Reframing sunk costs

The decisions we have made in the past often spill into the present.

A decade ago, I trained to become a mechanical engineer. Subsequently, I pursued a successful career as a strategy consultant. Recently, I have embarked on a new career – my third so far – as a software developer. Looking back, those degrees and past careers seem like a waste – a cost that I am unable to recover. However, I am certain that had I stuck to my career as strategy consultant, I would have regretted it.

Our youngers selves take long-term decisions as gifts to our older selves. However, those decisions do not always turn out to be correct. It is unrealistic to expect our selves in our late-teens or early-twenties to pick the careers we wish to pursue for a lifetime – we simply don’t have the necessary information or the experience.

Yet, several people are handcuffed to crucial decisions they have made in the past – pointless careers, toxic relationships, harmful purchases. The main reason we fall for the sunk cost fallacy is because we think of our past choices as costs that we need to recover.

What if we recognized those choices as gifts instead? In the present moment we always have a choice – either to accept that gift or to politely decline it.

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