The talk escalated quickly in about 30 seconds — he started it — and pretty soon he was standing up (I was already standing up when the conversation began). At age 10, I was used to doing a lot of talking that was just that: Talking. This kid was from a different environment.
He started throwing punches and I could do nothing but cover up like a boxer trying to make it to the bell at the end of a round. I did a damn good job of that: I didn’t have any lumps or scratches and there was no blood. His punches weren’t even hard. But since the punch count was 13-0 in his favor in the 20-second altercation, I’d lost the fight. To everyone in the crowded lunch room, I’d just gotten beaten up. According to the school vice principal, we had both been in a fight (who did I hit?) and I got suspended. I even missed the first neighborhood league baseball game of the season because of this (my dad was the coach).
Two lessons I learned from this: 1) If you’re going to get in trouble, at least get your money’s worth; 2) If you’re going to get in a fight (or if there’s a possibility of it), make sure you can win it. A fight isn’t (necessarily) about throwing hooks and uppercuts. Getting from Point A (where you are) to Point B (where/who/what you want to be) is a fight. Fix the fight in your favor.
We make so many mistakes in life trying to be things that we’re not. And we waste time and energy and money on things we should never have started in the first place.
“Fixing the fight in your favor” means concentrating your efforts on the things you’re good at and dominating them. When you need something done that’s not a strength of yours, find a person who loves doing it (there is always someone) and barter: Trade skills for skills, money for skills, or whatever else that person values (people value many things that don’t cost money; money is not an excuse!). If you don’t know what he values, ASK him. Be honest. He will tell you what would make it worth his time. Self-interest rules human behavior.
You’ve heard the cliché: In water, a fish is an expert; on land, a fish is dinner. It’s the 80/20 rule applied to your whole life.
As much as you can, fight all your fights in your version of water. Stay off of land you can’t fight on. You don’t want the whole lunch room laughing at you.