I asked a friend once why he stayed in a relationship that had finally become emotionally abusive. He said, “I just don’t want to admit that all these people were right, who said the relationship would never work.”
Well, maybe all those people had a point. But leaving that aside, trying to win an argument with people is a terrible reason to stay in a relationship. But we’ve all done something like this, haven’t we? Maybe not in relationships. But nearly all of us have made or perpetuated some ridiculous mistake because we were trying to win an argument in our heads with Mom, our friends, the internet, or some random social group that probably doesn’t even remember the discussion.
(Side note: this illustrates one of the reasons you shouldn’t argue with people for their “own good”, especially about relationships. People won’t “see reason”; they will just try to win, and actually become more likely to stay in the relationship the better your arguments are. No one likes to lose.)
The same thing can happen in your career and in your job. You might hate your job, despise the company you work for, be indifferent to the product, and barely relate to your co-workers. But you may still care about winning the corporate competition for the top job. You may still want to “show them” what you are really capable of, “show them” that they made a mistake when they didn’t promote you, “show them” that they should have listened to your ideas. You may want to “teach someone a lesson.”
So maybe you stick around, but the job is sucking your soul. You are missing opportunities in other places. You aren’t as effective as you could be because you are angry or just depressed all the time. Focusing on winning, in today’s complex society, is an almost sure-fire way to lose.
I have seen people stay in whole careers and lifestyles for far too long because they desperately want to win. Hell, that was me when I was trying to be a musician even after I clearly saw that the entertainment industry was a potentially fatal place for a mentally ill person like me. I had just invested so much time and energy already, and didn’t want to feel like a loser. So instead of walking away, I just pushed even harder. And things got worse.
I wrote this partly because a friend of mine posted on social media that they were depressed, and they couldn’t understand why. They had all these great projects happening. They were working with such fantastic people. Their art was getting recognized. In other words, they were winning.
But the problem with the emotional high that comes from winning is that it cannot last. True, long-term life satisfaction comes only from living according to your own deep values, from doing things that other people care about, and from real human connection.
But we all have these outdated, 10,000 year-old brains that are partially stuck in a time long, long ago when winning an argument cemented your status in the clan, and might determine your very survival.
Now winning an argument just gets you one more enemy in this complex world of social media, long memories and fragile egos. But we haven’t adjusted.
So if you find yourself depressed and you can’t understand why, here is one set of questions to ask yourself about your relationships, job, career and lifestyle. Are you just trying to win? And when you finally do win, what will you have won?