Have you ever heard of the sunk cost fallacy? If you click the link there is a neat infographic that explains it, but it is essentially this:
Time, money, energy, emotion or resources already spent and permanently lost. Sunk costs are past expenditures that are partially or totally irretrievable and, therefore, should be considered irrelevant to future decision making.
I am certainly no stranger to sunk costs. I am the dude who spent 20 years of his career-defining himself as one kind of HR specialist, avoiding being a generalist at all costs, only to find himself more fully realized and innumerably happier teaching an army of generalists how to tackle projects. I am also a guy who spent most of his life running away from faith and practicing how to be a cold, purely scientifically-driven agnostic only to find himself embracing faith and leading in a church in the second half of his life. I am the shy introvert who spent decades avoiding meeting new people who is now on a quest to bring people closer together and more in touch with who they were meant to be at work, in a church, and through this blog.
Consequently, I am familiar with the all-too-human traps around sunk costs! I once thought I had invested too much time into reading Richard Dawkins books to be a Jesus Follower or feeling like I built too much “company/career street cred” honing my HR expertise in staffing and workforce to become an HR portfolio manager. I know the despair of waking up every day wanting to go back to my “simpler life” where I didn’t try to find people to connect with and in need of connection, where I didn’t have to write a blog every Saturday, when my investments were all sunk into just me and my immediate family and closest friends.
My friends, what I have now realized is that those sunk costs had me sunk! I was drowning in them. I was mired in a morass of my own self-absorption, intent on getting and keeping what was mine, whether that was a firmly held belief that I could think my way through life, intellectualizing my feelings and casting God and Spirit aside or nesting comfortably in repeating the same victory dance, over and over again, after bringing home one complex staffing or employee service project after another until they all started to blend together into one big, blurred and distorted image of myself as the staffing and services hero of the century. Why shouldn’t I stay in this niche, after all this is what I am known for, this is what my reputation is built on? I have all this heavy, artistic clear glass with writing on it on my desk-that must mean something right?! Something, yes…EVERYTHING-Wrong!
What I have now realized is that those sunk costs had me sunk!
In much the same way as my faith and career, my limitations in my relationships with others took on a similar, insular feel. I have an incredible wife, great kids (the best in fact -sorry other husbands and fathers) and a fantastic family. I have a few friends and mentors that have been with me since I was a messed up kid. Why wasn’t that enough? I had already sunk all that time and effort into making those friends and keeping the threads of my family together, so why should I expand my circle to other people?
This is precisely the kind of thinking that limits so many of us today, it is only exacerbated by social media and the ability to lose ourselves in entire weekends of streaming television and movies. We choose to invest in the “select few” people we feel “most safe” around. We deceptively fool ourselves into believing we have expanded our network by gathering surface deep friends on social media and we avoid connection by connecting to Netflix and Hulu. Don’t get me wrong I do all these same things and that is why I am so familiar with the temptation to be drawn into that world. (In fact, I love to believe many of my freinds out there are much more than surface deep.) I am tempted every single waking hour to just lose my introverted self in the rich worlds of Instagram or Pinterest or soak in the endorphins and “feel good about myself| for all of my many connections measured simply by the number of likes I receive(d) on Facebook. My wife and I are known to suck on the sugary sweet lollipop of Hallmark movies too great excess. It is so easy to disappear in nostalgia watching an 80’s or 90’s gorgeous TV star fall in love with an equally ravishing former star in a ridiculously luxurious setting, while they try to slide Apple product placements in under your mesmerized nose. So I am not advocating abstinence. In fact, I would love it if you shared this blog with all your friends on all your social media outlets! (There are some Handy dandy links below. :)- )
A starvation diet from all these things is not what I am calling for. What I am challenging you to do (if you recognize yourself in anything I am saying) is to balance your diet and add in some new things. I’m asking you to look around you at the doors you have left unopened. Are you staying in the same job role at work way too long, leaving doors to other careers, companies or cultures that would be a better fit closed? Did someone invite you to an event and you refused to go so you could stay home, “Netflix” and eat a pizza? Did you say more than just “hi” to that person behind the deli counter at the grocery store or the DMV? Did you ask them how their day was? Maybe use their name? Did someone invite you to church or youth group, but you were “washing your car or your hair” that day? Again, I’m not suggesting you turn your whole life upside down in a day or a week or a month. I’m asking you to open a door or two.
I’m inviting you to pay attention to the doors that are put in front of you, the ones that are begging to be opened. Notice the bids for attention or emotional connection that people around you are making and respond to them! Engage in a conversation, go to just one group meeting or event, take one step towards a new role in your career. Let go of the sunk costs, release the anchor of what is holding you back. You won’t regret it. I promise you that what is waiting for you on the other side is better than you could ever imagine. We are built to be connected, we are built to be in circles with other people and we are made to soar!
P.S. (…I am serious about what I said above, someone asked me the other day if it was ok to share this-what? it is more than OK! Please share. If you know anyone who would benefit from this blog, please share it using the links provided. I am writing this blog to reach you and other people like you so they can be inspired and encouraged to find Light and love, be better leaders and laugh in ways they may not have thought possible- so please share. If there are things about this that make you hesitate to share, let me know, I love feedback!)