Our culture puts value on “Win-Win” solutions.  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours is an essential building block towards a successful community, an logical extension of the concept of what economists call the invisible hand of self interest. The underpinning of this approach to life is that I will ultimately have my wants, or at least my needs, met by doing something for you because I will prompt you to do something nice for me. Not exactly an evil idea, in fact it is a brilliant evolution from the law of the jungle, but one that does lead to keeping score, to valuing relationships based on their profitability, and ultimately, one that views life as a series of transactions.

Life, it turns out, is so much more than a series of transactions. We are not ruthless Washington D.C. lobbyists or Hollywood deal makers, we are human beings, members of communities, families, and so much more than points on a data chart.

Life is not an exercise in cost accounting.

To be sure, we are not capable of keeping accurate score; we are self centered and focused on our benefits without the ability to see the bigger picture or tell the future. C.S. Lewis wrote that if you think that you are not self centered, you probably are, look at a series of family photos and see if your eye first goes to your own picture and judges the snapshot by how good you look. Our lens is focused on our own side of the balance sheet, we want direct payback for everything we do. Life isn’t always so direct, we don’t know everything about cause and effect. Paying it forward is often a better strategy than getting paid now, especially in our relationships.

There is a school of thought that tells you to surround yourself with “positive” people and to end any relationships that are “holding you back.” In other words, get rid of the transactions not showing a profit. Even if these people are your parents or siblings, transactional thinking tells us to eliminate these people and their negativity from our lives. Transactional thinking also tells us that we get what we deserve, what we ask for, and if we have bad luck in our life it is because we attract it. We must look out for number one!

That’s a sure way to end up alone and empty. Transactions are good as far as they go, but you can’t let them define your life. I have found myself trying to make every relationship transactional and I can tell you, it is a terrible way to live. Keeping score is fine, but sometimes we just don’t measure the right things. We might be measuring benefits to self when we should be measuring our effectiveness to others. We might be measuring how someone makes us feel instead of how much they love us. Getting paid back is elusive.

I spent last week with a group of business men who are very proud of their business technique that builds relationships with their clients instead of transactions.  In truth, what I discovered after months of working with them is that they are actually using relationship terms to define bigger transactions. They talk about dates with clients, first dates, booty calls, long term relationships and getting married. They judge all of these relationships, as you would any business relationship, by the ultimate benefit that they receive from the client. Business works like that, I get it. You can’t waste your precious time with clients who don’t help you get paid (or can you?). These guys advise taking it to the extreme, urging you to get rid of your “B” and “C” clients so you can really focus on your “A” clients, and of course, get even more revenue from those “relationships.” They want to focus more on the profitable, less on the marginal business relationships, a fairly sound business strategy if you like to view people as sources of revenue but a terrible life strategy.

After three transcontinental visits to these “trainers” I have finally decided that I am not one of them. I am not trying to date, screw, or make love to my clients. Business relationships may or may not turn into friendships although they can be deep and rewarding. I don’t think business relationships are analogous to dating scenarios. I am decades removed from dating but I can promise you that my relationship with my wife is sacred and not something that should be measured on a transactional basis. Keeping score is a very bad idea in a marriage. The people who matter to us: our families, our partners, our communities, will disappoint us if we expect a perfectly balanced ledger. We usually can’t measure the things that make us the most grateful.

Relationships should involve sacrifice, pain, sorrow, disappointment, and fear. Buying into relationships means that you are human, willing to live the human experience. The joy of life comes from these relationships, from the selfless love you are willing to put into them. Love is a feeling, by one definition; and it is also a verb and those who actively love don’t find the need to constantly keep score. Sure we are allowed to make choices about who influences us and who we spend a lot of time with, but that is not the same as judging others by what they can do for us.

We are better measured by what we do for others.

The payback comes when you close your eyes at night and review your day. Did I love? Did I do everything I could to help others, was I supportive, honest, and loving to those around me, in business and otherwise? In business, revenue has this funny coincidence of catching up to you if you take care of people. In relationships, love has this funny coincidence of being returned to you if you focus on the giving. Returned love is priceless and immeasurable. It is the unexpected kiss, the little wink, the sincere “Thank you” from those you actively love. And; sometimes it is not returned at all, but that doesn’t make our efforts less valuable, after all it is in the giving that we receive.

And if you want to keep track of anything, keep track of how hard and unselfishly you give. Instead of Win-Win, practice “Win” as in, “How can I help you win?”  In my case, I have found that I can come a lot closer to joy and living a full life when I am actively loving with all of my might.


Rick DiBiasio

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