The Good Fight

Erica Zendell
Apr 20, 2018 · 4 min read

When I’m not writing, it’s safe to assume that fighting is the thing that is on my mind. In this moment, that’s no exception.

Usually, when I think about fighting, it’s about jiu-jitsu — it’s especially top of mind because I just came out of participating in a regional tournament a little over a week ago, but even when there’s no competition on the horizon, I spend a minimum of 90 minutes training jiu-jitsu or judo 4 to 6 days a week.

But this month — and really this morning — a different idea of what it means to me to fight comes to mind. So if you read this blog post two days ago, you’d have read something very different (a recap of my prep for and day at the IBJJF Boston Open) from what you are going to read now.

It was this morning when a friend of mine, one of the kindest, smartest, most supportive people I know, called me. When her name showed up on my screen at 9:41AM, my heart sank. There was no way that a call on a Monday before 10AM from her was going to have good news.

Two Sundays ago, I had been the one calling her in tears, sleepless and crazed and encumbered by the emotional fallout of a recent romantic situation. This morning, I was the one listening to her in tears. It broke my heart for the rest of the day.

I wished I’d had more than the fifteen minutes to speak to her before my daily standup meeting with my engineers, but I took the moment I had and immediately ducked into a conference room to speak to her.

My intuition was right from the moment I saw her name on the screen of my phone — she was in crisis: her relationship at stake, family drama mixed with financial drama and reaching an insurmountable high, approaching zero hour with a serious decision to make.

It’s times like these I don’t have much advice for anyone. The best I can do is listen and be there, because there’s nothing else you can do for someone in that kind of pain except be present for them and make them feel as heard and understood as you possibly can when all they want to do is shut down, disappear, or self-destruct.

For most of the call, I tried not to say much at all, because even the bits of her situation that were somewhat familiar to me were still worlds apart from my experience and unfathomably more complex.

When I did speak, I offered two things.

  1. My time: To clear my schedule for the rest of the day. To come over after training tonight. To do whatever I could to be around and make sure she wasn’t alone if she didn’t want to be.
  2. This one, not-too-boneheaded story, that I hope provided her with some comfort and resolve until I see her next:

Four and a half years ago, I had a food startup. When I started it in August 2013, I was all about it — I ate, slept, and breathed the business that had me up until midnight baking in a commercial kitchen in Cambridge and running around before the crack of dawn on weekends to sell at markets. It was all I talked about, all I worked on, and it became a defining piece of my identity.

People supported me in the venture and were happy I was so passionate about what I was doing. They certainly didn’t mind the frequent taste testing opportunities and free baked goods. But as I tried to get as many people in my life onboard as possible with my dream, I wouldn’t say anyone ever quite “got it.”

I learned many things from that first experience as a startup operator, but the biggest one was, “No one will love your ‘baby’ (in this case, an ‘idea baby’) as much as you will.”

Tying this back to this phone call and back to fighting, by similar logic, I offered her one piece of advice: “No one will fight for your happiness as much as you will. And as much as you need to. The stakes could not be higher.”

I struggle with anxiety and depression. I haven’t written about it in a while, because I have a healthier way of dealing with it now — or as healthy as an obsession can be. That’s why I spend as much time as possible at my gym doing something I love with people I care about. I refuse to compromise on a training night unless I’m really sick or injured or otherwise medically unable to train. Any drinks or dinners with friends on a weeknight or Saturday morning can wait until after I’ve had my madness ground out of me or otherwise sweated it out for a while. Showing up on the mat gives me my best shot in at winning the daily fight for my sanity. While there are plenty of people who support me, there’s no one who is going to fight that fight for me.

Similarly, this friend is the only one who can really fight for herself in this moment.

Luckily, she’s a hell of a fighter. I pray that as she reviews her current situation and I and so many others show up however we can to help her through it, that she’ll find the courage to fight for herself at this crossroads.

I believe to my soul and there’s no doubt in my mind, she’s going to win.

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