Sunk Cost

I spend far too much energy and time contemplating my shoes.

I own a pair of expensive black flats.  These lovely shoes were advertised as best shoes ever – comfortable, classy, fun.  Since they look so good on Pinterest, they should be elegant and perfect on my own feet.   Except my feet are unhappy.  The shoes squeak when I walk.  The backs slip with every step. For two years I’ve been in denial over these lovely ill-fitting flats.   When my outfit calls for black flats, my hand flutters over the beautiful, expensive shoes, and they are immediately returned to the shelf. Next time will be different. Tomorrow I will choose them.

Who hasn’t suffered the agony of bad choices, compounded by increasingly expensive fixes, or replacements, and the inevitable resistance to just give away the offending object?   But rejecting, returning, or deleting an unworkable object means surrendering the idea that it can work.  Economists call this conundrum sunk costs: we’ve spent all this time, money, or materials on this project we can’t possibly give up now.  To abandon is to fail.  One of the better examples of the theory of sunk cost is gambling, the next roll of the dice with justifying all the previous rolls, all the losses, all the spent time.  Just one more

Did you fly to a famous, popular five-day conference, but by Day Two are woefully uninspired? Have you spent hours and hours editing a manuscript that still doesn’t work?  Did you get the 113th rejection from an agent or publisher?   Are you starting at a project that represents countless leisure hours but no matter how many words you fling, how many resources you purchase, and how many coaches you hire, the story still doesn’t work?   Beating a dead horse is a cliche for a reason.

We loathe to admit our mistakes.  We cringe at being wrong.  We hate waste and lament misspent time and money.   We were raised in education systems that punished being wrong and vilified time spent on projects that didn’t turn out or work at all.  So is it any wonder we just can’t give up? Sunk cost is the poster child for the creative process.   Creative experimentation looks a lot like wasted time.  Creativity demands spending hours, days, and weeks to just gain a single page of copy.  This process is not wasted time, it is time spent in discovery and processing.

The shoes remain in my closet, perhaps to remind me that what works on Pinterest may not work for me, or perhaps as a memento mori to irrational determination in the face of irrefutable experience.  Intellectually I know these lovely, seemingly perfect shoes should just be tossed into the Goodwill bag. But I can’t.

Because tomorrow they surely will fit.


Catharine Bramkamp is a successful writing coach and author. She has published over 300 newspaper and magazine articles in publications like Modern Maturity (AARP), SF Chronicle and Santa Rosa Magazine. She was a contributor to two Chicken Soup Books and has published anthologies of her work, non-fiction works and novels. Her work has also appeared in a number of poetry and fiction anthologies. She has experimented with the self-publishing world since 2001. She has published and self-published seven books through companies like Author House, author assist companies like 3L Publishing and through traditional publishers like Write Life. Her poetry collection, Ammonia Sunrise, will be released in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press and her mystery novel, In Good Faith will be released by Write Life in 2011. Catharine holds a BA in English from UCSB and a MA in English from Sonoma State University. She is a 25 year member of California Writer’s Club. She is an adjunct professor for the University of Phoenix. She works with authors of both fiction and non-fiction to make their dream of producing a book come true. For more information on that, visit her at Catharine has lived in Sonoma County for 25 years and considers wine a food group. She is married to an adorable and very patient man who complains he’s never featured in any of her books. Her grown children who are featured in a few of her books have fled the county.

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