‘Well, that’s a bit strong!’ you may be thinking. Perhaps it is but I’ve been thinking a lot about why people quit – and whether they should do so – after the UK General Elections last week saw three political party leaders resign within one hour.
Have you heard of the sunk cost fallacy? Even if you never heard of it, you’ve probably experienced it.
Have you ever been to the cinema and sat through the first hour of the film, only to be really disappointed and bored by it? Probably. What did you do? Did you decide that you might as well sit it out as you’ve already paid for the tickets? Afterwards did you wonder why you’d bothered and that was three hours of your life you’d never get back?
Maybe you’ve booked an advance train ticket to travel to London really early one morning but then your friend mentions he’s driving up there later that day: that could still fit in with your plans perfectly plus you’d get to catch up with him. You’ve already paid for the ticket though and you can’t get your money back so instead of travelling in comfort with your friend after a leisurely start to the day, you’re standing on a wet and windy railway platform at 0547.
Those are both examples of the sunk cost fallacy.
One of my clients – let’s call her Gemma – has just faced up to the sunk cost fallacy in her working life. She’s been with the same company for a while now, has made progress there, earns a reasonable salary and works with some great people on a day-to-day basis. There’s just one problem: it no longer satisfies her desire for personal and professional growth. Whilst I’ve been coaching her, Gemma has come to realise that she was staying because she felt so invested in that role. Together, we’ve been exploring the dwindling returns on that investment. The end result is that Gemma has resigned and will be taking up a role in a completely different industry in the Summer.
The sunk cost fallacy occurs when we’ve made such a great investment (whether financial, emotional or of our time) that the thought of walking away fills us with discomfort and resistance. It makes us finish dessert when we’ve already had enough, holds us in unhealthy relationships or keeps us developing a product that’s no longer fit for purpose because we’ve poured so much time and money into the project.
Today’s pebble for you to ponder: do you recognise the sunk cost fallacy in any area of your work or life? If so, what do you need to change?
What do you think?
ps If you’re trying to work out what you should do next and you’d like someone to help you with your plans, why not email me to see how we can work together?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.