The Importance of Choosing Your Battles

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Want to change the world? Choose your battles wisely.

There are so many battles that await us.

Battles like climate change, gender and racial equality, economic disparities, access to healthcare and education; if I were to list them all, this blog post would be much too long. 

These battles are essential; winning them will progress our planet and society towards fairness, sustainability, meaning, and happiness.

With so many battles, it would be impossible for any sole person to fight them all and do so effectively. Quite frankly, it’s hard enough to fight one single battle effectively as it is, let alone them all. Perhaps if a human were granted infinite time and resources, they would have a chance at emerging victorious over all of these battles – but even still, it would come down to a matter of execution.  

In reality, we don’t have infinite resources or time.

Consider we humans have an 85ish year lifespan. If we subtract the 15 years we spend in school and the 10 years split between the start and finish we spend in diapers, about 60 years remain (and even that’s being generous), which we could potentially dedicate towards fighting battles.

Your Time Is Limited

“Memento Mori”, a Latin phrase that means “remember that you will die. Since death is inevitable, our time is limited; therefore, we each must be careful how we spend that time. We must choose the battles we want to participate in wisely. 

Being wise in our selection, means being specific with what battles we want to put our limited amount of time and energy towards.

We as individuals cannot fight in all of them, but so many of us believe we can. When we dilute our energy, time, and resources across all battles, we weaken our potential from helping to not contributing to them at all. 

If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.

Depending on how broad or specific you want to be, we could easily define hundreds if not thousands of battles that are being fought every day that need our energy and time. Let’s say hypothetically; there were a hundred battles that need to be fought in our day and age.

If you decide that you want to put your efforts into fighting every one of these 100 battles, then the maximum average energy you can expend in any one battle is 1% of your available energy. 

This 1% energy per battle figure is assuming that we, as humans, can even use 100% of our energy towards fighting these battles. In reality, the average human probably only has about 5% of their energy total available to them. The majority of a person’s energy goes towards “The Great Internal Battle.” 

The Great Internal Battle

Merely being human requires a ton of energy in and of itself. I call this “The Great Internal Battle.” 

This “Great Internal Battle” is the battle we fight every day. We fight this battle when we; make breakfast, take care of ourselves, take care of those around us, keep our life in order, go to work so that we can pay our bills, fill our car with gas, do laundry, etc. All of these things take a great deal of time and energy. The less you have your Great Internal Battle conquered and optimized, the less excess energy you will have available to fight external worldwide battles.  

To maximize your potential energy to effect change in the world, you need to optimize the amount of time and energy you spend to be fit for service for it. 

Mastering Thyself

Let’s say that, after a great deal of effort – blood, sweat, and tears – you do manage to optimize your great internal battle. Let’s say you’ve optimized your life so well that you now have 25% of your energy available to tackle external battles. That means 25% of what you do during your day today goes towards fighting these battles. Do you really want to spread that 25% across a hundred battles? If you did, you could only give each battle an average of 0.25% of your potential energy. That is such an infinitesimally small amount of your energy that it will probably not amount any substantial ground. 

How can you become a master of something by only spending 0.25% of your energy on it? 

Do you think Luke Skywalker could have defeated the Empire using only 0.25% of the force? Could Harry Potter defeat he who must not be named using only 0.25% of the spells? Could Frodo Baggins destroy The One Ring by only walking 0.25% of the way to Mordor?

There is no way 0.25% of your energy is enough to master the knowledge and skills necessary to become qualified enough to be in those arenas.

Lets put this into more perspective. Assuming you are awake for 16 hours a day and using your energy equally spread throughout that day, 0.25% means you are only dedicating 144 seconds of your time towards each of these battles. Do you think you can have substantial progress towards the world’s most vital and complex battles with just over 2 minutes a day? 

Being competent enough to fight a battle meaningfully means having done the necessary work, educating yourself, testing theories, sharing ideas with others, building practical skills, understanding the complexities of the existing systems, etc. This scope is far beyond what can be achieved in 2 minutes a day.

One who claims they are competent to participate in all of those battles likely made some shortcuts along the way. These shortcuts result in loss of nuanced ideas, close-mindedness, egotistical framing, too much certainty, blind-spots, and ignorance. These features do not make for a meaningful contribution to any battle and are likely inhibiting the meaningful contributions of those more qualified. 

Deep Pond, Shallow Lake.

One could argue that if you have a large number of people fighting that battle with only their 0.25%, that’s enough to emerge victoriously. I would say that it is untrue. 

Let me pose a question. Who is more likely to land a rocket on the moon first: ten thousand 5th graders each with a basic understanding of algebra, or a team of one hundred astrophysicists working at NASA? 

If you have thousands of people who only had a shallow amount of understanding and competence in that area, likely, compounding these potentials together doesn’t increase it at a relative scale. Combining them widens the shallow understanding, instead of deepens it. This is because these people likely share the exact same understanding and competence as one another, thus combining their elementary levels does not offer a net gain.  

As with many things in life, it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters. You only get quality by investing time and energy. It is more valuable to become a master of one area, then a journeyman of them all. 

Choose one battle, be specific. 

Photo by Matt Cannon on Unsplash

The more specific you are as you define your battle, the more substantially you will be able to contribute.

Is your battle to save the environment? Your intention is excellent, but how are you executing on that battle? 

Saying you are an “environmentalist who is saving the world” is not specific enough. A statement like that is way too broad to hold any true meaning.

“I want to stop climate change.” Not specific enough, climate change itself has thousands of battles within it. Narrow down further.

“I want to stop plastic from entering the oceans.” It is still not specific enough – many systems contribute to plastic in the ocean, too many systems for a single person to bring down.

“I want to stop all single-use plastic straws.” Better, however, still a bit broad with respect to its jurisdiction.

Want to save the environment? Here’s a battle for you: “I want to stop all restaurants in my hometown from using plastic straws.”

That is a battle you can tackle. That is a battle in which you can dedicate your 25% energy a day within and see a difference. That is a battle that after you conquer, can be slowly expanded upon to increase its scope.

There is no shame in being specific.

Remember, just because you are specific with your battle does not mean you are “small-minded” or “unambitious” – it means you are focused. When you are focused, you are making an impact. You are affecting your battle arena with a greater magnitude than someone who is addressing it more broadly or generally. 

Remember, just because you are specific with your battle does not mean you do not care about other battles. You can still support other movements without over-investing your energy to fight on the frontlines of them. Taking a supportive role does not mean being impartial; it means helping those who are better positioned to fight that battle, while you focus on yours.

When you are specific with your battle and give it all of your energy, you have a better chance of emerging victorious over it. That is not a trivial matter.

Be specific with your battle, and grand in your execution.

With courage & bravery friends,

bravenewmatt


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Cover Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

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