Skip to main content

Sunk Cost Fallacy in Nursing – Why are you a nurse?

I was just out of high school with no idea where to take my life. I knew what I enjoyed. I knew that there were creative passions within me but I didn’t know that any of those could be turned into a career. That’s too much pressure. The career path is not laid out for you. There are no steps 1, 2, 3 to get to where you want to go. With nursing however, there are steps.

  1. Study Hard.
  2. Work Hard.
  3. Get Paid
  4. Climb the Ladder as you study further.

The template is made for you. You can follow those rules. You’ll survive. So when my mother told me that I should do nursing because it would give me a decent pay check and other government worker subsidies, I listened. I followed the steps with blurry vision (from the tears filling my eyes as my life took a shape of its own that teen me hadn’t fathomed). I made it work.

I studied. I found the job. I worked and followed the protocols. The work wasn’t easy but there was not much thinking to do on “how to succeed” – I just had to play my role and do as I was told and do it well. I could do that…for years…and years is what I did.

Years of books and early commutes to get to work by 6:30 and clock in at 6:45 for shift change. Get briefed on the previous shifts work, pick up their slack, have the morning meeting, the quick coffee, the dusting of the work space and start the whole routine, meds, doctors rounds, observation charts, empty catheter bags, insert catheters, syringes, blood tests, IV rounds, admissions, discharges, ringing bells, funky smells, visitors with the imaginary nursing degrees telling you that you don’t know how to do your job, patients without any patience, supervisors with no vision, doctors that kill you. Deaths. Infections. Pre-Op and Post-Op care. The list goes on and on and on and on. It sucks but it’s your job and you’ve been doing it for years and it’s everything you know how to do. You’ve put your all into it. You’ve not honed any new skills. This is everything.

You’ll keep doing it because it will pay off one day when you’re in one of those supervisor positions where you can delegate and chill out with a big paycheck. It’s worth it. You’ll pay your house off. Send your kids to college. Get that dream vacation.

But there’s a voice in your head. It’s a little voice that you shut down constantly. It’s telling you that you’re not happy. Your legs don’t want to move when the alarm clock rings and you often groan and drop out of bed onto the floor, where you fall asleep again as your dog or your partner rolls you into the shower. What? Did I lose you? That’s just me? Okay. So you get up off the bed and walk to the shower. You don’t feel alive but you’re still at it! You’re still doing your 12 hour shifts because it’s worth it.

Or are you suffering with what’s called “the sunk cost fallacy”?

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Misconception: You make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences.

The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.

The misconception is that you can only pay off your house and educate your kids and do major life stuff because of your job as a nurse. You are invested in your job. It’s going to help you reach your dreams.

The truth of the matter is – that unless it’s a fulfilling journey, that’s no kind of life. We shouldn’t live for that one moment in the future that’s not guaranteed. We should enjoy the journey too. My aunt was a nurse. I was a student and worked in her surgical ward for a couple months. She worked hard. Her ward was well organized, neat as a pin and it was one of the best run wards in the hospital. Nurses didn’t all like her because she was strict on them. As her niece I only truly began to understand her life when I myself became a nurse and learnt of the stresses. She told me constantly about her dream. She worked out how many years she had to continue in nursing in order to pay off her house and save up for a decent retirement with beach holidays lined up. She seemed to have her plan all laid out. She suffered a heart attack and died before she could see any of that come to fruition. I was distraught over her death but I still continued on with my nursing career never stopping for a moment to think that it’s not the right answer. It’s my job. I do my job regardless of how it makes me feel. Isn’t that just what adults do? One of those things that just is the way it is. Why do we breathe oxygen? Why do we even exist? Who knows. We just breathe oxygen and we exist. That’s just what we do.

It wasn’t until I accidentally made money out of a hobby that I realized that there was another way and then still, I dragged out the nursing gig for years beyond that. Letting go is DIFFICULT.

There are so many attachments psychologically, financially, socially that keep you tied to your job but you sacrifice your happiness for it, believing it’s your only option. When it first struck me that I could toss away all the investments I made: I could throw out my studies, my licence, my time, and all the things I learnt, I was still held back by the reputation and social expectations placed on me…everyone thinks it’s a mistake to leave the thing you worked hard for. They tell you to stick it out. It becomes a part of your identity. Who are you? I’m a nurse. Those 3 tiny words pack a bundle of stories that instantly makes you more interesting or more hated. Whatever it is, you’ve made it a part of your existence and identity. How do you chop off a part of yourself? Really think about what it is that’s holding you back from quitting. Weigh that out with your level of happiness and inner fulfillment.

What do you think? Are you hostage to your investment? Or is nursing really something you actually love doing?

Copyright: Featured Image Posted with Permission from the Creator (Illustration By Tom Richmond)