The Generosity of Scars

Our past wounds are a story that can help others heal
January 23, 2020 Updated: January 23, 2020

My transition to civilian life six years ago was a nightmare. The isolation got so dark for me that one afternoon, I went into my bedroom closet not intending to come out of it alive.

How did I get here? Two years earlier, I was at the top of my game as a Special Forces Green Beret, running strategic missions around the world. And then, after retirement, I didn’t have enough purpose to leave my own house. Worse, my mood swings were so bad that my wife and boys got up and left any room I entered.

Heart pounding in the darkness, sweat dripping off the tip of my nose … I heard it. My son’s voice in the hallway outside the door. Ashamed, I shuffled out of that dark closet unwilling to live, and unable to die.

Six months later, I had coffee with an old friend named James, whom I served in Afghanistan with and was in that same dark place that I was trying to escape. Reluctantly, I shared my closet story with him. I watched the color return to his face and his distant stare come back into focus. I had reached him. He knew in that moment that he wasn’t alone. And for just a moment, neither was I.

It was then that I realized my most embarrassing scar from transition was becoming my greatest contribution in this new world.

The dictionary defines a scar as “a mark left on the skin or within body tissue where a wound, burn, or sore has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissue has developed.”

I define a scar as an emotionally-charged mark, buried in the soul, earned through the struggle and trauma of living one’s life fully, that has the potential to form fibrous connective tissue with the outside world to heal oneself and others.

By my definition, there is generosity in our scars, but to be generous with your scars, you have to own your story.

A big part of my story is survivor’s guilt. I’m still here, while so many of my friends from the war are not. Some died doing what I asked them to do. When I finally owned this story, healing, far beyond my own, started to happen.

According to narrative expert Dr. Kendall Haven, humans are wired to listen autobiographically to story. What I mean by this is when we share the stories of our scars, we create a narrative bubble that others can step into and process their own emotional issues.

What a gift we can give as leaders in these uncertain times if we can overcome the mindset that scars are uncomfortable.

Within the generosity of scars, there are two powerful stories that are incredibly uncomfortable. A good story is a story about you that you don’t want to tell others. A great story, well, that’s one about you that you don’t want to tell yourself.

But, what about you? How can you lead with your scars? How do you overcome the mindset that prevents you from removing the armor we are all trained to keep over our feelings?

For me, it started with a story to a struggling Army buddy about my own bout with suicide. For you, it might be sitting down with your employee after she makes a mistake, and instead of chewing her out, sharing a scar from when you made a bigger mistake … and what you learned from it. It could even be a conversation with your teenager about your battle with addiction.

Start small. A little scar, maybe even a blemish that you have from your past. Write it down, talk it out, develop it. Whatever it is, take those first steps to remove the armor and tap into it. Own it. Share it as a way to earn the right to lead us even when we don’t want to follow.

Your scars are the rocket fuel for how you lead people when storm clouds gather. People are hungry for it.

Scars make you relatable. Scars have a story. Scars are uncomfortable. But, there is generosity in your scars … if you are willing to approach them with a different mindset.

It’s time that you are. Because the world needs what you’ve earned.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit