Category: Taking a risk (page 1 of 3)

Getting Un-Sunk.

The sunk cost effect.  Chances are, you’ve lived this at least once in your life.  And you could be living it right now.

Have a pair of shoes in your closet that kill your feet so you never wear them, but can’t get rid of them because of what they cost?

Absolutely hate going to work every day, but hesitate to quit and find something new because you’ve been there 10 years and invested so much time in it?

 Then you’ve discovered the sunk cost effect.

Scholars tell us sunk costs are backward-looking decisions we humans make because we choose to continually reflect on our past decisions, we attempt to make sense of them and we reference the past in order to justify future decisions.  Apparently, much of it comes down to the fact that we don’t like losing.

Maybe if we stay in the relationship it will get better, which will prove it wasn’t a mistake all along.  If I try really hard, I can convince myself I love living in this house, because after all, I paid a lot for it, so why not spend more money on improvements.

And then there’s the good old demon of dreading the energy it can take to actually make a change.  Staying in the rut is so much easier, right?  Especially when we fear facing the reality that maybe whatever we’ve sunk so much of ourselves really was a mistake, and we are scared if we acknowledge that and move on, we’ll just die of misery.

We’ll have to feel bad.

Others will shake their heads and wonder what’s wrong with us.

We will have failed.

And it’s that feeling of loss that can take over our minds…blocking out all the possible benefits of making a big change, like new opportunities for growth, new relationships, new adventures and more.

Because remember, sunk costs are those you can never recover.  You spent the money on the dress you can’t wear, and it’s not coming back whether you give it a way or you let it take up space in your closet for 20 more years.  You bought the ticket for the terrible movie you would love to leave after 10 minutes, and whether you leave, or make yourself sit through it, that money is gone.

Gone. Over.  If you don’t accept that and move on, you will find it harder to make choices for better experiences in the future…instead, you will keep trying to reduce the bad feeling of a past loss.

Sunk costs are bad at any age, but I think they can be most troubling as we get older.  We feel we should be smarter, wiser. We should be at a place in life where we like where we are.  Like all those happy, pretty people in the commercials flying kites and laughing with grandchildren…all our past decisions should have been the right ones.

Right?  We’re supposed to be happy now, right?  And if we’re not, we sure don’t want to admit it and acknowledge maybe a choice we made just wasn’t the right one.

But what if that’s the only way we really can be happy?

It’s scary.  Scary to imagine everyone around us thinking we’re nuts to reverse a decision, make a big change, maybe return to something we once gave up.  Or to see us “suddenly” stop doing something, or leave a relationship, or change our lives in a big way.

Sometimes to win, you have to quit something.  Give up something.  Throw in the towel.  Then, you can turn your energy forward and let the universe propel you where you should be.

You can’t get spent time back.  But can you make the most of what’s ahead.  And you can start right now…because now is all we really have anyway. 


“There is no future in the past.”

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A new affair with life.

“Man may turn which way he please, and undertake any thing whatsoever,” wrote Goethe, “he will always return to the path which nature has prescribed for him.”

We do our best.  We tell ourselves from a very early age what we’re supposed to do, the school we need to attend, the career that best suits us.  We follow the prescribed path, live the in the apartment or house we find along the way, often have the spouse or children we know is expected of us, and then we are told that now is the time to rest, to sit back, to retire.

And yet, our minds do not retire.  Our passions do not retire.

And very often, we really aren’t ready to retire.

Movies will tell us it all just works out.  Television commercials show alarmingly attractive people with flowing white hair sailing, drinking coffee on the porch of a magnificent A-frame in Montana, or laughing with perfectly behaving children flying a kite.

Who are these people, and what did they do for a living?

But it’s more than that.  It’s hitting the 60’s and not feeling that much different inside than you did in your 50’s.  Or 40’s.  You are even more curious.  More interested in absorbing great poetry, great wisdom, great wine and great silence.  The kind of silence you find on a walk in the woods.

A silence that beckons you to really listen to the voice inside of you…the voice that might be speaking even louder than ever.

“The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun struck hills every day.  Where there is no risk the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.  It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”

Diane Ackerman

I don’t want to let go of that mystery.  Yet sometimes, I can feel the forces of aging (or is it what I perceive as aging?) pulling me into a kind of lull, as though a soothing being with a harp was telling me to pull out of the race,  retire my dreams, and put aside still-deep desires to see new things and learn new ideas.

It’s as though I’m about to summit Mt Everest, but the storm is too strong, the winds too mighty, the cold, too much for me.  “Just close your eyes and sleep”, the voice wants to say.  “You’ve had a good climb.”


I’m not ready for that.  Note even close.

For one thing, hitting the 60s and beyond is not the end of the road.  Life expectancy is far beyond that for most of us.  So in practical terms, we still have to pay our bills, try to somehow afford health care, and have a productive life.  Some are blessed with pensions and ample nest eggs. But many of us must still earn our living.

Maybe we can’t run the marathon, but we better lace up and get on the track.

Recently I had a bit of an epiphany.  No blinding lights or trumpets sounding, just some shifting in my thinking.  I was letting my world get too small.  I was receding from a bit too many things.  I was trying to convince myself that it was okay to give up the things that bring me the greatest joy:  living in a beautiful natural setting, hiking and walking along mountain trails, and simply breathing in the beauty of the universe.

I went back for a visit to the place I had moved to almost a decade ago…the same place I left about a year ago…and the flame was re-ignited.

I’m just not ready to “act my age”.   (What does that mean, anyway?)

I’m challenging myself with rebooting my brain and my achy joints and my forgetful memory and my wrinkles and coming up with a new plan for the next chapter.

It might mean I get back to where I was…in more ways than one.

It might mean I go somewhere entirely new…physically, but maybe just mentally.

For sure, it means I’m not standing still.  Not now.  Not ever.

Because moss is beautiful.  But I don’t want any growing on me.


 “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” 

             John Muir



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Old? Or just more creative?

Have you heard about John Goodenough?

He’s 94.  And he just, as stated in a recent issue of The New York Times, “set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity.”  Seems John and his team have come up with a new kind of battery that could potentially revolutionize electric cars.

Course this was nothing new for John.  In 1980, at the age of 57, he also helped come up with a new miniature lithium ion battery.

So much for all those who say aging means you can’t be creative.  Or have new ideas.  Or astound the world.

The Times article goes on to say how a 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that “inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers.” Also, the peak of creativity for Nobel Prize winners is getting higher every year.

Now remember, John Goodenough is 94.  He might just be getting started.

42% of Robert Frost’s anthologized poems were written after the age of 50.

Psychologist Oliver Sachs was extraordinarily creative well into his 80s.

There are those who say that creativity can be divided into two types of people.  Conceptual thinkers tend to peak young. But experimental thinkers reach their zenith at a much older age.  That’s because they are constantly exploring, experimenting, and adding wisdom as they age.  It takes many years to get there, but achieving greatness late in life is possible.  Cézanne was known for revisiting subjects again and again.

That’s good news for all of us.  Because what is life, if not a giant Big Chief tablet that we scribble on every day?

Maybe we can’t always remember to bring the grocery list with us to the store.  Or why we walked into a room.  Or where our glasses are.

But maybe we are better at letting the unnecessary drop away so the essence of what we are trying to create can come to the top.  Our years of trial and error teach us many things.  One important lesson can be to let go of the fear of failure…just try it.

Do it.

Build it.

Write it.

Paint it.

Brain researchers tell us older brains are better at seeing the big picture.  Better at empathy.  The key is to keep challenging our brains as we age.  Learning new things, trying new things, taking in information.

Who knows…you might just be the next great inventor.

“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.”

         Dorothy Parker


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Which way to go?

Whenever I go for a hike, I’m always eager to get started, to walk through the beautiful scenery, breathe the fresh air and feel the sun on my face. I’m careful to keep my balance as I walk over rocks and roots so that I won’t stumble.

So as much as I’m enjoying my surroundings, I’m mainly concentrating on my feet…on getting where I am going.

The destination.

DSC_0180 - Version 2Along with this is the aspect of time. If I’ve driven to the mountains for the day, I know my time is somewhat limited, so at some point, I’ll need to either turn around, or only spend so much time at the trail’s end before knowing it’s time to get back. So as beautiful as the lake is, or the view, or the mountaintop, or wherever it is I’m going, it’s not forever.

I can’t stay there. I want to get there, but I can’t stay there.

When I ultimately do turn around to go back down the trail, I’m always struck by how much more I enjoy that part of the hike. I see things from “the other side”. I notice so much more. Everything looks even more beautiful and I often see things I missed on the way up…maybe it’s an unusual tree. Or a lovely small waterfall trickling down the side of the trail. Or a view from a perspective I didn’t note on the way up.

The hike feels more inviting, more relaxing. Because I’ve already accomplished what I set out to do—hike the trail. Now I can really enjoy it.

But only when I’m coming back down the trail.

 Lately I’m struggling with a crossroads. Trying to decide which path to take, or whether to simply be still. My heart pulled me years ago to move a great distance to answer my yearning for the beauty of the mountains. I did it, scared and unsure, but I followed my instincts and took the giant step. There were many who advised against it, just as there were many who applauded my determination.


Now, almost a decade later, I’m faced with some challenges that include, in various degrees, issues about money, aging, a strong desire to do something else with my life, and more. I’m considering turning around on the trail and going back to where I was before.

Mind you, I’m still just considering it. Yet already I’m hearing some of the same things I heard almost 10 years ago. How can you do that? Aren’t you scared? What if it’s a mistake? (And my new favorite):

How can you give up on your dream?

I’m not giving up on anything. I’ve accomplished my dream. I’ve lived it. It’s in my heart and it will always be there. I can come back and touch it anytime I choose.

But I’m not on the same part of the trail anymore.

Already, I’m “heading back” in many ways these days. It’s not so much a slowing down as it is re-evaluating. I’m asking myself:

What matters most to me?

What brings me joy?  

 Can I have more peace of mind?

 What new adventures would I like to participate in?

I’ve been talking with some trusted friends and mentors about their experiences of “going home again.”   One very successful man told me I’m “driving his Porsche.” He said he always wanted a Porsche, and longed for years to have one. Now he’s in a position to have one, but he no longer wants it. Instead, he’s enjoying married life with his wife and stepson. “But you went out and followed your dream,” he said. “You’ll always have that.”

IMG_0799 - Version 2Another wise friend reminded me of words written by author and teacher Parker Palmer, who talks about two kinds of heartbreak. The heartbreak when you are deeply hurt or angry and your heart feels like it’s in shards. And then heartbreak where you heart has to break open in order for the new good things to flow in.

I like that. Because thinking any kind of change won’t be painful is short-sighted.

Of course it is.

Giving up anything you love hurts. Yet, as I think Palmer is saying, it also makes you stronger.

I also like the idea that while I may never really “belong” anywhere—simply because I’ve lived in 4 states in my life—I’ll always “belong” with myself. Place is important, but it’s not what stays deep inside. I think I’ve always had this “place” inside of me, just as I’ve always carried other places with me as well.

Look at a labyrinth:  you begin on the outside, following the wide path around the edges, slowly working yourself closer and closer to the center.  Then suddenly, you find yourself walking back towards the outer edge, going back past the route you just took, yet you aren’t in the same place.

You’re covering new ground.  

And in fact, you have to do that to eventually reach the center destination…before you turn around and walk back to where you began.

When you throw caution to the wind (at least metaphorically) and you do achieve what you’ve always wanted….a new address, a new relationship, a new job, whatever…you show courage and self-knowledge. No one can ever take that away from you.

Where you go from there is your decision. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to change your life and go a whole new way. There’s very little said about deciding at some point to return to your roots, and start life anew.

That’s really rockin’ the wrinkle!

I still don’t know what to do. I’ve been at crossroads before, many times wondering which path looked like the right one. But I can say that I’ve always trusted the trail to take me where I need to be.

And it’s always a welcome sight.

“Wherever you are is the entry point.”


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

      Marcel Proust

“And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.”
    Kahlil Gibran

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

    Yogi Berra

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