Lately there’s been an onslaught of pick your battles moments, sending me into a spiral of going off half-cocked… and coming out looking (and feeling) like a dick.
It all started about a month ago when my A/C crapped out during a heat wave. At the time, I had just five days to get it working again before I was to have a house full of people for break fast.
No problem, I thought. This is what my American Home Shield policy that we’ve been paying into for nine years is all about. They’ll be fair, wonderful, and at my service. Five days is plenty of time to get the air conditioning back, even as more heat waves are predicted.
A month later, dozens of phone calls, two diagnostic visits, $150 in worthless service calls fees, and not one but two rejection letters from American Home Shield, and this week we finally got our cooling (and heating) system fixed.
Well, not fixed, replaced. By another company, not covered by any insurance, and it was a painful loss of cash, not to mention hours of my life, lemme tell ya.
But going through the process, I learned a valuable lesson about picking, never mind winning, battles. And it actually started by losing my sh*t quite a few times, actually.
In that first week, my calls to the insurance company and to the service guys got ugly. My anger was spilling all over the place at the injustice of them not snapping to fixing my problem before the aforementioned house full of people arrived. Most of my conversations included a line like this: “I don’t mean to yell at you, but…” and ended up with me wishing there were still phone receivers to slam down. (You can, however, get some satisfaction, jamming your middle finger on the “End” button a few dozen times after a particularly annoying conversation.)
In my fury, a little voice kept nagging at me. It was actually a deep man’s voice, from the first service tech that came to my house and said, “Yup, your compressor’s dead. But it’s a mess up there. Missing parts, no Freon, leakage. You really didn’t maintain the unit.”
While I was in a frenzy, protecting my right to have the insurance people buy us a new system, I couldn’t help but think about how often I’d had that damn unit serviced. Truthfully…. twice in nine years. And we live in a place where the A/C runs eight months of the year, and heat kicks in two to three months annually. No rest for the weary, and if I had to be honest, no tune-ups, either.
At some point, I realized that this would be a battle I would not win.
That point was probably the minute the air went out, and I made that first phone call.
Three weeks into the process, a second tech came out, and this guy brought a camera. He took pictures of the dilapidated system, and showed me what a wreck it was. And while I know nothing of heating/cooling units, I could easily see that sucker was horribly neglected. By my husband and me. We had not been good parents to the coolest member of our household.
When I told people that our insurance company had rejected our claim, twice, I got a lot of validation — “They’re always looking for a loophole.” “That maintenance clause is a joke — it’s their way of not paying.”
And while all that support felt good in a way, inside I knew that this battle was one that I couldn’t honestly fight. The real validation came when I found out the system was 30 years old, and that it was a complete horror show to the environment. The last tech who came out — the guy who installed our new cooling/heating system — showed us what’s been blowing into our house because we’ve neglected to use — not change mind you, just full-on use — air filters.
At this point, I felt like committing hari-kari, since the struggle I was having over the unit should’ve been with myself.
There are some people that fight every thing that comes their way. For them, the world is their battlefield, and they are justified in fighting everything to the death.
That kind of action feels exhausting, both morally and physically, to me.
Once upon a time I was involved in a lawsuit that was fully unjust. It was a complete trap, with no easy or good way out. In that case, I was fully prepared to take the battle on, kick it up to full-out war, and destroy anyone or anything my path.
Our lawyer, a BBF, counseled me — well, more like tamed the savage beast — by explaining that there are opportunity costs, like my sanity and quality of life over the months it would take to wage this war that must be considered when picking battles. That and the fact that even when you are 100% right, the outcome is not something you can ever control.
The day my new A/C unit was installed, I happened to be listening to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where he was interviewing Freaks and Geeks/Silicon Valley actor Martin Starr. Not only is Starr a hilarious, super-mellow, deadpan actor, but he’s also a Buddhist.
It was like a gift from the Universe to listen to Starr calmly explaining about his Buddhist practice, and affirming that the struggle to change others is futile — you can only change yourself. Also, that the goal of everything is world peace, period.
So if you see me waving a white flag of surrender while stroking a Buddha’s belly, just know that I’m learning how to pick my battles, and the first step is not about looking for loopholes, but being honest about full-on craters that I’ve dug myself. Because losing your sh*t is not a necessary step toward winning a war, but it’s often a sure sign that the battle being picked wasn’t winnable in the first place.