Pick Your Fights

David Gartland

WHEN I WAS GETTING ready to marry for the second time, I went to Klaus Dorfi, the CEO of the company where I worked, and asked what advice he’d offer to ensure a lasting marriage. His words became another of those phrases that stayed with me for the rest of my life.

“Pick and choose your fights,” he said. “You can argue about everything—or decide what are the most important issues that need to be agreed upon.”

We all know people who disagree often. There are others who enjoy debating an issue. Then there’s the third group, who love to get into physical fights. These folks I avoid like the plague. They’ll erupt and strike without warning.

I’ve never been in a physical fight, so all my bones, joints and teeth are where they’re supposed to be. The bad news is, I lived defensively to avoid confrontations at all costs. This also means that, throughout my life, I’ve internalized my problems and didn’t properly confront the folks who caused me headaches. I could have done a better job.

One benefit of my aversion to fighting: I was never terminated from a job for cause. I never hit, mouthed off to anyone or got into a “pissing match.” As I noted in an earlier article, the primary cause of my job terminations was that my bosses simply didn’t like me.

My brother was the opposite. His first reaction to any problem was to fight, badger, argue and blame others. This led to the dissolution of all the businesses he formed and the partnerships he entered. It also led to tensions with my mother, especially when my brother and his family moved into her house at the end of her life. The only partnership that lasted was his 57-year marriage.

This behavior ultimately led to his death. Two years prior, he apparently got into a verbal and physical confrontation with a neighbor, who ended up pushing him. That caused my brother to lose his balance, fall back and hit his head. The head injury resulted in him losing his verbal abilities and led to infections, and ultimately to his death.

We all have the right to stand up for what we believe. We all have our individual needs and wants, which may or may not be given to us without some intervention on our part. What’s important is the approach you use to get what you want.

Successful people know how to negotiate for what they need or want, and can do so without raising their fists. You can “win the battle but lose the war” by focusing on minor issues at the cost of the bigger win. Sometimes, you have to accept a loss if the ultimate goal will eventually be achieved.

Whenever I started a new job after a period of unemployment, I always reviewed the benefits package and made sure I got what I needed. My three priorities were salary, 401(k) and medical insurance. As long as all three were part of my package, I was satisfied. I, of course, took advantage of the other benefits and learned how to maximize things such as flexible spending accounts, automatic savings plans for U.S. savings bonds, and pre-tax transit benefits. For me, vacation was the least important benefit.

When applying for a job or once you’re employed, a satisfactory benefits package and a salary increase are worth fighting for, as long as the negotiations don’t backfire and harm your employment status. You shouldn’t have to settle for something less than what other employees receive. That’s a fight worth fighting. But don’t fight—and, for goodness sake, don’t fight aggressively—for something you’re unlikely to get.

David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. Check out Dave’s earlier articles.

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