Spend an afternoon in a casino and you’ll witness one of the clearest and most literal examples of the sunken cost fallacy. Sure, a handful of lucky people go home with a pocketful of winnings, but casinos make their money on poor shmucks who dutifully fork over their paychecks 25 cents at a time. The saddest of these folks remain loyal to a particular slot machine, believing that they’ve “invested” too much to simply walk away.
The same thing can happen with your career. Of course, when you invest time and money in pursuing a particular degree, it’s smart to make use of your training. And advancing within a designated field will open up new opportunities and increase your earning power. But the thing about careers is that you don’t know if one’s right for you until you’re actually in it. Sometimes the reality of a particular job is nothing like what we expected. Other times, we grow, change and develop new interests.
Some people in this situation will “rip off the Band-Aid” and make a change fairly quickly. Yet, some have a harder time recognizing or accepting their predicament. They’ll ignore their true feelings and find dozens of reasons to stay the course: they already spent time in school, their specialized degree was expensive, they’ve already put in a couple years at a company, it’s too late to start over… Essentially, they’ve made an investment and want to see returns.
But here’s why the sunken cost fallacy is, indeed, a fallacy:
A career that makes you miserable is a lot like that losing slot machine, except it collects your time and happiness instead of quarters.
That being said, even the most satisfied employee is bound to experience doubt and a few bad days. It’s normal to feel annoyed, angry, overwhelmed and discouraged from time to time. It’s also possible that you’re in the right job, but at the wrong company. But, if any of the following points ring true, it may be time to make some bigger changes.
Your dread is broad and all-consuming
While your friends get a little bummed on Sunday night, you dread going to work every morning. Your boss is reasonable and your coworkers seem like nice people – it’s the actual work that’s slowly draining you of any happiness and motivation. And your general misery is beginning to affect other parts of your life.
You’ve got a “wandering eye” for other sections of the job board
Maybe you’ve decided it’s time to explore other opportunities. But, every time you get online you find yourself clicking through jobs that are completely outside of your field. Those jobs descriptions excite you, while the idea of applying for something in your current field is just depressing.
Promotions don’t interest you
Your current job offers opportunities for advancement, a clear path for growth, promotions from within and performance bonuses. Theoretically, you know these are really good things. You should be more excited. But, ultimately, they all mean spending more time doing what you’re currently doing, and no amount of money can make that reality more palatable.
Your gut clued you in a while ago
The sad truth is that our intuition is usually right, yet we’ve become experts at ignoring its messages. Was there a point when you grew out of your childhood dream but were too afraid to let go of it? Are you secretly trying to please your parents instead of yourself? Did you suspect early on, maybe even when you were still in school, that you’d be happier pursuing another career? We’re not always ready to hear what it has to say, but that little voice inside of us is usually spot on.
If you’re starting to realize that you’re stuck in sunken cost fallacy, don’t panic; it’s actually a good thing. Now that you’re aware of how you truly feel, you can begin to make changes in your life that will bring you closer to a career that’s both successful and personally fulfilling.
Jenessa Connor is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and young adult author. If you don’t find her in front of her computer, check the local movie theaters and restaurants, Prospect Park or the gym at CrossFit 718.