The Sunk Cost Fallacy: How it may be preventing you from making change

“Did you pay off your law school loans yet?”  It was a reasonable question, I was telling one of my lawyer friends that I was leaving the practice of law.  At the time, the misery of lawyers at large firms in large cities was almost a secret to the outside world but most lawyers harbored fantasies of quitting the law.  To lawyers, at least, the thought that I found an escape was meant with either appreciation or envy.  But… most did not leave.

Why?  They, like me, had invested time, energy, and money into becoming big city, big firm lawyers.  Lawyers – like other professionals – also have their identity tied with their occupation.  Leaving the law after not maximizing or at least breaking even (paying off my loans) seemed silly to those who were stuck in the sunk cost fallacy.  This concept is best understood in gambling. Someone who has lost $10,000 will think they should keep playing until they break even.  The odds are still in the house’s favor. There is no reason to think the gambler will do anything but lose more money if he stays.  But from the gambler’s warped perspective, he believes it would be silly not to leave until he at least gets his money back.

Through my work in Career Counseling Connecticut and also with my conversations with my neighbors and friends throughout Connecticut, I hear people tell me they do not like their work but… they have spent time becoming “some occupation” and they don’t want to start over.  Some of these clients are rational.  They are reaching 60, are earning a lot of money, and still need to make a lot of money for retirement or college tuition.  Some are irrational.  They are turning 30 – potentially working for 40-45 more years, as this generation will likely work to 70-75 – hate their job but feel “it’s too late to switch.”

We can help you escape the sunk cost fallacy.  Contact us.