One of the best things about being an economist is understanding sunk costs.
Sunk cost is the idea that you can’t change the past. What’s done is done. How much effort you put in or what you spent in the past shouldn’t matter in your decision making. All that matters is where you are now at this point in time and what the costs and benefits are in the future. Compare the future costs and benefits, not the future plus the past.
The canonical example given: It is raining and you had a hard day at work. You have tickets for a basketball game that you were looking forward to, but now you’re not so sure. Should your answer about whether to go or not depend on how much you paid for the tickets?
If you understand sunk costs, then the answer should be no. The costs of driving in the rain and not going to bed early should be weighed only against the pleasure you get from going to the event. Your answer should be no different if you paid $60 for the tickets or if your sister got them for you from her fancy corporate job (right before you were about to purchase them yourself). Most people don’t understand sunk costs, not even rationally. (In fact, some folks may want to argue with me in the comments– knock yourselves out!)
Even though I rationally understand sunk costs, sometimes I have to be reminded. It’s like when I went into labor with DC1 and my mom said, “Shouldn’t you be breathing or something?” Oh yeah, breathing. That made things a lot less painful.
Most recently… I’ve been working on a paper off and on for an embarrassingly long time. Finally someone else decided to scoop me on it. I need to get the damn thing out before they get published. Soon. When I found out I was a mess… I have spent WAY too much time on the paper, much of it going down blocked alleyways. And it was almost done two years ago and I put it down again. It could have been out two years ago and then I wouldn’t be being scooped.
DH says magic phrase, “sunk costs.”
Oh yeah. Sunk costs. All that matters is what I do now, which is less work because I just need to incorporate the things from my (cough 2009 cough) power point into the paper, smooth it up, and send it out. And hey, that’s less work on a paper that I’m frankly quite sick of than I would have to do if I wanted to get it into a better journal.
Truly understanding sunk costs can help a person stop being emotionally blocked, and enable a person to move forward. Have no regrets, take what you can learn, and move on.
Not that I’m not kicking myself in t-1 (also t-3, and t-7), but what can you do? Nothing. Just move forward.