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.