Sunk-cost fallacy is the phenomenon whereby someone may not want to give up something (or someone) because of how much they’ve invested into it, even when the better course of action would be to abandon it. This phenomenon is often behind why people will stay in toxic situations, jobs, or relationships. I’ve already put so much time and effort into this, I don’t want to feel like all of that was for nothing. But it’s okay to start over from scratch. You may find yourself coming out the other side realizing how much better off you are.
Last December, I quit my job. I worked my butt off there for almost four years in an upper management position. In my last two years there, the company constantly increased my workload (along with my stress) and kept promising I would get a raise. Spoiler: I did not get that raise. Yes, I made a decent salary, but my work load prevented me from taking proper lunch breaks. I often ate lunch while working and worked after office hours. My only solace was that I (sort of) liked my job and genuinely liked (most) of my coworkers.
I did also tend to brush off the varying levels of workplace toxicity. When I was first promoted to my management position, I was relentlessly bullied by some of my coworkers. They decided I was too inexperienced and didn’t deserve to be promoted. Despite how hard I worked, they would openly gossip about me. This situation was sorted out after about a year, but this was only the beginning.
If you read my blog Trouble With Microaggressions, you may recall that I confronted a coworker about her discrimination. I was on good terms with her prior to this incident. After that day, she became civil while just shy of hostile. Working with her became so uncomfortable that I dreaded going to her for anything. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who felt that way about her.
Then there was the increasing frequency with which I was being yelled at and blamed for things that were obviously not my fault. My breaking point came with the blatant disrespect when I tried to discuss being given a more comfortable workspace; I was spending at least nine hours a day at the office, so I would’ve liked to feel less claustrophobic. I got shut down immediately. They berated me for being petty and childish. That day, I sat in my car for who knows how long while I had an anxiety attack.
Honestly, it sucked to feel like I was “throwing away” the four years I spent at this job. I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad there. But I’ve since found a job (in an entirely different industry) that pays me fairly for my work, and I don’t feel like I’m constantly on edge from stress. I’m happy now. Sure, I had to take a pay cut, but my improved mental health is worth it.
I have to admit that I was in an incredibly privileged position to be comfortable enough to quit my job without another one lined up. I was in a good place in my personal life. Finances weren’t an issue. My husband and my parents were supportive. My mom was happy to trash talk the company to make me feel better. This might not be true for everyone who also wants to make a drastic change like mine.
If you do find yourself in a similarly toxic situation, I encourage you to work on getting out of it. You don’t have to stay there just because you feel like you would be wasting however much time, effort, or money you put into it. Instead, invest that time, effort, and money into your happiness. The sunk-cost fallacy will not keep us from living our best lives.