The Sunk Cost Fallacy: Why putting more time into a mismatched career makes no sense

“It’s kind of like chasing good money after bad in gambling, right?”  Ryan, a twenty four year old financial analyst from Stamford said.   I was explaining the sunk cost fallacy.  We have a built in bias to weigh more heavily on avoiding past losses than acquiring future gains.  In Ryan’s case, he majored in finance, didn’t really like his classes or the people in his classes but stuck with it, almost as if he was drafted in the army and couldn’t get out.  Now he was 24, two years into a mismatched career track, and was worried about wasting both his college major and his first two years of work experience.

In my case, I had paid for law school, spent three years in law school, and then eight years practicing law.  In my transition to education-entrepreneur, I still practiced law for companies that I represented. Now, other than occasional help for family and friends, I haven’t practiced in 15 years.  Regrets – only that I didn’t jump sooner.

Here’s how most of us are wired to think: “I have invested time, energy, and money in developing X Career.  I now need to make the most of it otherwise it will be a waste.”

Those who continue to gamble in the hopes of recouping their losses are afflicted with the same thought.

The better metaphor may even be those who realize they are going in the wrong direction but continue on the path with the hope that they’ll find their desired location eventually.

If you are in a mismatched career, the mismatch will continue. In fact, it may even get worse as your peers who are well matched for the career start to outpace you, largely because they like what they do and will put in extra effort.

Countless clients of Career Counseling Connecticut have said the same.   I get wonderful notes and letters from past clients.  One of the more common themes: thank you for really showing me the sunk cost fallacy.