Two lessons that I’ve kept and used.
When I was 21, fresh out of university, I accepted an internship in Paris. I relocated from Portugal to work at a very small company as a journalist, where only another handful of people worked: my boss, his wife, and three other journalists. One of them was André.
André had moved from Brazil to Europe looking for new experiences in life. His first stop was Portugal but, having the opportunity to move to The City of Lights, he spent the last €100 he owned on a bus ticket from Lisbon to Paris. He was only a few years older than me, but he had a wisdom I lacked at the time, and he taught me valuable lessons during the few months we worked together.
His advice was especially helpful because our boss was not an easy person. In his early 60s, he was full of energy. He had one new idea every minute. He was inspiring in many ways, and extremely tiring in many others. He knew no boundaries, and he felt he owned us.
But we took his lack of respect because we were young and starting out in the industry. We wanted our chance and, to be fair, that job also granted us many exciting experiences. Being happy there was a matter of balancing out everything, and that was exactly where André’s advice came in handy.
Pick Your Fights
André had been working at the company for a few months already when I joined, so he knew the job better but, more importantly, he knew our boss.
A journalist’s life knows no limits. Our schedules were crazy, and our days were long. We often had to say yes to tasks we didn’t want to do. After finishing at the office at 5 pm, we were too tired to go cover events that lasted until midnight. Or when Friday evening arrived, we wanted to celebrate the weekend instead of preparing to wake up at 6 am on Saturday and drive 300kms to do a report somewhere in France.
But we always said yes.
André taught me this very early on: pick your fights.
He taught me that if I said “yes” to every single thing that didn’t matter that much to me, I would earn my right to say “no” in case something was truly important to me.
So, when my family came from Portugal to visit me halfway through my internship and I wanted to take a few days off, I picked that fight. It was the most important battle for me. The one fight that made it worth it spending all those weekends working and taking all the nonsense from my boss. It was the one battle that outweighed all the others, but I was confident I would win it — I deserved to win.
I picked my fight, I had my days off, I was happy. It was all worth it.
Most Fights Arise From Non-Met Expectations
André didn’t give me this piece of advice because of work. We became friends and had some conversations about romantic relationships as well. But his words are valid for all fields of life.
Prior to moving to Paris, I had been in a relationship where we fought constantly. While discussing this with André, he told me something I’ve kept forever: most arguments come from expectations that are not met.
It is so true.
Most of us, most of the time, fight because we would like some situation or some person to be different from how they are. We expected something, but reality turns out differently.
But why do we expect something, in the first place? The human mind never ceases working and, if left free to roam, it comes up with all kinds of scenarios to everything going on in our lives.
We expect our girlfriend to give up on her friend’s party to come to our family dinner, we expect our boyfriend to clean up the mess in the kitchen, we expect our parents to come visit us instead of us always visiting them, we expect our friends to be available on our birthday.
We expect all this without making it clear to others. We assume they will see the world from the same point of view and match our expectations.
But when those expectations are not met, we get disappointed. And then, we either pick up a fight with the other person, or we swallow it up until we’re so full that we cannot take it anymore. And then we end up picking a fight too.
But there is a way to prevent this; it is called communication.
If we tell our girlfriend up front that the friend’s dinner is very important and we cannot go to the family dinner, if we ask our boyfriend to clean up the mess in the kitchen, if we invite our parents over, if we tell our friends in advance to save the date for our birthday party, we are in a much better position to avoid most of the fights.
This advice is not a miracle. Communication will not prevent every possible fight ever, but it plays a very important part in preventing many fights that would occur otherwise.
Life is a constant balancing game. As good as it might be, no advice is always applicable in every imaginable situation. It’s up to you to assess whether it fits your life or not.
Fights are inevitable, and not entirely bad. Some of them are even healthy! They show yourself and others what is important for you. They help you build up your identity in relation to others, and that is something you should do for a healthy social life.
What you don’t want to do is fighting too hard or too often. That will only damage your relationships, to others and to your emotional health.
André and I never fought, but we haven’t talked in more than eight years now. As far as I know, he moved back to Brazil, and I ended up moving to other countries too. Life goes on. But some people leave some pearls of wisdom with you before they go.