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.