Speak up, kid, because no one else will

I was a timid kid, growing up. I’d say it was because my mother was a narcissist and my father was an enabler, but they were timid people too. They were passive-aggressive people, they would never speak in defense of themselves or their children. Sometimes there would be an issue that involved me that didn’t involve any student discipline, but I did hear the abuse when my parents were talked to, including the time there was litigation at my day school, involving two students that truly didn’t personally involve me.

So growing up, I was shy, timid, and unwilling to make waves. I think that way of acting, did little to help me as I navigated the halls of a city public high school. Same when I didn’t, as an adult working. My role as a student journalist was a little different because it allowed me to write and voice my concerns, writing is way easier than speaking.

I think the biggest example I remember is when I was at East Midwood Jewish Center for my high school years when I attended services for teenagers called Young People’s Synagogue. The guy running the service was a guy by the name of Adam, who was probably out of college but looked way young for his age. I was involved and attended every week for 8th grade. I was under the tutelage of a graduating high school senior named Michael, who would give the drash or a sermon on the Torah reading of the week. When Michael graduated, the gig was mine, at least I thought. Adam had other ideas. He made me a co-officer for the drash, with this girl named Sheryl for the ninth grade. She gave very few sermons and she just never showed up. So shockingly, for the 10th grade, Adam made the same selections. We would be co-officers, even if I did all the work. Rather than speak up for myself, I sat and took it. When installed by Rabbi Kass, I was visibly huffing and puffing in anger. That’s passive-aggressive behavior and did zero for my cause. The following year, in 11th grade, I was the only 11th grader attending classes and there was no 12th grader attending. So when it came time for appointing officers in 11th grade, Adam made the executive decision to appoint no one as President. Even a buddy of mine who attended service once in a while, Jacob, spoke up in my defense and I tried to quiet him. Eventually, when I was in the 12th grade, I was made a co-President with two 11th graders. I don’t know if Adam disliked me for some reason, but I faulted myself over the last 33-plus years for not speaking in my defense.

As I got older, perhaps I got a little wiser. I think starting my own law firm helped, I no longer had to play nicely with law firm partners who knew zero about marketing and getting clients. There was no more threat of getting fired. Speaking up and out, got me some clients and it’s probably cost me too.

I realized that over time, nobody will stick up for you and you have to do it for yourself. Also, if you want something, ask for it, and if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. With my own practice, I was doing fiduciary work, including being the main fiduciary on a multiple-employer plan. In making that plan, I made a bad deal for myself. Instead of getting an asset-based or per-head charge, I was compensated per adopting employer. That didn’t work out in my best interest, so I actually asked to renegotiate, and getting that asset-based fee got me out of a 10 yearlong financial hole and debt. When the advisor tried to bump me as a plan fiduciary and get me replaced by the third-party administrator, I wasn’t going to be that little timid teenager anymore. I the advisor couldn’t fire me and I could fire him. Needless, to say, I was the adult in the room and preserved my role without having to fully fire the advisor and resort to litigation. My father

was a terrible businessman and would let anyone and everyone take advantage of him because he never wanted to rock the boat. That isn’t me, and not wanting to become him, strengthened my resolve.

We all make mistakes, but it’s important to learn from them and not make the same exact mistakes.

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