Have you ever continued to pursue something even though it no longer served you? Maybe it’s a degree program or the dead-end job that you refuse to give up. Perhaps you’ve stayed in a relationship for no other reason than the fact that you’ve been committed to it for so long. From time to time, we all justify staying the course by considering the effort we’ve put into our current situation.
Many of us decide to take a job just because it’s a good use of our training. When we invest time and money in getting a degree, we expect that we should use it. Maybe you hate your job, but you can only envision yourself taking similar positions with equal or greater pay and responsibility. You may feel trapped by the decisions you made before, but you don’t have to be.
Whatever you do, do it because you love it.
Photo credit: Source
When you are trying to figure out how to decide on a career, it is easy to be influenced by the types of work and training you’ve already undertaken. In general, you get a degree or training in a field that interests you, and this leads you to a job in that field.
If you should ever decide to leave your job, there’s a high probability that you will look for work in the same field with similar pay and responsibilities. You are less likely to consider whether you still like the work that you do — you feel obligated to continue your career trajectory regardless of how you feel.
This is how people get stuck doing jobs that they don’t like. Instead of thinking about what would make you the best and happiest version of yourself, you may face temptation to maintain the status quo. Many of us do this because we fear wasting our efforts.
Others feel that their persistence will eventually be valued, and changing course doesn’t fit well within the story they are creating about themselves or their business. They may willingly take on sunk costs with the belief that their situation will improve.
Don’t get sucked in by sunk costs.
Photo credit: Source
The sunk cost fallacy is the assumption that you must continue follow a trajectory because you have already put lots of resources into that particular career path or personal endeavor. We can be so loss-averse that we avoid the possibility of greater gains through changing our approach.
If you are wondering how to decide on a career, and you take a job solely because it makes use of your years of training, then you might be worrying more about sunk costs than your future happiness and success. Refusing to leave a career that is unfulfilling could be a sign that you are caught in the job investment trap, which is a variation of the sunk cost fallacy.
Businesses also fall into this pattern of continuing down a failing path just because they already put time and money into initiatives. For example, an entrepreneur might take out a loan to open a second business location. They reason that since business is booming at Location #1, success in Location #2 should be a cinch.
After about a year, the owner realizes that Location #2 is hemorrhaging money, and the only way to stop the bleeding is to scale back to one store. The numbers don’t lie, but despite the irrefutable evidence, the owner may still have trouble cutting his or her losses. The business owner thinks about the effort, time, and emotion that went into Location #2.
From an outsider’s perspective, it is easy to see that the business owner in the example or the person stuck in an uninspiring career should try something new. It is harder to let go of sunk costs when we are faced with them ourselves.
You aren’t a one-trick pony.
Just because you took a particular course of study in school doesn’t mean that you are bound to that discipline for the rest of your life. When you are figuring out how to decide on a career, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are you interested in doing? If you are passionate about your work, then it won’t feel like a burden.
- What skills do you need to do this job? We often think of our degree or primary training as our default career option, but the default may not be the best choice. If you need to change focus, what transferable skills do you have, and what additional training will you need to be successful?
- Is there room for growth in this job? Today, the average employee stays with a company for 4.2 years before moving on. What types of skills can you build in your current work? How can you leverage your growth to position you for a fulfilling career?
- Do you have opportunities to work with different people? Forming meaningful connections with people is one of the best things you can do for yourself professionally. You’ll not only be happier at work, but if you decide to change careers, you will already have a solid professional network. 
- What can this job offer you in 3 years? Consider your expectations for income and authority-level in the next three years. Is this job going to give you what you want? If not, how will taking this position help you work toward your end goal?
- Can this job help you to become the kind of person you want to be? Being inspired by the work that you do can brighten even the toughest days. Do you feel that your work is meaningful? Does it bring you closer to being the optimal of yourself?
Know when to hold and when to fold.
Photo credit: Source
You can’t recover sunk costs, but you don’t have to perpetuate a cycle of loss. “I’ve already put so much time into this,” isn’t a good enough justification to continue down a particular path.
Deciding to change directions doesn’t meant that you have failed. It makes zero sense to continue to put resources into something that isn’t working for you. Although you may feel like you have wasted an experience or lost time, remember that you have probably learned some valuable information as you undertook the process. Just because it didn’t go the way you expected doesn’t mean that it’s a total loss.
Being successful and following your dreams are not mutually exclusive. Use what you know to keep growing, and don’t be discouraged if you have to change course along the way.
|||^||Psychology Today: Letting Go of Sunk Costs: How to Escape the Past|
|||^||Ryan Doody: The Sunk Cost Fallacy is Not a Fallacy|
|||^||Learning Loft: Why Perseverance Might Actually Be Hurting Your Career|
|||^||Lifehacker: Don’t Let the Job Investment Trap Keep you from Switching Careers|
|||^||The Muse: 8 Steps to an Utterly Successful Career Change|
|||^||Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employee Tenure Summary|
|||^||CareerShifters: How to Change Career When You Have No Idea What You are Doing|
|||^||Forbes: Five Ways to Tell if You Need a Career Change|