If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a bit of a nerd, so it shouldn’t be a shock that I listen to all kinds of educational radio. And that’s where the inspiration for this post came from. Earlier this year, I was listening to a fascinating radio story, from the Freakonomics program, about the value of quitting (I totally recommend taking the 27 minutes to listen to it–they explore some interesting ideas). I filed that away, and made myself a note that the ideas in the Freakonomics story would adapt well to a blog post. And since I just talked about healthy boundaries for the holidays last week, I decided that now was the time to bring it out!
Now the Freakonomics program–as you might guess, focused largely on the economic benefits of quitting. What struck me though, was how applicable these financial principles are to emotional issues. If you don’t have the half hour to listen to the program, here’s a very brief summary. Ultimately, the researchers interviewed suggest that people who are able to identify that a given dream, career path, or investment is not working out–and then change course–do better financially than those who pursue their dreams to the bitter end.
Before I dive in, here’s some economic and cognitive psychology vocabulary that was used in the Freakonomics program that I want to borrow for this post:
- Sunk Cost–time, money, energy, or emotion we’ve already invested in a project.
- Sunk Cost Fallacy–coming to believe that our investment means that we should continue to pursue that goal, despite evidence to the contrary.
- Cognitive Dissonance–a cognitive phenomenon where we convince ourselves that if we are suffering for something, we must truly love it.
I don’t know about you, but I could see all kinds of ways that these economic terms and principles apply to other areas of life. In this post, and the Part 2 follow-up post, I’m going to focus on two key life areas–jobs and relationships. Your bonus challenge is to think about additional places in your life where this may apply. How about those jobs or volunteer commitments where we stay because we have put in our time, even though we feel unheard, undervalued, or unchallenged?
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use the word job in this section of the post. I’m also talking about volunteer commitments–or anything else that takes a significant portion of our time and energy. I don’t know about you, but I have certainly stayed in jobs where I wasn’t happy. I bet you have too. And I’m not talking about the “I wish I was a millionaire so I could sleep late every day and travel instead of work” unhappy. I’m talking about situations where your values are different than the organization. Where your skills are absolutely not a fit for the job requirements. Why did I stay? Why do you? Because we had sunk costs. You may have given up the opportunity for other jobs. Or you put in the time to get trained, to advance with that company. Maybe you feel trapped by your financial responsibilities. Or maybe the work environment is so draining that you don’t have the energy to explore other options.
If you work full time, you spend a huge percentage of your waking hours at or on your job. I believe that it is terribly important to try to make sure than anything that takes up that much of your time is something that is consistent with your values and skills. That it adds more to your life than a paycheck. Most of us don’t have the luxury of simply quitting a job that isn’t meeting those needs. And I recognize that in this economic climate, that thinking about a job change may feel overwhelming. But I also recognize that your long-term mental health, stress level, and sense of productivity and accomplishment are worth noticing.
If your job is affecting you outside of work (do you dread Sunday because it is the day before Monday?), then it might be time to get serious about letting your sunk costs be sunk. Spend some time doing values and interest assessments. Identify where you might be satisfied working. And then, take steps to make it happen. Do you need training? Get it online if you can, or on weekends. Do you need contacts? Start reaching out to others in that field. You don’t need to quit immediately, but you may owe it to yourself to make other plans.
So here’s the challenge this week. Take a moment to assess where your time & energy are going. Are you spending them on something that you love? Or are you “marking time?” If you’re not engaged and satisfied at work, maybe now is the time to begin an exit strategy. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Look for Part 2 next Friday, where I’ll explore the difficult topic of quitting relationships.
Photo Credit: Image by neoliminal via Flickr