Your Past, Your Present, and the Work

I want to explore sunk costs again from the perspective of work you’ve done in the past.

At the time of writing this I've explored sunk costs once already, and if you have two minutes you can read that here: Sandcastles in the Sea.

First, a definition.

A sunk cost is a resource that has been spent, and can no longer be recovered.

The question I’m curious about is, how tightly should you hold on to work you’ve done in the past? Asked another way, how easily should you be willing to part with work you’ve done in the past?

I think a way to answer this question is to ask another question, how confident are you that the present version of you can do better work than the past version of you?

Here are a few thoughts to consider. I say thoughts but they are just variations on the same thought:

When a person works on something, the very act of working on that thing makes them a different person.


The person who started the project is different from the person who finished the project, because of the project.


If you think of a sunk cost as literally something that goes down (sunk, sinking, you get it), then what grows or moves up during the act of incurring the sunk cost? I would argue that you do. The act of incurring the cost changes you.


The you that did the work is different from the you that's done the work, and the you that's done the work is in a position to do even better work because of the work you've done.

So back to the question, how confident are you that the present version of you can do better work than the past version of you?

If your answer is anything less than 100%, you might be discounting for transformation you've experienced because of the work you've already done.

I'll leave you with an interpretation of a quote from a truly wonderful book. First, here is the quote:

Just start--and let the work teach you.

Jacqueline Novogratz, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution

My interpretation of this quote as it applies to the subject of this post goes something like this:

Let go of your past work with ease, for it has already taught you what you need to do better in the future.