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

Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.

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