LETTING GO OF WHAT DOESN’T MATTER
There’s an idea that people buy into called “sunk costs”. It’s the belief that you’ve already invested so much time, energy, or money, you should continue to do so. For example, you might hate your career but say to yourself, “I’ve already been in this field for two years.”
Instead of looking at what you have to gain by changing direction, you focus on what you’ve already done. You focus so long and so hard on your investment that it feels like a “failure” to walk away that this point.
Often, people who look at “sunk costs” are worried about what others will think if they step outside the box and try something different. For example, you might think, “I can’t choose a new career path now. My parents will think I wasn’t grateful for all their financial assistance during college.”
IS THAT WHAT THEY REALLY THINK?
The problem with this approach is that you’re projecting your thoughts and beliefs onto someone else. You’ll notice that in the scenario above, your parents didn’t say a single word. It was purely conjecture on your part. You were guessing at best.
When you do find yourself projecting your thoughts into someone else’s head and assuming you know what they think, believe, or feel, it can be helpful to take a step back. Ask yourself one simple question, “So what?”
If you have a close, loving relationship with your parents, then sure, they might be disappointed in your new career path. But chances are, they’ll eventually accept it and move on with their lives, especially if you’re happy with your next choice.
But let’s assume for a moment that you don’t have a close, loving relationship with your parents. In this case, your “so what” might look like this: your parents are furious, tell you that you’re a disappointment and eventually…they get over it.
You have to understand that while the people around you may be unsettled or let down by your decisions, they ultimately don’t have to live with your unhappiness at staying where you are. But you do.
ARE YOU WILLING TO BE UNHAPPY?
This is the deeper question that you want to be asking when you’re pondering what others will think about your decision. Are you willing to live with your discomfort—or even misery—just so people think good things about you?
For example, are you willing to work thirty years in a soul-crushing job you hate just so your parents can be proud that you have a corner office? Are you willing to invest years of your life into a marriage with a verbally abusive spouse just so your church friends don’t turn their back on you? Are you willing to stunt your own growth and development just so those around you aren’t uncomfortable?
Is your heartache a price you’re willing to pay? Are you going to sacrifice what you know would make you happy and become a martyr? And the more important question is, what is your cause? Is it worth it?
These are challenging questions. Questions that will provoke you and possibly, lead you to make some much needed changes in your life.
KNOW YOUR VALUES AND FOCUS ON THEM
If you’re still struggling with what other people think, it’s important to understand that decisions become easy when you know your values and focus on them.
The more you understand what you value, the more likely you are to make decisions that are in line with your values. When your values and decisions are in harmony, you’re truly living your best life.
YOUR VALUES ARE YOURS
This is a tough one. But it’s important that you accept it: your values are yours alone. They should not be determined by your parents, your spouse, or your community, although they can be influenced by these things. Many people’s values are influenced by their churches.
You may have some values in common with your parents, and your community, and hopefully with your spouse, but ultimately if you value different things, that’s OK. In fact, it’s normal.
DETERMINE WHAT YOU VALUE
Don’t let this step trip you up. Consider how you make decisions if you have no feedback loop.
What do you let guide you in these situations? Your love of family? Your ambition and drive for success? Your desire for community? Your hope for fame and accolades?
Any or all of these values are perfectly acceptable. Some values may rank higher than others.
Just because you have different values from those around you doesn’t make you bad or wrong. If anything, it just means you’re a unique individual that embraces what she (or he) wants.
EMBRACE YOUR VALUES
When it comes time to make decisions, look back at what you value. If you value family, you may choose to decline that job offer in another state so that you can stay close to your aging parents.
If you value prestige, you may accept the job offer and simply arrange care for your aging parents. Neither decision is better or worse than other one. Both are good and allow you to meet your responsibilities while staying true to who you are.
KNOW THAT VALUES CHANGE
Part of growing and evolving as a human being means that you may find your values change. When you were young, perhaps you valued family. You stayed at home to raise your children.
But when you’re older and your kids are gone, you value success and ambition, putting in late hours to build your career.
It’s natural to have your values shift. That’s why you need to re-evaluate them every so often. Examine if they’re still serving you and if they’re not, joyfully let them go and seek out new values that you do believe in.
TRUST YOURSELF PROFOUNDLY
You won’t suddenly stop caring about what other people think overnight. It’s a process and you may find it difficult at first. Especially if you’ve spent your life addicted to the approval of your friends and family. But as you step outside of this need for approval, amazing things will begin happening in your life.
You’ll start to find your own inner voice. You’ll discover a confidence you didn’t know you could have. You’ll experience more contentment and bliss as you make choices that are in line with what you value.
Above all, you’ll start to trust yourself profoundly. You’ll know what you need and proudly claim. You’ll believe in yourself again and you’ll realize that everything you need for your journey is already inside of you!
Do you need to catch up?
These are great tips. I know so many who struggle with this and could use this advice!
I made a career change after 6 years of post secondary education and 20 year of working in a career that I ended up hating. Even though everyone else thought I was crazy at the time it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
This was great! I really believe in living your values and your values alone.
I’ve gone through this process in the past year. I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Tourism and worked for Disney for several years and never got anywhere despite many interviews, so I finally just went to a different company since people seem to have better luck moving up in Disney that way. I really found though that I hate working for other people. I needed something of my own and my own schedule and to spend more time with my husband and to be able to travel whenever we wanted, so we both quit our jobs in February to pursue our own businesses and it has been so wonderful so far. I feel like I’m still using my past experiences to build my business so I don’t look at them as a waste.
I so identify with “sunk costs” but never knew the term! wow, thanks for this and helping me identify with this.
I can think of a very specific time in my life where I was consumed with the “sunk cost” and what others would think of me if I changed my mind about the situation and went back on my original commitment. It almost consumed me. I finally came to a breaking point and had to make myself push past my fears and do what was best for me, regardless of what others thought.
Fantastic tips and advice! This is a wonderful series!
I agree regarding the job situation – even if it’s not your career field or what you studied in college, staying with a job that you hate makes for a miserable life! Do what makes you happy!
I needed to read this today, thank you for sharing!
As a single parent, I question each and every decision I make for fear of how it will be perceived by my kids’ father (he must love the inside of a courthouse, because he brings me back there pretty often). I am more than jealous of those that don’t need to consider the judgment of others when making their decisions.
This was a great read. It is really hard to change the mindset, but we need to embrace what we believe and accept it!
Ultimately I think that’s what everyone wants, happiness.
I love the last picture graphic! its a simple and perfect reminder that we all are valuable and need to accept ourselves!
Thanks for this very important reminder, and actionable steps to help!
Caring about what others think seems to be the status quo. I definitely think it gets easier not to care the older I get but if we can teach our kids to do that at a young age they will be destined for a greater life.
Thank you for the great advice! It is a struggle not to care too much what others think!
It’s so easy to fall into this pattern when you are a “pleaser”. Staying true to yourself wins everytime.
I have loved following this piece and all its parts! I am so much like this, stuck in my own head of what I believe others believe of me and things. Its a vicious cycle. You are so intelligent about how to just let it go. I love it
Although I absolutely LOVE my jobs, I am always looking for ways to improve myself within those jobs. Sometimes that doesn’t fit with what others think I should do. Like how I spent money getting a new certification that I can’t use right now. Oh well, I still got the education, and no one can take that away!
You have made so many great points! Thanks for sharing this series!
Greaet post!! I love how you focused on different perspectives and how each of us brings value based upon our perspectives to any situation. I just finished a class where we discussed values and cultural differences. Thanks for sharing!
Great post! I’m glad you mentioned that it won’t happen overnight and that it’s a process. That’s so true. The confidence definitely builds.
Such great advice. I know there are a few things I struggle with. But I’m a work in progress 😁😁
Such important information! (and so hard to use at times)
Such a good series of posts! Worrying about what other people think is such a small cage to lock ourselves inside of. Moving beyond brings such freedom! I love that you wrote “ Is your heartache a price you’re willing to pay?” No! Our energy can be better put toward living the life we desire!
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