A life that has been wasted leaves a body intact and pristine– but a life that has been properly used leaves scars.

Scars tell stories. They are what’s left by mistakes we’ve made. They’re what remind us of the places we’ve been and the people we’ve known.

Scars also tell us that we can handle what comes at us. When we look at a scar we got a long time ago, we remember the experience and see that we’re ok. Scars are the writing on the wall that says “You can endure.”

When I was young, my mother tried to teach me to cook, but I didn’t like the idea of getting my hands dirty, so I never learned. My hands stayed soft. There was nothing there to tell me what I’ve been through– because I hadn’t been through much.

Then I started playing capoeira and rock climbing a bit. My hands started to ache, leaving me with a kind of memory of what I had done. Over time, my hands became more resilient. I started to be able to handle pain and lost the fear of my hands being dirty.

Though it’s small, it’s a change that mirrors a larger one in my head. Now I’m not so afraid of being dirty; I’m not as afraid of making mistakes and being imperfect, particularly in front of other people. I’m better for the damage I’ve gotten.

Look– you’re going to get hurt. And sometimes, you’ll see it coming. But you should do it anyway. In fact, you need to. You need scars. You need stories.

You need to have lived.





31 responses to “Scars”

  1. John McLachlan Avatar

    I had a best friend in my early 20s. We played music together. We laughed together. We loved each other more than anything.

    And then he died in a plane crash when he was just 28. 17 years ago.

    I got scars. I have stories. It hurt like hell. It still does sometimes.

    But… I know I’m alive for sure, and it has made other disappointments in my life a little easier.

    What a price!


  2. Larry Avatar

    The scars you choose to inflict upon yourself hurt. The process is painful, and usually it really, really sucks.

    But I know of few people who, when looking back, would choose not to have gone through it.

    The fun stuff simply doesn’t build character the way damage does.

  3. Mike Charbonneau Avatar

    Lovely piece and so very true…from both a personal and a business perspective.

    BTW, your newsletter sign-up didn’t seem to like my e-mail address. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, eh?

  4. Chris Burdge Avatar

    I have more than a few hockey related scars. Not sure they’ve built any character although some of them make for good stories. I’m a little more cautious about ‘going into the corner’ now.

    Those ‘life’ related scars are much more painful and indeed provide valuable lessons. It’s funny now as a father I hear myself telling my kids things my parents once said to me cause I don’t want them to get hurt. Parental instinct I guess.

  5. Head2Heart Avatar

    Great blog post Julien.
    Visible or not, scars are part of whom you have become. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today at only 25 if I hadn’t lived through them all.

  6. Vince Kamp Avatar

    chicks dig scars. My wife not so much. She points at the scar on my shoulder shaking her head, ‘yep that one was hell for us. 3 months you sat on couch all bound up from surgery, just because you looked at the camera too long while falling through the air on your mountainbike.’
    She points at my hip, ‘oh yeah the hip surgery. Years of ironman triathlon racing, smashing your joints, while I stood on the sidelines in the rain and sometimes sun, but mostly rain.’ Oh yeah she digs scars all right. But she knows I wouldn’t be the man I am today without them…..and I think she still loves me. We have a couple of beautiful little boys to show for it.
    Great post Julien, I’ll be back for more of the same.

  7. Lauren Avatar

    When I first found out that I would have to get kidney surgery, and the surgery would leave me with scars on my stomach, I was scared and upset. It’s scary to be young and have something you are so familiar with (your body) be altered forever, and not of your own accord.

    Also – I was scared I wouldn’t be ‘pretty’ anymore.

    Now, five years later, the scars are barely visible.

    But now, I also kinda wish my scars were bigger.

  8. CT Moore Avatar

    “It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.”
    — Garrison Keillor

    Read that as the Montreal Gazette’s daily quote a little while back. This post reminded me of it immediately.

  9. Nilofer Merchant Avatar

    You know how people get strong? By getting back up … by pushing against the tough thing. Just like physical work outs, our success muscles need to be moved in small and big ways to get shaped and handle more challenge and recover and so on. The mark of someone i want to work with isn’t how high they’ve gone but how many times they’ve gotten back up because they know how to get stronger, better over time.

  10. Christa Avampato Avatar

    Hi Julien,
    I got to this blog post today via a tweet from Tim O’Reilly. What a power post and incredible sentiment. Thank you – I needed to hear this today. Signed up for your newsletter and subscribed to this blog. Look forward to reading more!

  11. Mike Avatar

    “Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways – beer in one hand – chocolate in the other – body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming “WOO HOO, What a Ride!”

    1. Laura Grolla Avatar
      Laura Grolla

      I love this quote from Mike to your “Scars” post…the one about sliding sideways into our final parking place with a beer and chocolate and a banged up vehicle.

      I think our society urges us to play it safe, to believe in keeping all our toys, to think that love can be “fixed” and owned and made safe by doing things right.

      All the things that mattered to me were big and messy, socially unacceptable, and–yes–mistakes: getting knocked up in art school, marrying too many times, loving step-kids, taking home wounded animals and people, pursuing a life as a writer and artist instead of having a career. I have scars on my heart, scars on my psyche and scars on my body.

      WOO HOO!!!!

  12. Michelle Avatar

    Wow, great thought for the day. I also came to this via O’Reilly. Your sentiments are exactly what I’ve been feeling as I look to a milestone birthday in a few weeks. thanks!

  13. kat Avatar

    i’m going to go fuck something up today
    on purpose
    because i don’t know if it will help
    so let me find out

    i have old scars
    but really
    nothing new of late
    that makes me more afraid of them
    so i have been avoiding it
    making myself go in a direction i’m looking at but not moving towards
    i’ve been staying safe
    i should be smashing into something

    here we go

  14. Catherine Cook Avatar
    Catherine Cook

    I LOVE this concept.
    Great attitude.
    I’m eager to read more.

  15. Sel Gossett Avatar
    Sel Gossett

    I had a few things removed off my back, my knee and my upper arm by a doc who usually does cosmetic surgery. He just put some butterfly bandages on them. I asked how I should care for them. He started by saying “If you are worried about scars…” and I interrupted him. “No! I could care less; I’m a 54 year old man. I want to know if I should put antibiotic on them, etc.”
    “No,” he replied, “Just let them be and watch for any signs of infection.”
    “great!” I replied, “If anybody asks about them I can just make shit up about how I got them!”
    His nurse laughed but he seemed less than pleased.
    I think she got it.
    His usual surface practice for skin perfection blinded him to any depth regarding what had just happened.
    I have better scars but they aren’t visible.

  16. Ross Hudgens Avatar

    Like this a lot. Instead of being pissed about my scars/callusses, posts like these will help me justify them as counterpoints of a life that was well-lived.

    1. Julien Avatar

      @Ross — You’re damn right.

  17. Dave Sohnchen Avatar

    Really like this. I’ve been resonating with a lot of your posts lately because I’m in a frustrating space. I think too often when we hit low points we look for (and long for) the easy way out; the path of least resistance. This is a good reminder that said path is probably not the best one. I ponder/wrote about some of these thoughts myself last night.

    This post is reassurance that I’m on the right track.

  18. John Haydon Avatar

    Ross suggests a very interesting point: It’s not just having scars – it’s our perception of those scars.

    While it’s true that scars can tell us “You can endure”, they can also tell us “I’m damaged because of so and so…”

    The observer affects the outcome.

  19. Jennifer Avatar

    This is probably one of the best articles I have read in a long time. I was directed to this by reading today’s in over your head email. I can’t tell you how meaningful this is in my life right now. Where success was second nature and never a bump in the road and all of a sudden a HUGE mountain seemed to fall on top of me… million to zilch … I sometimes wonder how I get through the next day with the mountains that are still on top of me, and the things that will still scar me in the very near or not so near future. Such a long story and so many scars in such a short period of time .. and just 30… but I continue to learn. Today even I said “for as bad as my whole experience was.. I would not have the confidence to…. without ‘being there’ and ‘doing that’…

    I could write for hours on what this subject means and how its just not exactly easy to see that its ok.. that you are better for it… and that the scars will help develop your strength. If you do not have the clarity to see that, to understand it and to utilize it, it will just be a big pile of ugliness that you will never get passed.

    PS: You are RIGHT – you have to make your own mistakes and it is entirely up to YOU to learn from them. If you don’t, you will continue to make them.

  20. Laura Avatar

    Good post. I was talking to a friend on the phone about a prominent facial scar that was the result of my last relationship. It’s been almost a year since since I acquired it and I look at it every day in the mirror and am reminded of the love I once had the mistakes I made. He reminded me that scars tell us a story about what we have been through, and what we have overcome. It’s all about how we perceive them that makes them either a constant reminder of our mistakes or a reminder of of how we should not make those same mistakes again. I like the last paragraph of this post.

    “Look– you’re going to get hurt. And sometimes, you’ll see it coming. But you should do it anyway. In fact, you need to. You need scars. You need stories.”

    I feel that this rings so true with me. As I stare in the mirror at this jagged red scar, I know that I saw it coming, and I continued in the relationship anyway. If I had the opportunity to do it all over again. I would change nothing. Somehow, this experience will help me overcome something else in life. This scar will not let me forget the lesson I learned.

  21. Howard Stein Avatar

    I’m scratched up. Blind before I could draw. Lost a younger brother when I was eighteen. Lost my father to grief four years later. More recently, am about to make fourth house move in eighteen months. This house I am in was the kindness of a 35 year friendship with a college buddy who turned venomous as soon as we moved in. Demanding rent demanding housework and ensuring the friendship broke to pieces, yes, scars run right through me and in front of me this week this very week I am facing being out on the street with my wife and our dogs, not knowing if we will pass the tests of a new apartment management as winter begins. What is interesting is family and friends have taken to the hills, so the lesson for some is that you do it alone, face the fear down and move your feet, and put on some great music and dance. The hell with it. Let others think their lives will matter for an eternity. I am much more risk friendly. I hope everyone is lucky and fit. That’s what I wish you all.

  22. seanrox Avatar

    This transition important. Thanks for sharing, Julien.

  23. Zee Avatar

    Thank you for this wonderful eye opener post mr. Julien. I’m turning 24 next month and i barely have a scar in my hand. i don’t even have a scar at all. most of the time i’m just to afraid to do something. and my head is filled with “what ifs”.
    It’s gonna be a bumpy ride but like you said.. you should do it anyway. In fact, you need to. You need scars. You need stories.

    You need to have lived.

    Sincerely your new reader from the other part of the world,

  24. Dan Avatar

    You = Smart.

    I really like this. It truly is as simple as wanting to stay clean vs. being willing to get dirty. That is as straightforward a mantra as one could have.

    Get dirty.

  25. Alyssa Avatar

    This piece of writing just brought a lot of light to a current issue I am dealing with. I want to thank you for sharing this, although it may not be current, this will always be an issue worth writing about. My disabilities are causing me not to “get dirty” temporarily but the internal issues for staying put- are driving me crazy. Sometimes you need to rest from incidents in order to create new scars for the future..

  26. Doug Taylor Avatar
    Doug Taylor

    “This is the true joy in life! Being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.Being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap. Being a force of Nature,instead of a feverish,selfish,little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

    — George Bernard Shaw

  27. Christine Avatar

    Love this post! I’m in the middle of my first season of roller derby and everytime I see a bruise or scratches on me it reminds me of the hard work I’m putting into it, the challenges, rewards, and the fun! Thanks for writing, I’m always reading.

  28. Gary Avatar

    I’m an Aircraft Engineer. The other day at work I was working on the undercarriage of an aircraft all morning. It’s not glamorous as I emerged dripping in sweat and covered from fingertips to elbows in grease and the general filth that inhabits an undercarriage bay. My friend asked me while I was smiling and I told him that we have the best job in the world and if we didn’t get covered in sweat and grime now and then, then whats the point? I live my life with this attitude too and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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