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Podcast 17: Choose Your Battles

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Feel like you're fighting all of the time when you have an invisible disability? Think you're a loser--when you want to be a winner? Try these Tips and see what happens.....


Sometimes a simple phrase says it all. A good example is choosing your own battles. As Celes (2023), explains: "[This means] being selective of the problems, arguments, and confrontations you get involved in, and instead saving your energy for the things that matter . . . rather than fight every single problem, you fight the most important battles and let go of the rest". In other words, you don't have to go on the offensive every time, but can selectively decide how and when to defend yourself.

You have probably seen this before. For instance, how many times have you been around someone who argues with everybody over everything? What about the person who worries constantly and just can't let anything go? Have you ever been around a passive-aggressive person who is always picking fights over little things, being argumentative, or letting you know that "My Way Is The Right Way"? Maybe that's you--or someone you know. If this is true, perhaps it's time to figure out what's a big deal--and what isn't. Learning to choose your own battles can really change your life.


When you're right in the middle of defending yourself, the last thing you feel like doing is slowing down and deciding if this is a big deal or not. But if you can do that, you'll get some amazing rewards (Fonger, 2023; Selah, 2023). First, it will help you conserve your energy which is often already in short supply if you have an invisible disability and face multiple challenges every day. Second, it definitely cuts down on your stress and frustration levels. Third, choosing your battles will help you focus on what's really important. You learn not to sweat the small stuff, but instead to put your energy where it's really worthwhile.

Choosing your battles can be different in different situations. For instance, if you're around a team member at work who is always cutting you down, you probably feel forced to defend yourself a lot. Being angry and fighting all the time is clearly not the way to go. As Fonger (2023) emphasizes, "Don't fight if you can't win". Reacting to every little dig and criticism just wears you down and doesn't solve anything in the long run. The more you fight back, the more you appear to be a trouble-maker and a poor team player. Plus, in the end, it doesn't solve the problem. It just prolongs the craziness.

However, by making a conscious decision when and where to confront this individual, you can be the winner in a battle you never wanted to fight in the first place. By doing so, you save yourself a lot of stress and frustration and keep yourself from over-reacting. Choosing your battles allows you to finally put your energy, creativity, and enthusiasm into showing your full potential as an employee. Check out the links and scenarios below for more ideas.

Connections to LD/Dyslexia

If you have an invisible disability like LD or dyslexia, you probably often feel misunderstood. Many adults have explained to me that folks around them rarely can relate to the challenges they face. In fact, as one adult with LD told me, "People tell me that I 'look normal', so what's the problem?'" Family, friends, fellow students, co-workers, or even strangers are often perplexed because you just don't process information or react the way they do. Sadly, being "normal" becomes a daily charade of trying to be like everyone else--but knowing you're going to fail every time. As professionals at the Jefferson Center (2023) assert, "People with invisible disabilities may be judged or misunderstood by others who don't comprehend their challenges."

Collins-Burke and Cronkwright (2021) speak about this from experience: "Aside from the challenges of facing each day, one of the most difficult and often hurtful consequences is the lack of understanding from others. Those with invisible disabilities are frequently faced with comments, judgments, and rude questions. Some people may perceive us as lazy. The reality is that we are trying to deal with a condition(s) that leaves us feeling drained, mentally & physically." Can you relate to that picture? They go on to add: "Often, [I] resisted leaving the house because it’s just easier to stay home. If I'm at home, others don’t see my struggle; they don’t see my challenges. They don’t roll their eyes at me, call me stupid, push me out of the way, or cause the many other situations I have faced."

These poignant comments underscore the multiple ramifications that go hand-in-hand with an invisible disability. So many folks with LD or dyslexia have told me exactly the same thing over the years. They also describe how lonely they feel, with no one there to help or advocate for them. They talk about being overly frustrated and stressed out every single day with battles just never seem to end. All of this is further complicated by other side effects that they cannot control, such as: chronic fatigue, depression, or becoming a victim of bullying, sexual or physical abuse (Serene, 2023). There's also one startling fact that few of us want to talk about. Because it takes lots, and lots, and lots, of energy to fight these battles single day, a Canadian study found that people with learning disabilities, especially women, are more likely than their non-disabled peers to commit suicide or have suicidal thoughts (Frye, 2022; Serene, 2023).

This constant stress and frustration can easily turn into anger which also eats away at you like acid. It can also force people with invisible disabilities to be continually defending themselves from things or people they cannot control. For more information, check out the website or the scenarios below.


Scenario A: Sabotage at Work

Mandy and Lisa never liked each other. Mandy had been comfortably working at the same ad agency for four years when Lisa was hired. She sensed there would be trouble right away. As this was a small, family-oriented firm, there was a lot of emphasis placed on getting along and being fair and trustworthy with each other. But Lisa made it clear that she wanted to shake things up and advance her career at the same time.

Suddenly, it became a competition to get new projects or work on certain teams. Mandy realized that not only was Lisa trying to push her way to the top, but she was undermining her colleagues in the process. For instance, Mandy had been working successfully with United Foods for two years and was designing their new campaign. Lisa managed to see the plans first and met with them behind Mandy's back. Not only did she get the project transferred to her, but she also convinced the company that Mandy had done a sloppy job. Mandy felt incredibly betrayed, but managed to swallow her anger. Then Mandy started to hear nasty rumors at work that her skills weren't up to par. Susan, Mandy's best friend at the agency, told her that Lisa was telling everyone that Mandy should be transferred out of the Account Management Team, as she couldn't read or write due to her dyslexia. Mandy was livid, especially when she discovered that Lisa had found out about her dyslexia from the Human Resources Manager who spilled the beans over dinner and drinks. What should Mandy do? It's one thing to disagree with a co-worker--but personal attacks are something else.

Scenario B: Passive-Agressive Friends

Betty and Bobbie look like twins. Even though they're not related, they should be. They've always been best friends since grade school. The "Two B's" (as they were called) have done everything together; from eating in the grade school cafeteria to double-dating at the high school prom. The girls went their separate ways after graduation when Betty went away to college and Bobbie went to work at her Dad's insurance office. In spite of that, they stayed close through engagements, bad relationships, divorces, and various children. Betty always relied on Bobbie's support, no matter what life threw at her. However, she started to notice something disturbing that kept getting worse over the years. While at times, Bobbie seemed to be supportive and loving, she also kept sliding in little digs and nasty comments. For instance, when Betty took a European skiing trip with friends, Bobbie made comments about "how great it would be to throw money away like that". When Betty started to take instruction in the Catholic church, Bobbie said she was doing it to impress a new boyfriend. When Betty's youngest son was caught selling drugs, Bobbie responded, "Well, that happens when women with careers don't stay at home with their kids".

Betty has often felt isolated and lonely throughout her life due to her LD. She really believed that Bobbie was the one person who understood her and would always be there for her. However, when is enough enough? Betty treasures their friendship, but--really, who needs this?

Scenario C:

Jake, a single dad, recently bought a new house in the neighborhood where he grew up. After he moved in, he found out that his new neighbor was Kenny; a guy he went to grade school with. He never knew Kenny very well, as he was two grades above him and a real bully to the other students. However, now he and Kenny live next door to each other. Kenny acts like Jake is his first, best friend. He just won't leave Jake alone. It started when Kenny kept coming by unannounced to borrow a few tools. Then, he wanted Jake to drop everything to play poker at his noisy, out-of-control parties that went on all night. He started harassing Jake with phone calls whenever he was drinking. On top of that, Kenny has a big, nasty mutt who keeps leaving big piles in Jake's yard. When Jake tried to put up a fence between them, Kenny started threatening him about the boundaries between their backyards.

Jake is is angry and frustrated, as his plate is already too full. He's raising a young son on his own and trying to make a home for them both. His new job is really stressful, because his corporation recently transferred him back to close one office and start another. All of this is complicated by Jake's LD and ADHD. He definitely doesn't need all of this craziness--especially from someone he doesn't even like.

Tips and Tricks:

Tip #1: How Important Is It?

One of my favorite slogans is: How Important Is It? This little phrase is a great way to stop seeing things emotionally--and put them into perspective. As Celes (2023) explains: "Believe it or not, most of the things that disrupt us on a daily basis are small, petty things with no impact in the long run. This includes toxic people who try to get you down". The trick in this Tip is how to decide if something is really unimportant to the bigger picture of your life. Does it really mean that much? Is this a battle worth fighting? Will the end result be worth it in the long run? Or, should you just let it go? These are significant questions that need to be addressed before you can move forward. Consequently, when faced with a problem, ask yourself:

  • How important is this?

  • Should I deal with it?

  • Is my time better spent elsewhere?

While you're thinking about these questions, also consider this: You have only 24 hours each day. How do you want to spend your time? Feeling angry about someone who isn’t worth your time in the first place? Feeling stressed about petty things that won’t matter a few years from now? A great example of how to put all of this in perspective is Mandy's relationship with Lisa in Scenario A.

Mandy clearly feeds betrayed and in conflict everyday with Lisa. She doesn't trust her or want to work with her, because Lisa has her own agenda--and it doesn't include Mandy or her colleagues. If that was it, Mandy would be tempted just to avoid Lisa whenever possible. But when she asks herself the three questions above, more troubling, potentially dangerous issues emerge. Not only does Lisa sabotage other people's work, but she also attacks others by spreading rumors and lies for her own advantage. She definitely doesn't like Mandy, whatever the reason, and wants to destroy her work reputation and maybe even have her fired. Of equal importance, Lisa is twisting and using confidential information about Mandy's invisible disability. That's hitting below the belt and deserves to be stopped, once and for all.

What can Mandy do next? The folks at FOM Coaching (2023) give advice that would be invaluable to her: a) use damage control; b) keep evidence of the problem; c) avoid trying to fix or change the the co-worker; d) focus on what you want, not what you don't want; e) find your office allies and f) try to think positively. So, Mandy did exactly that.

First, she tried to meet with Lisa alone to discuss her frustrations. When that went nowhere, she went to her supervisor and the HR Manager and asked for appointments. Second, she documented in detail all of Lisa's damaging, disruptive behaviors, while also not reacting or confronting Lisa to change. Third, Mandy talked to Susan and other co-workers whom she trusted about the situation. When she found out that she wasn't the only one who was a victim of Lisa's ambition and spiteful behavior, they all agreed to meet their with Supervisor to go over their concerns. Fourth, Mandy met privately with her HR Manager and confronted her with sharing confidential information about her disability without her permission. Mandy made it clear that this should NOT be discussed frivolously with anyone and if it continued, she would consult a lawyer. Fifth, Mandy took a deep breath and really thought about if she wanted to stay with this firm or move on. These insights gave her power to decide what to do if nothing was done about Lisa and her toxic behaviors.

After choosing her battles and how to fight them, the results were swift and dramatic. Mandy's supervisor was shocked and very supportive to all of the workers. He called Lisa in the next day and discussed the situation with her. Despite her boss's warnings, Lisa continued her negative actions. She was then transferred to another division of the company, where the craziness continued. She was let go and found employment elsewhere. In addition, Mandy was amazed to get a formal letter of apology from the HR Manager. Overall, Mandy was glad that she choose to fight and make a difference. She never forgot what she learned, especially when she was promoted as a supervisor the next year.

Tip #2: Do I Want to Burn Bridges?

One of the problems with choosing your battles is that it can make you really mad. For instance, not only are you upset to begin with, but the more you think about it, the angrier you get. You want to defend yourself and go on the attack. At that point, it just feels right to pay that person back and make them as unhappy as you are. You tell yourself, "Now's the time to stand up and tell the truth." it worth it?

I think that one of the hardest, but most worthwhile, things about choosing your own battles is that you are forced to stop and think. This behavior is like a stop sign to make you weigh the consequences of your actions. For instance, maybe you are really in love with someone who has been cheating on you. If he were my husband, I'd call one of my neighbors in Philly to break his knee caps--but that's just me! Instead, maybe you're the forgiving type who's willing to give it one more try. Perhaps, you study with someone in college who constantly cheats on tests. You know this for sure, but have been ignoring it for a long time. You both are assigned to write your final project for an important class. You discover part of it is heavily plagiarized. Where do you draw the line? Do you even want to be involved in this? Or, should you talk to your professor asap?

The process I'm describing in Tip #2 is a business term called a "cost/benefits analysis" (Celes, 2023; MacNeil, 2022). It involves two questions:

  • Do the costs outweigh the benefits?

  • What are the odds of success?

A fine example of a cost/benefit analysis is the friendship between Betty and Bobbie in Scenario B. "The Two B's" have been best friends forever and share a very special bond. It's an anchor that they both rely on no matter where they go or what they do. Nonetheless, Betty instinctively knows that something has radically changed--and not for the better. Bobbie's passive aggressive behavior is poisoning a special relationship. It may be time for Betty to face facts. She can either live with her friend as she is--or burn the bridge and cut her off entirely.

Lambert (2023) suggests that Betty stop taking the bait when Bobbie attacks her and defuse the situation with humor. Or, she could be assertive and direct about her feelings to Bobbie's constant digs and attacks (Strong, 2021). While it's important to be calm and respectful when you do this, this can also make matters worse. However, the risk may be worth it, as Betty and Bobbie could talk frankly before their friendship is totally destroyed. Or, after weighing the costs, Betty might choose to ignore Bobbie's criticism and gradually drift away from her friend. Maybe, it really is time to burn this bridge permanently.

Betty did a cost/benefit analysis and decided to make some changes, as she really wanted to keep the friendship going. She tried to make jokes when she felt Bobbie was getting too critical. For instance, when Bobbie criticized her skiing trip, Betty replied, "Yes, but I might meet a handsome Austrian ski instructor!" However, Bobbie wasn't listening. When Bobbie found fault with Betty's parenting skills, Betty said "That's it!" She gently explained how that hurt her feelings and was eroding the trust she had felt for her friend for years. Unfortunately, this opened the door to a real tirade from Bobbie. As she went on and on about how lucky Betty was not to be stuck in this "dead-end" town and how she never appreciated what she had, Betty decided it was time to let this go. She had often felt isolated and lonely because of her LD and knew that she would miss Bobbie. However, she definitely would not miss all of this drama. Betty no longer speaks to Bobbie and has burned that bridge for good.

If you're like Betty, in a situation where you need to make some decisions or changes, check out the websites below:

Tip #3: Winners or Losers?

Some people believe that there is always a winner and a loser in every situation. A middle ground does not exist, as you either get what you want--or you don't. While this may apply to NFL football teams or nasty divorces, life can often go in another direction entirely. However, when you're being attacked and choosing your battles, the conflict feels like simply winning or losing. Is life as black and white as a game of chess? Or, is there much more involved?

Business people from the Performance Room (2023) explain this mentality as "feeling under siege" and "being in the trenches". As they stress, "A mindset of being under siege . . . is not helpful. For some, it scares, demotivates, threatens rather than inspires and galvanizes. It is not future focused . . ." They talk about such battle mentality as being a "fight or flight" situation.

Celes (2023) suggests another approach. She describes an "abundance mentality", where you focus on a "win/win" mentality instead of a "win/lose" scenario. This point of view allows everyone, not just the winner, to benefit. For example, you can fight your adversary with guns blazing, just like John Wayne in a Hollywood western. You may win temporally and conquer the bad guy in the black hat. But, what are you losing in the process? And, of equal importance, what will be left when you're done? These are important questions to consider when we feel attacked or are trying to defend ourselves.

Often life is not just a game of survival; it is much richer, and more multi-layered than that. For instance, by doing a cost/benefit analysis in Tip #2, you soon realize that there are winners and losers--but also lots of gray area in between. Battles, no matter how big or small, usually involve people; folks who are important in your daily life (Quora, 2016). Whether they're family, friends, colleagues at work or school, or neighbors, you still have to live with them everyday. The problem then becomes how to do that with style, grace, and kindness, rather than how to beat them up and walk away with victory.

Instead, try an abundance mindset to think beyond a black/white situation. This is illustrated in Scenario C, where Jake and Kenny are neighbors. Jake wouldn't mind having Kenny as a neighbor, if he would just leave him alone. This clearly is a guy who does not understand boundaries. Jake could happily live next door to Kenny if he curbed his dog, waved occasionally, or helped with the block Christmas party. Instead, he has a front seat to all of Kenny's insanity, along with his own challenges due to his complicated life and LD/ADHD. Jake definitely feels under siege, both at home and at work.

One solution is to confront Kenny with guns blazing. Jake could lay down the law and say, "Leave me alone or else!" While he might be justified, that may only pour gasoline on Kenny's fire. Then the battle would really start--and who would win? Of equal consequence, if Jake does win, what will he have left? A really nasty, mad neighbor with a very mean dog who has becomes a life-long enemy. Or . . . Jake could try a different way.

Eley (2007) and the lawyers at AARG (2023) provide a plan to move beyond a siege mentality to a reasonable solution. They suggest asking for a face-to-face meeting, not to accuse your neighbor but to tell them how the problem bothers you, along with a few ways to solve it together. If that doesn't work, check your local ordinances to see if any laws are being broken. Talk to all your other neighbors right away, as they may have similar complaints. Document every single thing and consult a mediator, if necessary. When all else fails, call the police and file a complaint in court.

Jake decided to hold his temper and try other things first. He called Kenny and asked to talk when it was convenient. Kenny never responded, so Jake left him a note on his garage door. Again, no answer. Next, Jake documented everything and talked to his neighbors. Since everyone on the block seemed to have trouble with Kenny, three families volunteered to talk to him as a group. This just made Kenny madder and went nowhere. The neighbors then began regularly calling the police about letting dogs run off leash, along with noise ordinance violations. They also did their homework and found out that Kenny was a renter. The group used a mediator to contact the owner. After discussions with the mediator, Kenny was evicted. When the owner went in to clean up the house, he found illegal guns and drugs. Jake now has new neighbors whom he likes very much. He also realized that this was a win/win situation for the whole neighborhood. If you're in a situation like Jakes, look at the websites below:



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