Winning Life Battles: 15 Lessons from The Art of War

“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu is widely regarded by many as not only a “bible” for the battlefield but also a great source of lessons for life in general.

Life in itself is a constant struggle to, if not stay on top, at least make it through daily challenges, while making the most of our resources.

Subject to personal interpretation, The Art of War can be a great source of inspiration and guidance to web designers and developers in their work struggles.

Here are some key takeaways from The Art of War that you can apply in your personal life, work, and a quest for self-improvement.

Life and The Art Of War

Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.

Web designers and developers are easily replaceable. Every day there are thousands of new people entering the industry, some are self-taught, and some trained in schools. The competition is growing bigger, and the only way to ensure success is to constantly build up your arsenal of skills.

Never stop learning.

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

In our work, there are a lot of instances when clients would ask for several revisions, tweaks, and minor requests that just pile up and take away weeks of our time. And in our line of work, every second truly counts. Learning how to say no, or at least how to renegotiate the details, will come a long way.

Other times several projects will present themselves, and you will have to make the hard decision to choose which one to accept or risk burning yourself, which is harder.

This is also a good way of saying that you need to balance your work life and personal life. Is it really a victory that you completed several projects in a week if you missed your sister’s wedding?

One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.

Of all the things you want to do in your life, you will only accomplish a fraction of it because of how limited and fast time flows. The cool thing about this all? You can actually “experience” something even without doing it.

Or better yet, in order to have more time for yourself, why not outsource some of the things you are doing to someone else? Bring in extra brains and arms to work on the things that are taking way too much of your time.

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Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.

For practically anyone, every action counts. It’s important to be careful, to think twice, and to plan carefully. Even the smallest mistake could prove costly, and what you may lose might be something you could never get back.

This is a good way of saying never burn bridges, both in your personal and professional life. Particularly with web designers and developers who mostly thrive through their clients.

It doesn’t matter if you had a hard time dealing with a specific client, try not to lose contact with them. Who knows, maybe your calm interaction with them, even when they were totally aggressive, can go a long way into the future.

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Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.

Careful planning and precise execution go hand in hand; it’s no wonder that these two are the integral components of any project’s success. Before making any kind of decision, consider the pros and cons, as well as the consequences that each possible decision could bring forth.

Take this piece of advice together with the third point, and you’ll be able to tread life more carefully. This is particularly helpful when dealing with people around you. Another version of this is, “think before you speak” or “measure twice, cut once.”

Work and The Art of War

Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and When you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

Make sure to devote a significant amount of time to planning for any project. The importance of a sound plan cannot be overstated; however, without solid action, a plan is just a plan, and nothing more.

Many beginners and experts alike fall prey into being overly excited or prideful when working on a project that they fail to fool-proof it, and ultimately leading to a project roadblock. Others call this “overestimating yourself”.

He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.

This particular quote is of great significance to team leaders. A web design and development team doesn’t need to have all the advantages just to ensure success. Learn how to manage people, set expectations, and, more importantly, develop skill sets.

A balance of proper training, initiative, and cooperation will take your team places — you don’t need to be a multi-billion dollar team of experts to come up with a quality website or award-winning design. Remember, it’s not how you start; it’s how you end.

There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever be seen.

It’s not in the number of tools you have; it’s in how you use them. This quote, which curiously has “design” written all over it, should remind web developers and designers that what truly matters is learning to work with what you have.


Apart from learning how to use your tools properly, you also need to learn to manage risks. Don’t be afraid to try new and unfamiliar things. No one could have known that blue and red make violet, or that red and yellow would make orange if no one tried mixing the colors. Who knows, a brighter future might be waiting for you, but you won’t see it if you stayed in the same place.

Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.

Learn to spot opportunities as they arrive; these may be in the form of a new idea for process improvement, catching the attention of a potential big client, or even going to drastic measures such as quitting your day job in order to start your own web design and development firm.

The point here is to always aim high and play to win. Capitalize on every opportunity to get ahead, as long as it doesn’t involve stepping on other people. Think about it. People who have succeeded much in life fought and pushed hard when they saw the opportunity.

If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.

Focus is important in order to succeed. Concentrate on key areas of improvement, and don’t try to be everything and anything at once. It is not reasonable to expect designers to be content writing experts, for example, or web developers to be social media strategists.

This is another mistake many of us commit. We tend to think of ourselves as experts in many fields, and in some instances, it may be accurate, but there is only so much we can do with our limited time. Furthermore, it is also proven that spreading yourself across many things, aka multitasking is bad for your well-being and career.

Personal Improvement and The Art of War

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

As is in everything in life, it is important to have a good understanding of everything. Knowing yourself, how you react to certain things, will go a long way. Especially as a web designer or developer, dealing with clients every day is unavoidable. Knowing their personality will save you from so much trouble.


For example, during my early days as a web developer, I failed to realize that my client then didn’t have an understanding of how websites worked, and I loaded him with details about hosting, FTP, cPanel, and the programming languages and CMS I use. Safe to say, I didn’t become his favorite.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while Defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Whether it’s for work or personal satisfaction, jump in because of passion and because you want to do something, not because you’re expecting some form of compensation or glory at the end. While it’s true that every journey has a destination, you’ll quickly find that there is more to be gained along the way than at the end.

Keep in mind that true victory lies in making decisions that you feel no regret for. If you pursued something that ultimately did not succeed the way you wanted it to, it still counts as a victory, for the sole reason that you put hard work into it and received valuable lessons in return.

There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.

Strike efficiently and strike quickly. If you have ideas for self-improvement or projects that you truly believe in, don’t act tomorrow or next week. Act now. This is more important for freelancers. Clients won’t wait for you; you need to catch up with them.

The same is true for your dreams. Why delay the implementation of your awesome idea? If you wait long enough, someone else with the same idea will build it.

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

I am talking about learning from mistakes and chaos. No one has reached a great deal of success without experiencing their fair share of problems. We learn how to properly align our div tags using CSS the hard way. Nine out of ten web designers and developers, I know never quite figured out how to align divs side by side until after several hours later.

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There is always a lesson to be learned in the midst of chaos. It may be difficult to deal with now, but if you push yourself to fix the issue, you won’t have to deal with it again in the future.

Never venture, never win!

For everyday people like you and me, a career change can go a long way. In fact, right now, there are a lot of people founding their own startups. This rings particularly true for me.

I left my job of 4 years several months ago in order to freelance full-time, which was the second-best decision I made.

The best decision I made is partnering up with a web design company. It’s a pretty big leap, but hey, “Never venture, never win!” Be it a new skill, new project, or new career you are thinking of; if it makes you lose sleep at night and makes you all excited in the morning, you might want to consider pursuing it!

Final Words

Here’s one more passage from The Art of War for everyone to remember: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”

Overall, what The Art of War tells us is that we need to be aware of ourselves and others. By keeping an open mind to the things that are happening around us, we can make an informed decision that will not only help us in our personal lives but also at work.