The Subtle Self-Talk That Squandered My Best Years

Letting investments from the past influence decisions about your future

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

It happened that morning I woke up and saw gray stubble on my face for the first time. When the hell did that happen? A few gray hairs normally don’t send your life into a tailspin, but that experience triggered an uncomfortable awareness.

Half of my productive life had passed, and I had nothing to show for it. I had spent twenty years investing in marketable skills and a career path, but I had accomplished nothing meaningful. I hadn’t even tried.

There were dreams I longed to pursue, causes I hoped to support and plans drawn up; those plans were pure fantasy. My life had the appearance of certainty, stability and safety. Why trade that in to pursue pipe dreams with unknown outcomes?

For two decades, I told myself a reasonable and logical story.

I had invested too much time and effort into a chosen path. I couldn’t throw it away.

But now I was approaching the dark side of my 40’s, middle age. I couldn’t ignore the truth.

I had nothing to show for my forty-four years on earth. Nothing I could show my children and tell them, “look at what your dad created. Look at what your dad was a part of. Look at what he at least tried to accomplish.”

I could show them a few marathon finisher medals and point them to a long career mired in middle management. Not exactly prime eulogy material.

I had always planned on writing, creating. I wrote a manuscript at the age of twenty-four, but then I took a job with insane hours. I intended to revive the manuscript six months later, but I had received a subsequent promotion. I couldn’t pass that up. I hated the job, but I had invested too much effort into that hard-earned promotion.

In my thirties, I had an opportunity to work in a career that aligned with my passion. I turned it down because I felt locked into my career path. I had invested too much time and effort to walk away from it.

Economists refer to my behavior as sunk cost fallacy. It occurs when you continue with a course of action because you fear the loss of previously invested resources, ignoring the possibility of further losses or poor prospects for a favorable outcome.

The investment trap is a story you tell yourself to justify the continuation of a previous decision and avoid the recognition of loss.

I can’t just throw away four years of education and five years of experience.

I put in all this effort. I may as well stick with it, even if I hate it.

I’ve already invested ten years of my life. I can’t throw it away for something unproven.

You cannot recover time from your past, but as long as you’re still in the game, it feels like you haven’t lost.

Here’s the new story I’m trying to tell myself

Base your decisions on what will make you happy and fulfilled tomorrow, not on the time and resources you spent yesterday.

That moment of clarity almost four years ago sparked a change. I committed to writing every day. I’ve published almost a million words and completed a manuscript since then.

But I still retreat to my old story of the investment trap. There’s too much comfort in sticking with the familiar, even if it no longer serves you.

Sticking with what feels comfortable and safe instead of what inspires and motivates you seems like the logical choice. Protecting your gains instead of challenging yourself makes life appear safe and predictable. Fighting through the drudgery of the familiar instead of fulfilling your passion feels like the safe and responsible choice.

But opting for safety will lead you to that day where you wake up and realize you’ve squandered decades of your life.

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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