I hope you had a fabulous Fourth of July. I spent the holiday weekend in the Colorado mountains with my family. As we watched the awe-inspiring fireworks display over Grand Lake, I reflected on the incredible struggle our forefathers overcame to win our independence.
Can you imagine how bleak things must have felt? How many times their struggle felt like too much? Just think how different the world would be if they'd given up.
In your life, what struggles -- big or small -- are you enduring? Does what you're fighting ever seem insurmountable? And how do you know when to keep fighting -- and when to give in?
Lesson 1: Don't Fight When You Don't Need to Win
A few weeks ago, I participated in my fifth MS150 -- a two-day, 150-mile bike ride to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis. Going into the ride, I was nervous. Of late, I've been exercising my brain more than my body.
Thankfully, the first day of the ride was uneventful. I was tired, but I finished. Maybe I blew this out of proportion, I thought.
The morning of the second day, we headed out early to beat the heat. Sure enough, at mile 30, I started feeling dizzy. At mile 35, I started to see stars. Then, at mile 40, I knew I wasn't going to finish.
At that point, did I search for a SAG wagon to drive me to the finish line? Of course not! Pridefully and stupidly, I kept riding.
To no one's surprise, at mile 50, I nearly collapsed. My teammates threw me into the SAG wagon (but to maintain my pride, I was dropped off right before the finish line).
The next day as I was nursing my biking hangover, I wondered, What was I thinking? Why didn't I stop? I'd already raised more than $3,000 dollars -- it wasn't like they'd take it away from me if I didn't finish.
Whether or not we realize it, there are situations where rwe really don't need to win! In my case, the benefits of stopping (my safety and health) were far greater than the benefits of continuing (my pride). Could I see that in the moment? No way. But lesson learned.
Lesson 2: Don't Fight When You Can't Win
Let's look at another example. I recently journeyed to Uganda to lead a women's leadership retreat. Beforehand, my husband and I were lucky enough to see Rwanda's silverback gorillas (think Gorillas in the Mist) -- there are less than 1,000 left on the planet, and it was absolutely life-changing.
The day after our trek, we were chatting with a friend who had visited the gorillas that morning. Much to his -- and the guides' -- surprise, one gorilla had reached out and grabbed his leg (can you imagine?!). I asked him how he responded. He replied, "There wasn't much I could do. If he'd wanted to drag me away, he could have." Luckily, that didn't happen and he now has a great story.
Hopefully you won't ever get grabbed by a silverback gorilla, but you get the metaphor, right? Don't fight battles you can't win. Whether it's a budget you just can't get approved, or you're futilely trying to win back your ex after cheating on them (ahem, Robin Thicke) -- sometimes it's smarter to realize your limits than fighting an insurmountable battle (In my book, Bankable Leadership, I call this an "insane waste of energy").
Let's recap: You might want to give up struggling when (a) you don't need to win or (b) you can't win. So when should you keep fighting?
Lesson 3: Do Fight When Your Values Are At Stake
On April 14th, 276 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by the terrorist organization Boko Haram. It's been more than 85 days since this despicable tragedy.
Florence Ozor, a 34-year old Nigerian business leader, is part of the group fighting to keep this issue at the forefront of the global conversation. Led by Hadiza Bala Usman, their mission is focused and clear: "Bring back our girls. Now and alive!" (you may recognize them by their hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls).
Florence told her powerful story at our women's leadership retreat (you can view an excerpt below).
With tears in her eyes, she told us, "This is a tragedy that I as an individual refuse to accept."
The group has faced intimidation, harassment and attack by hired thugs -- all while indifferent public servants looked on.
But nothing has diminished their will. Every day, the group gathers at the Unity Foundation in Nigeria's capitol of Abuja. They are resolute in their demands: a response from both the international community and the Nigerian government.
As of this week, they've engaged in more than 70 days of protest.
But the attention of the world has shifted. The media has packed up and moved on to other stories. I asked Florence how she's mustered the courage to continue. "There's absolutely no great thing you achieve without some resistance," she said, "But you [do] have to ask yourself: What is the price I am willing to pay?"
For Florence and the group, there is simply no other choice but to continue their protest. Boko Haram is becoming more brazen, relentlessly killing Nigerians and abducting many more girls. They believe that no one in the world is safe until Boko Haram is stopped.
Florence is the purest example of what it really means to fight for something you believe in. I can tell you without reservation that she is one of the most courageous, passionate, and determined leaders I've ever met.
Please help her Bring Back Our Girls. If you do nothing else today, take 30 seconds and send a Tweet to demand action (#BringBackOurGirls, @BBOG_Nigeria, @FlorenceOzor).
To sum up, whether you live in the United States, Rwanda, Nigeria, or anywhere else, our journey as humans is universal: A large part of our success and happiness rest on the battles we choose to fight. The bravest and smartest among us decide what's worth fighting for.
So the next time you're struggling, take a step back. Ask, Should I fight this with everything I have, or is it smarter to give in? If needed, ask someone you trust for an independent opinion. And above all, use your values and beliefs to guide you -- if we maintain our integrity, we can hardly ever go wrong.
Now, go out there and fight for what you believe in!