Don’t forget that giving up is an option

Perseverance, especially during hard times, is praised so highly and so often that sometimes we forget there’s another option. And we forget how to not feel like a failure when we give up.

The slogans are seemingly infinite: You only get out what you put into it; I never dreamed of success, I worked for it; nothing worth having comes easy. Even Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-hour rule” claims that the holy grail of mastery is achieved only through decades of dedication.

But how often do you come across a piece of advice that says you’ve tried hard enough—at starting a business, following your goals, supporting your loved ones—and now it’s time to move on? Infrequently. And how much blood, sweat, and tears are wasted on hopeless cases? A lot. Maybe you’ve been there—exhausted emotionally, financially, or both, yet you can’t bear to end it.

Why? Consider a concept known as the “sunk cost fallacy.” It comes from both psychology and economics and refers to a decision-making bias that leads us to pour more time, money, effort, or other resources into a project simply because we’ve already invested in it. We fall prey to this whether the stakes are high, like continuing to throw money and energy into a business that is not succeeding, or low, like forcing yourself to finish an overcooked steak just because you (over)paid for it. No matter the scale, humans often have a hard time calling it quits.