Ask MiGoals: "I’ve spent $60k on a degree but now I want out of my career."

Posted by Anna Mackenzie on

Ask MiGoals


I’m in my mid 30s and feel totally stuck.

A few years ago I completed my Masters Degree in Public Policy. It took me years to complete and also cost an arm and a leg, I’m talking upwards of $60k. I’m still paying this damn thing off and I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get here.

I now work in Public Policy, and it’s not what I expected or hoped for. Most days I feel empty. I’ve been playing this feeling down, telling myself that a job is just a means to an end and I can still enjoy my life outside work, even if I can’t enjoy myself within it.

But the more I tell myself that, the more I realise I’m fooling myself. I’ve recently felt the urge to explore a passion of mine - personal training. I’ve always been a fitness freak and love running PT sessions for my friends. I’ve found an online course I could take but it costs $2k and even though I can afford it, I just can’t drum up the courage to buy it when I’ve already invested over $60k in my Masters Degree. I want to explore PT but I’m scared to put the wheels in motion that may mean giving up what I’ve worked hard for.

How can I gain the courage to explore something new?

— Maddie

This month’s Ask MiGoals column is written by Anna Mackenzie.

ANNA'S ADVICEAnna Mackenzie


Anna is a founder, startup consultant, host of the lady-brains podcast and writer of Anna Mack’s Stack; a weekly newsletter sharing business, career and life lessons infused with a dash of humour and vulnerability. Subscribe to her newsletter here and follow her on instagram.

Ohhhh, Maddie. I hear you, I feel you. Leaping into the unknown is terrifying and even more so when it means ditching a path you’ve worked so hard to carve for yourself. Earlier in my career I went through something similar when I decided to leave my dream first job at Japanese retailer Uniqlo. I was hired to help launch the brand in Australia - a pretty big job for a very inexperienced graduate - and while most of my peers were taking meeting minutes or doing data entry, I was living in Singapore and Tokyo slurping ramen and shadowing the Asia-Pac CEO.

After completing my overseas training I moved home and opened the first two megastores in Aus. I should have been celebrating our success but a voice in my head had emerged, telling me that I should leave and do something else. I pushed that voice away and doubled down, convincing myself that I couldn’t leave after only two years, especially since they’d already invested so much in me.

But the longer I stayed the more miserable I became. I couldn’t see it then but I was deep in the throes of the Sunk Cost Fallacy: the false belief that I should continue with my career just because I’d invested time and effort into it already.

Maddie, might you also be blinded by similar sunken cost thoughts?

Is the main reason that you want to stick with Public Policy due to the cash you’ve poured in already?

Or is this the only reason?

Are you keeping on with something you don’t want to keep on with, just because you’ve kept on at it for so long? If you answered yes to these 3 questions your response may be driven by fear. And I viscerally get why: changing course could have real life implications and you still have to pay rent and put food on the table even if that food is only a packet of chicken 2 minute noodles.

But here’s the thing. The Sunk Cost fallacy is just that; a fallacy.

Doubling down on an existing path is pointless if it’s not the right path in the first place.

You say you don’t want to give up on the career that you spent so much time and money on creating. But I’m wondering, how do you feel about giving up on a potential passion that’s just starting to emerge? How might you feel 40 years from now when you’re kicking back in a Retirement Village thinking back on your career, if your entire career remained simply ‘a means to an end’?

It may be useful to throw on some binoculars and point them towards the future. Ask yourself:

  1. How does your current career align with your vision and long term goals?
  2. How does your current career serve you? Is it purely financial? Do you have great work relationships? As hard as it is, try and put the time and money you’ve already invested to the side.
  3. What could you lose by not pursuing your PT dream? Think about all the people you could meet, the places you could go and the impact you could have.
  4. Can you test the PT waters without going all in? We’re lucky to live in a world where side hustles exist alongside full time gigs - balancing passion with pragmatism might be the safer path to take here.

When I pulled on the threads of these questions all those years ago I realised that I wanted to live a big, full life that lit me up no matter what it took. I was passionate about building businesses and writing, not about Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down Jackets or White Crew Neck Tees. And so…I finally summoned the courage and took the leap. And as someone who has landed safely on the other side, I don’t regret it one bit.

Maddie, you’re in a unique position where you can pursue your PT passion on the side to see if it’s truly the life path you want to take. So why not bet on yourself and buy the course?

If you end up realising that PT isn’t for you after all, at the very least you will have given yourself the chance to find out.

And if you discover that it is?

You’re a smart cookie, you’ll figure out what to do next. You have a Masters Degree after all.

— Anna

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