21/10/2015 18:09 BST | Updated 21/10/2016 06:12 BST

Pick Your Fights - Choose Those That Matter

"Choose your battles wisely. After all, life isn't measured by how many times you stood up to fight. It's not winning battles that makes you happy, but it's how many times you turned away and chose to look into a better direction. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones, let the rest go."

C. Joy Bell C.(author)

I am by nature, a fighter, although I wasn't entirely aware of this until the rail crash. Something inside of me surfaced as I battled through recovery, part anger, part indignation; a desire to make a difference against all odds. I chose to stand up and be counted and so I picked a fight, I picked the fight for rail safety. However, it is important to understand how to pick your fights and why you pick certain fights.

Let's be clear about this; fighting is exhausting, uncomfortable and, generally speaking, not most people's preferred method of progress. Yes, there are some people who seem to be perpetually angry, always picking fights, but those fights are petty skirmishes. Those people are just grumpy with the world and best ignored or you get pulled down into their negative pit of misery.


picture courtesy of Sarah Vitale

Pick your fights for a reason

After the train crash I knew that something had to be done to prevent this happening again. It was a worthwhile fight for two reasons; winning that fight would have a measurable impact on many lives and even losing the fight would give me, personally, catharsis- I had done something, plus it would raise the profile of rail safety. When something so devastating happens to you, it feels as if you have lost control of your life. Regaining control, feeling less helpless, are good reasons to pick your fights and having an impact is a top reason for many.

There is a balance to be achieved when you pick your fights; some aspects are personal, others affect others. You need to be very sure of the "Why" and then consider the "How". Indignation may be the spark that causes the fight but rationalisation is also needed. I have been presented with many business situations where I could have marched in "all guns blazing", but the outcome of winning was just not worth the effort of fighting. You need to be brave enough to identify when the fight really does not matter other than, perhaps, compromising your pride.

Knowing when to gracefully retreat... to fight another day

Sometimes we pick a fight and half way through realize we are losing badly with no hope of winning. In chess, a Grand Master faced with this situation will gracefully resign, or forfeit a game by allowing time to run out. They can see the potential loss so they quit before expending further energy on a losing battle. If you pick your fights based solely on emotion, the chances of failure can be quite high, as emotion often blinds logic. There is no shame in walking away from a fight; it shows common sense and understanding to know when to quit. You conserve energy for the next, more important battle.


When I tried my hand at event management, I thought I could battle my way to success by working fiercely hard in concentrated bursts, then resting in between. I was determined that I would, once again, post rail crash, be successful. I was wrong, I overworked myself and compromised my health. The price of that fight was too high, so I walked away.

When you pick your fights you need to assess the potential cost of losing, or at the very least, of winning taking a long time. As you work through this you need to reassess your position.

Don't just pick your fights, monitor your fights

Having decided you have this brilliant idea you want to pursue but knowing it will take huge effort; your passion may get you started. What is going to keep you on track? Passion can burn out, as can your stamina. Behind every idea needs to be some research and planning. Have you ever watched an episode of Dragon's den and cringed as a prospective idea and its owner are ripped to shreds by the dragons? Maybe you just "KNOW" your idea is a winner; but what you have not assessed is just how much resistance you are going to meet. Keep assessing as the idea and the fight progresses and if the cost gets too high, get out! There is no shame in quitting when your health, your family, your well-being is at risk. It does not mean you have quit everything, just this particular fight.

Passion is personal, but fights are usually won by being able to stand back and be objective about the odds. The world needs people to stand up and be counted, in business and in life. Some fights are truly worth engaging in - just pick your fights carefully, with an eye to success.