8 battles you can never win
(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Most of us waste all sorts of time and energy fighting battles we really can't win. Why we do that, I have no idea. I suspect there are lots of reasons that have one thing in common: They're never good enough to justify the cost or the futility of it all.
For some of us, fighting losing battles is a form of distraction or compulsion, like OCD or an irrational need to check your email and Twitter account every 30 seconds. Others simply don't know any better. I guess the rest of us just occasionally get caught up in that sort of thing.
Yesterday, the highway I live near, the only way to get to the heart of Silicon Valley from my house, was a parking lot. Traffic was backed up for more than 10 miles. Why? Caltrans (the California transit agency) had a lane closed to repair fences that keep animals and people off the road.
I probably looked like a lunatic or an actor in a silent movie, ranting to an empty car about California ruining one of my favorite things about summer -- less traffic. And that brings us to the first battle you're better off not fighting because you simply can't win:
City Hall. Of course, "you can't fight city hall" is a metaphor alluding to the futility of fighting against existing local, state, or federal regulations or against the political establishment. You're far better off putting your energy into working with the system. I once built a house. We breezed through the construction permit process because our architect knew how to work with the notoriously difficult planning officials in a way that kept them involved and happy. Obviously, you can vote the bums out of office, but that's also working within the system.
Your customers. Having run worldwide sales and marketing organizations and negotiated deals with hundreds of companies, big and small, I can tell you with great certainty that there is absolutely no benefit to fighting with your customers. None. If there's an issue, that's nothing but an opportunity for you to take care of it, make the customer happy, and get some return business. Of course, you can always walk away from a bad customer, but fighting is dumb because it can harm your reputation.
Your boss. Constructive debate is essential to business success, but there comes a time when you realize you're not going to win. That's when you should lay down your arms, agree to disagree, and do your job as the powers-that-be want it done. Whether the disagreement is over a product feature, your work performance, a customer problem, or whatever, if you go head-to-head with your boss, no matter how it turns out you'll almost certainly lose in the long run.
Yourself. The other day, 21 people suffered burns and required medical treatment from walking across hot coals at an event hosted by self-help guru Tony Robbins. Apparently, 6,000 people were there to gain some sort of "personal power." Let me give all of you a tip that won't hurt a bit or cost a penny. If, for whatever reason, you're not happy with your life or you have "issues" you need to deal with, seek professional help. That's how you'll learn to look inside and face whatever is bugging you. If you hurt your knee, you don't go to some crazy event or buy a self-help book, do you? You see a doctor. Same thing.
Entropy. Stuff happens and things go wrong. You can't control other people, Mother Nature, your pets, the universe, or very much at all, come to think of it. That's because of the second law of thermodynamics: The physical world always tends toward increasing entropy or chaos. Embrace change. Don't fight it. Learn to let go, if for no other reason than because you simply can't win.
Attention. Whatever attention you seek, you may capture some eyeballs or clicks and grow your network to an impressive size, but the online world is ever-changing, so the attention you get is likely to be fleeting. Andy Warhol was amazingly prophetic when he said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." That was in 1968. No kidding.
Fanatics and lunatics. By definition, zealots defy logic and reason. The same goes for crazy people. If you insist on beating your head against a wall by incessantly fighting with those types of people, guess what that makes you?
Your spouse. Sure, everyone has strange habits and pet peeves that bug us about our mates. And there are real issues that come up from time to time, as well. Your best bet is to deal with them openly and in real time. No, I'm not a relationship expert -- far from it. But I have been married for 22 years, and I know that just as with your boss, if you go head-to-head with your spouse you'll lose no matter how it turns out. I learned that the hard way, and that's all I'm going to say about that.
Image courtesy of Flickr user banspy
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