Hard but Good
So, I am in the final stages of this PhD. Editing is the worst. I read a tweet a few weeks back that said, ‘Finishing a PhD is like finishing a group project where your partner made a ton of mistakes at the beginning of the assignment. Except your partner is just you 4 years ago.’ Honestly, this is the truth. As I finish, I keep finding things to fix, change, add, remove. It is a painful process, but it is good. There are times when you just want to quit because it feels like you have already written all of this, but now you need to re-write all of it. But you just keep pressing on.
I have been told that there is an economic principle of ‘sunk cost’. The basic thrust of this is that you don’t make a decision based on what has already been invested. For example, you don’t make a decision to go to the gym to work just because you paid for it. That investment is gone and there is nothing you can do to get it back. So, when making a decision you act as if that doesn’t matter. When we fail to ignore sunk cost, we get ourselves into trouble (i.e. The gambler who has gotten in too deep and keeps gambling because ‘I am in too deep’ or the country that keeps investing in a particular policy because ‘we have spent too much to let it fail’). Not ignoring sunk cost can often cause us to make disastrous decisions.
There is a time and place to ignore sunk cost. Nevertheless, I am not convinced this should be the rule for all decision making. There are times during my PhD when the only thing that has kept me from quitting is the sunk cost. I wasn’t enjoying anything that I was doing. I was tired. I was bored with the project. I was thoroughly confused by the topic. I wanted to quit. Honestly, even now as I edit (yesterday I spent almost the entire day working on just ten pages). However, the reminder of the sunk cost, not just for me but for my family and friends, keeps me working and working hard.
There are appropriate times to ignore our sunk cost and make a decision without any regard for how much we have invested. However, there are times when the sunk cost is the only thing keeping you going. Wisdom is knowing what time it is. For me, the sunk cost of this PhD is an important motivation to keep going, and that is producing perseverance through the hard things. The editing process isn’t fun. It is hard. It is painful. Yet in all of that, it is good. I will be happy to have this project behind me. And I know, that the only reason I have kept going at times is because I didn’t ignore the sunk cost.