Last week as I was heading out to dinner, I got stuck at a train crossing.  For. a. very. long. time.

After 15 minutes of watching the train go by, the end mercifully came.  And then the train passed through the intersection, and stopped.  Just short of clearing the gate.  AHHH!

I became even more acutely aware of the decision I had been wrestling with the whole time the train went by: wait longer or turn around.  The 15 minutes I had wasted was a ‘sunk cost’; something that I could not recover regardless of my choice.  In business classes they teach you to ignore sunk costs, but it is painful to do. 

I made the decision on the facts that waiting it out would probably be faster than going around.  I knew when I chose the option that there was a possibility that this extremely long train may actually back up and switch tracks, thus doubling the time I needed to wait, but I opted to stay.  As luck would have it, the train did go forward and I was able to pass.

When you have to make a decision that involves sunk costs, acknowledge them, but do what the business folks tell you to do and ignore them. Do what you would do in the first place, and don’t be swayed by what has happened since.  Wait it out at the crossing.

— beth triplett

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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