Are Career Sunk Costs Standing In The Way Of Your Dream Job?

Feeling stuck in a rut? Do you wake up every day and realize the career path you set yourself on isn’t really for you? Does the company you work for no longer ethically or culturally align with you? Are you longing to follow your dream but terrified of the costs and uncertainly that accompany a change of career?

It can seem incredibly foolish to leave a job that pays well or that has decent benefits and personal perks, but staying in a job that sucks the life out of you can have far more serious consequences than taking the risk to leave.

Ask yourself: are you staying in a job or career simply because of all the sunk costs you’ve ploughed into it? Then ask yourself: are these really good enough reasons to stay?

We’ll address some of these potential sunk costs in a minute, but first let’s take a look at some of the warning signs that things need to change.

Red Flags: The Turning Point…

The Passion Is Gone

You used to love your job, but now you hate it. Every day is dreary and dull. Your skills are gathering cobwebs and you’re no longer using your talents on the job. Instead, you’re stuck doing mindless, meaningless tasks.

While every job – even your dream job – will have boring aspects and tasks, when the negatives outweigh the positives, it’s time to think seriously about an escape strategy.

The Company Has Shifted Course And You’re No Longer Onboard

You joined a great company that aligned with your beliefs and seemed ethically sound. Suddenly, new management has come in and shifted course, and along with it, lost the vision and principles that made it a great place to work.

Being aligned with the company culture is important to us even if it’s not immediately apparent when we choose where to work. It is very difficult to stay happy in a place that supports horrible policies, turns a blind eye to unacceptable behavior, cuts corners that endanger staff, or is involved in shady deals, and ugly politics.

Whether this shift is political, policy related, or personal, we all have lines we won’t cross. If the company you work for has gone beyond those lines, it may be time to consider leaving. 

You’re Losing Sleep

This one is pretty obvious. If work is stressful to the point where you’re up all night, or have broken sleep, it’s time to pack it in and look elsewhere. No matter what you’re getting paid, your health is something you can’t buy back once it’s ruined.

People often “hang in there” because they think the hefty paycheck will cushion the blow, but after a while, the money becomes less important. This is especially true when you find yourself sitting in your doctor’s office because you need stress leave, or you’re spending wads of money on counseling to cope with your soul destroying workplace.

Losing sleep is a red flag that things aren’t right, and you need to re-evaluate whether this is the kind of organization you want to work for if the environment is costing you your health.

You Dread Mornings

This goes beyond the usual “Monday Morning Blues,” which everyone has to some degree; this is the kind of dread that makes you anxious and resentful every single morning.

You’re angry about going to work, you’re angry at work, you watch the clock (which only seems to be moving backwards) and you want to spend the first hour of your day crying at your desk, or setting fire to your computer.

That kind of resentment, stress, and rage takes up way too much emotional space to have to endure it day in and day out. It’s not healthy in the long term to feel horrible every single morning.

You Dislike Your Boss And/Or The People You Work With

While you’re there to work, not socialize, you do have to spend eight hours a day with these people, five days a week. Toxic people spread their poison, and this negativity is definitely catching. How many times have you been around really miserable people and not had their mood rub off on you?

Having to constantly work with a saboteur, a narcissist, or passive-aggressive types can really impact your mental wellbeing, and eventually, take a toll on your health because you’re drinking their poison every single day.

While you can’t guarantee that you won’t, at some point, find unpleasant people at every job, when the entire workplace becomes a snake pit, or you’re dealing with an abusive boss or manager, it might be best to consider alternatives.

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The True Cost Of Staying: What’s Really Holding You Back

When you know in your heart that it’s time to switch paths, what is it that keeps you frozen in your current career? Most of the time it is the sunk costs (visit the link for a thorough explanation of what these are) of your situation that prevent you from moving forward.

Here are a few examples of these:  

I Don’t Have The Money To Jump Ship

Nobody is saying this isn’t a legitimate reason to be wary, and I’m not suggesting you waltz into your boss’ office right this second, slam your resignation down on the table, and walk out the door. It is, however, a good idea to have a game plan in place so you can make your eventual exit.

If you really want to pursue “the dream,” you will make it happen. You will look for another job in your spare time, and hustle on weekends. It’s only impossible if you believe it to be so. If you really want out, you will find a way to make the money to get on another ship.

Work Isn’t About Being Happy, It’s About Paying Your Bills

A job may pay the bills, but this doesn’t mean it has to wreak havoc on you mentally and physically. Paying your bills doesn’t have to be one of the most miserable experiences of your life. You can invest in yourself, and move slowly towards your goals. Eventually, you will find something better and be able to pay your bills with a smile.

I’ve Been There For 10, 15, 20 Years…

This sounds like a jail sentence, not a career. You’re not doing time, so stop punishing yourself. Whether it is a bad relationship, or a bad job, just because you have been there for “X” number of years, doesn’t mean you have to stay in a terrible situation for the rest of your life. 

People Will Think I’m Crazy

Who cares what other people think?! We live our lives in constant angst over what our neighbors, family, and friends think about us. You need to do what’s best for you and live your best life; no one else will live it for you. Don’t wait for permission to pursue your dreams or make a change that you know in your heart needs to happen. Everyone has a different journey; focus on yours.

But I Spent Thousands At College/University

This is definitely a major sunk cost that can’t be recovered, but the greater cost is the price of staying miserable for the rest of your life. I went to college and worked in HR for a while, but I realized that, while it paid well, it wasn’t for me. I sunk a lot of money into it because I thought it was the best way for me to earn a decent income, but writing is where my heart lies. I couldn’t stay in a job I hated just because I mistakenly dumped money into it. Slowly but surely I made the shift; four years later, I’m where I want to be. Was it easy? No. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

You will find very few people who say, “Man, I wish I’d stayed in that crappy job for another year.” Most people regret not leaving a bad situation sooner and living a better life now. Staying in a miserable job is the real sunk cost: your mental wellbeing, your relationships, and your physical health. All the personal perks and fat paychecks can’t buy those things back. Happiness is priceless; don’t let the mistakes of the past stand in the way of a brighter future.

Do you stay in your job or on your particular career path because of the sunk costs that have gone into it? Has this article opened your eyes to the possibility of taking a different path? Have you already done just that? Leave a comment below to share your experiences.

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