Why “Sunk Costs” Shouldn’t Keep You from a Career Change

Don’t be deterred by the amount of time you’ve already put into one profession

Photo Credit: Anson0618/Shutterstock
Photo Credit: Anson0618/Shutterstock

I hear about other professionals ‘reinventing’ themselves from time to time, trying out a different career, pursuing their intellectual curiosity to various ends, or taking a few months off between jobs to, say, trek in the Himalayas. That type of thing doesn’t go over so well in medicine—particularly surgery—which is often seen as sort of a ‘calling’ and not as amenable to professional wanderlust. Here’s what people would say to a surgeon who wanted to take a look around: ‘After all those years?’

While many physician colleagues have called me for advice since I moved on to becoming a start-up entrepreneur—hoping to make a similar change themselves—non-physicians most often remark “after all those years?” just as I had predicted. In his excellent book, Range, David Epstein explains that invoking this so-called “sunk cost fallacy” is a common reaction, as outsiders tend to reason that if you’ve already spent a good deal of time and effort on something, it must be best to stick with it. Obviously a career change after such lengthy training should never be made lightly, but the “sunk” years should not, in and of themselves, be a reason to avoid change.

Excerpted from Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik, MD with permission from the author.

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