Mistakes Made, Sunk Costs and Food Business
I had a hard conversation with a food maker last night. He’d made some terrible mistakes (his words) – decisions that equalled tens of thousands of dollars spent with still no real food business to show for it, just a shell of a kitchen that he was paying rent for but couldn’t earn any money from, and might never unless he paid even more money to finish it.
His mind wouldn’t even contemplate ‘cutting his losses’ when I suggested the possibility. I watched his thoughts refusing to go there, as he tilted his head back to slow the tears. He was so ashamed. He was in so much pain. As he surveyed the roof of his marquee on this raining, depressing night, he whispered that sometimes he didn’t think he could go on.
What to say to someone in such a place? I didn’t feel like the right person to pull him out of the depths… I was too sad still… too ripped open by my own regret… too angry I couldn’t save my own brother who ended his life nearly two years ago. So I didn’t try to fix it. I just cried with him.
Is there somewhere people can go who’ve got themselves into this level of financial difficulty? If you know, please tell me so I can at least offer him that.
Seth Godin comes to mind (he often does) with his thoughts on sunk costs, which is money spent that was clearly a waste. We all have sunk costs, surely. Some of us way more than others. Seth’s point though, is that too often, we make decisions today based on mistakes made yesterday, and that this is absolutely not the kind of power money should have over future decisions.
The pain of the sunk can be applied to anything we’ve put our heart and energy into that hasn’t worked out. Question is, will we use this pain as an excuse to not keep trying? Will we let that regret dictate our future decisions?
Seth again: “Part of what it means to be a creative artist is to dive willingly into work that might not work. And the other part, the part that’s just as important, is to openly admit when you’ve gone the wrong direction, and eagerly walk away.”
It’s often not easy to tell which is which. Are we running a business that’s a mistake? or just enduring the pain before the light?
I’ve traversed the edge of this feeling for so many years, I’m starting to find strength in the tension.