I begin today’s post with a brief tale involving a friend of mine. His situation may sound pretty familiar to you.
He decided to read a book. A very, very popular one. He eagerly began the first page, then got a bit further in and realized he wasn’t quiiiiiite loving it. By page 30 or so he realized that he…well, he hated it.
I mean he hated it. Didn’t like the main character. Couldn’t stand being stuck in the first-person narrator’s head. Couldn’t wait for it to be over.
So what did he do? He continued reading it all the way to the end. Hated each and every word.
When I asked him why the heck he did that, he said, “well, once I start reading a book I have to finish it, even if I’m not getting anything out of it. It’s just how I am.”
Chances are you’ve been there in some way.
Whether it’s a book or something else, you slog through something that does absolutely nothing for you, pushing through to the end simply because you started it. Giving yourself one more laborious task in a world of laborious tasks.
If so, you fell for the myth of sunk costs.
Chances are you know what a sunk cost is…a cost of time/energy/money that has been incurred and cannot be recovered.
Sunk costs are, by definition, in the past…yet somehow, they have a tendency to bind us to future actions that may or may not work for us.
It happens in all kinds of ways:
- We spend a decade in a career that we really don’t like (anymore)…but feel like we’ve spent all kinds of time getting to our current position and so we continue on. And we’re unhappy.
- We realize that a friend we’ve known since college is actually sucking the life out of us on a regular basis…but feel like we’ve spent too much effort to end it now. So the life-sucking continues.
- We splurge on an expensive bottle of wine that winds up tasting like soggy peat moss…but feel like we’ve spent all that money on it and so we must finish it. It doesn’t go well.
When your sunk costs are the sole reason for continuing something, it’s time to stop sinking yourself.
Sure, there are plenty of times when finishing something makes sense. Quickbooks classes that bore you will help you do your own accounting. Data-crunching projects that overwhelm you will help your team at work. Travel to foreign lands that excite you…well, they excite you. Reason enough!
When you continue something simply because you incurred some kind of cost in the past… when there’s no joy or satisfaction or greater benefit involved…when it’s potentially harmful…it’s time to stop sinking yourself.
It’s time to let sunk costs be in the past (which cannot be changed)…to recognize that they don’t matter nearly as much as your well-being and life satisfaction in the future (which is still to be determined…by you). To understand that letting them go makes way for things that will be so much better for you.
But Deirdre…you may be thinking…I believe it’s important to see things through, especially if I invest my time and money in it!
To which I ask…why? Just to see it through? Even if it doesn’t work for you? Because that’s how you’ve done things in the past?
I’ve got news for you. The past is the past. Gone. It’s time to move on…to embrace what works for you now and in the future. After all, that’s all of you’ve got, right?
Find yourself resisting? There may be another reason.
Sunk costs can feel like the perfect justification (a.k.a. excuse) for staying stuck. After all, change is scary…and if you tell yourself that you’ve invested too much to back out now, you’ve given yourself a perfectly good reason to avoid the change altogether.
Except sunk costs are not a perfectly good reason for sticking with things that don’t work for you. There must be more reasons.
If not, you must let those sunk costs go. Then focus your precious time, energy and money on things that work for you…that excite you…that make you tick…
…that you enjoy for heaven’s sake!
Please, stop sinking.
And see how much you can fly.