At one point or another, most of us have found ourselves in such a situation. A point where we know that we need to move on from situations that are no longer being beneficial to us. This could be in a career, a relationship, a business, a friendship or even moving one from material things we have acquired, and yet, we cling onto them.
Time and emotional investment
More than once, I have seen people in relationships that are no longer working. In fact, sometimes these relationships are detrimental to the partners’ emotional and psychological state and they still hold onto them. When I ask them why they are not moving on, they say, “but we have been together for 5 years, we can’t let that go to waste!” A lot of people stay together not because the relationship is working but because they have invested too much to let loose.
The same happens in careers or businesses. You may have sunk so much investment in terms of money and time in a business, and it is not picking of and red flags are everywhere. Buy yet, you still hold onto it because ‘you have invested so much’
Sunk Cost Fallacy
Let’s not focus so much on relationship and career investment, but even on some items we buy. You could have that coat that you don’t wear, or that car you’ve had forever and you spend every weekend in the garage because of it, or that office chair that you hold onto, yet you’re always falling off it. If someone suggests you get rid of this item, you say, but I spent so and so amount on it, why would I give it up? As a result, you end up having so much clutter in your life that is not beneficial to you at all.
This is called the sunk cost fallacy: your decisions are tainted by the emotional investment you have put in, and the more you invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it. I learned of this concept when reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by psychologist Daniel Kahneman. I later had a conversation with a friend and we discussed how someone had a tough time leaving a relationship because they had invested so much into it, yet it was toxic for them. Instead of leaving, they even invested further to salvage the current problems. The truth is, the longer you hold onto this situation you should be moving away from, the harder it will be to move on in the future when you realize there is really no other way but to move on.
Before I get deeper into this, I need to clarify something. I am not saying you need to give up on everything that shows signs of not working out. If anything, I am learning about persistence at the moment and realizing sometimes I need to persist more than I do usually. However, there are times we have given something our all, and we know we are flogging a dead horse. It is not going to work anymore. All the signs are clear and yet we still hold onto it. One of the advises given in change management is that “If you are going to fail, fail fast.” Fail fast so you can move on onto the next thing. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is knowing when to leave and move on and doing exactly that.
Learn to leave sometimes
I also read a quote recently by Nina Simone and liked it which says,
“You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served”
It is important to persist when you believe that something will work. However, it is more important not to be in denial when it’s not working and learn how to move on. Learning how to let go of things or people that are no longer serving their purpose in your life will make you feel as light as a feather with burdens off your shoulder. Sure, you will feel guilty for investing so much and abandoning your investments, but you will come to appreciate the moment you moved on because that was the beginning of something else that’s even more rewarding.