Choose Your Battles Wisely

When you’re right, it’s tempting to fight to prove it. Not so fast!

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #277

They say you should choose your battles wisely. That makes sense. Consider Napoleon. He chose to fight at Waterloo, and that didn’t work out well for him. If he’d chosen more wisely, he might have chosen to fight at Gettysburg. He would have given the Gettysburg Address and had a movie made about him, only instead of starring Daniel-Day Lewis, it would have started Daniel DeVito. One unwisely-chosen battle centuries ago changed the entire course of the Academy Awards centuries later. .

In our daily lives, choosing battles unwisely means we can waste a lot of time and energy on the wrong thing. This very evening, listener Emily proclaimed on her Facebook wall that she was thrilled that a business celebrity sent her a message. Imagine my surprise to find out she was talking about me! I could have spent time arguing that I’m certainly not a celebrity, and I’m far too humble and modest to deserve such acclaim and adoration. But what would have been the point? I’m sure you’ll agree it makes much more sense to accept her statement at face value—as simply a statement of fact—and save my energy for an important battle. 

Where in your life and work do you fight battles? Why? Are those the right battles? Let’s explore how you can make sure you fight less and win more.

Choose Winning Battles

I know this sounds obvious, but before going into battle, ask yourself honestly whether you can win. I know you feel you can win, but think it through. A coaching client was furious that his biggest customer had stolen some of his technology. He wanted to fight it out in court, but if he won the lawsuit, he’d lose the customer and go out of business. This battle couldn’t be won. 

It’s like trying to get your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, spousal equivalent, or polyamorous family unit to put the toilet paper roll on with the paper facing the other direction. Not only will you lose that battle, but you’ll end up bringing home flowers for a month to repair the damage you made with that foolish, foolish request. You cannot win that battle. So why try?

Will You Benefit if You Win?

If you do win, make sure you’ll get some benefit from the win. I know people who spend years obsessing over how they were right and Jordan Dinklebert was wrong, but Jordan wouldn’t listen and insulted them in front of the entire team. Now they’re just waiting for a chance to take revenge. They spend years plotting, and the day they’re named employee of the year, halfway through their acceptance speech, they say, “And it’s no thanks to Jordan Dinklebert. I was right, you were wrong, and you’re really just a big poopie head. So there!” Uh, huh. A poopie head. Well, that little bit of revenge was certainly worth the wait.

Revenge is usually a battle that takes up a lot of resources, and even if you win, you don’t really benefit. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Kahn declares, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Really? Who wants a cold dinner? Revenge is not a dish best served cold. Oreo ice cream cake is a dish best served cold. So what's the lesson here?


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.