How I Overcame The Guilt of Leaving My Old Career
Back in 2008 when I was getting ready to launch my first professional reinvention, one thought stood in my way. This thought sparked a lot of doubt and almost caused me to reconsider my reinvention.
The limiting thought? The guilt and regret I would feel for giving up on all that had been invested into my first career.
I considered how much my family and I had invested so that I could get the college degree that my parents didn’t have. I thought about all of the courses, internships, and work that I had already done in my profession. In addition, I was 4 years into a leadership development program at a very good company. I had enjoyed diverse work experiences, incredible mentors, and I was on the fast track to more senior roles. Reinvention would mean giving up all that I had invested and starting from scratch.
Eventually, life taught me I was wrong about all of that, however, at the time, I didn’t know it. Like most things, I had to learn it through experience.
What Seth Godin Says About Sunk Costs
In Seth Godin’s book, The Practice, he talks about the fear of abandoning sunk costs. Sunk costs are resources we have already committed and invested that cannot be recovered if we decide to walk away. The sunk cost fallacy nudges us to stay on the committed path even when something doesn’t feel right. Seth shares that as strong as that pain of losing a sunk cost might be, often, it’s better to let go of something that isn’t working. Our future selves will often thank us for doing so.
How the Sunk Cost Fallacy Almost Kept Me from Reinventing Myself
In my case, my career wasn’t bad. I had incredible managers, leaders, and mentors. I enjoyed a great deal of travel, mostly with my client, Anheuser-Busch. However, while those elements of the job were great, I didn’t feel I was doing work that was aligned with the best version of myself that I could become. It was as if Michael Jordan had gone into baseball first instead of basketball. Sure, he would be a good baseball player, however, he might have wondered if there was another game where he could have been the best. I felt there was something else out there for me and that if I didn’t leave my job, I may never leave.
Holding me back was the potential regret of giving up on all of the sunk costs. However, what finally gave me the strength to overcome that fear was the fear of a potentially greater regret – missing out on the potential outcomes of a new path.
In my mind, I fast forwarded 10-15 years and wondered how I would feel about not pursuing reinvention. I imagined that I would regret not having tried and I would forever ask myself, “what if”. That thought scared me more than the fear of abandoning my sunk costs. In fact, I’ll never forget speaking with someone at the company who was 10 years older, married, and with children. He said to me that he loves his wife, daughters, and his life. However, he still wonders what if he had pursued a couple of ideas he had when he was my age. He encouraged me to pursue my reinvention and not to worry about the result because in the end, no matter what happens, I’ll never have to wonder what if.
Reinvention Never Starts from Zero
According to Seth Godin…
“it’s fine to experience regret when we abandon a sunk cost, it’s a mistake to stick with one simply because we can’t bear the regret.”
Seth was right, I did experience some regret. At times that feeling of regret was strong. However, as life taught me, not only would that regret pass, but in the end, reinvention never starts from scratch.
I have borrowed from most of my life’s experiences in order to make a greater impact on the next challenge. I personally experienced the fear of abandoning the sunk cost, but what I can share is that you’ll never fully abandon it. You always have the opportunity to revisit your prior work, experiences, and skills in order to repurpose it for the next challenge.
Life is an iterative process and every mistake or failure gets us one step closer to our version of success.