expect.  But they also serve as a reminder that I am human, that I’ve lived through all of it – and, for what it’s worth, I’ve learned a few things along the way.

As colleagues and leaders, we can gain a lot in terms of credibility and trust in our relationships through a willingness to share our scars.  It shows humility, allows us to share our wisdom and our failings, explore fears and risks, and talk about how we come out on the other side.  It gives others permission to share their scars and stories.  It helps us all to talk openly about taking chances, gauging risk, handling consequences, and problem solving together.

So choose your battles wisely… and when you engage, fully engage.  When you choose not to engage, be clear with yourself about the reasons why.  And regardless of how you get them, show off those scars, baby.  Tell your story.  Hear others’.  This is how we build a future together.


Note:  I understand and am sensitive to the fact that not everyone may be so comfortable with their scars – literal or figurative. I read somewhere recently that a scar represents a wound closed and healed, with the pain in the past. Physical scars make that level of healing easy to see – the figurative ones may still be truly wounds, not yet healed. We must be sensitive to each other and supportive for healing…

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