What stops you from finishing what you start?

I’m a recovering project-aholic. I take on more tasks than I can finish.

There are a lot of factors to this. Here’s one of the big ones:

Being busy is an excuse for not finishing what I’m working on.

Maybe you can relate.

When the going gets tough, part of me seeks out the path of least resistance. Perhaps I will:

  • Open a bunch of browser tabs and “research.”
  • Reorganize my music collection.
  • Shop for the absolute highest quality insulated French press.
  • Pace around the house until I find something that needs to be done.

The result:

I bought a French press. I used up my best energy on a low-priority project.

Oh, and would you look at that? It’s getting late.

Therefore, I have no choice, really. I’ll have to table the writing project for later. But it’s totallynot because I chickened out. I’m just soo busy.

It took me a few years, but eventually I learned that there is a predictable pattern to these things:

  1. First I get an idea. Along with the idea comes a lot of good energy.
  2. This is the one! I want to do this!
  3. I venture forth. I know it will be hard, but I am up to any challenge. I am fearless.
How can you say no?

Let’s say a parent and her child walks by a dog adoption place, and the kid sees a puppy in the window. The kid falls in love with the dog and wants to adopt it.

“You’ll need to feed it and take it for walks,” says the parent. “Every day.”

“I know,” says the kid, hearts and stars in his eyes. He really does love this dog.

“Every day without fail.”

“I will, I promise.”

“He is really cute. But you understand, he’s not going to be a puppy forever. He’ll grow up.”

“I’ll love him and care for him no matter what.”

You know how this goes. They get the dog. The child is ecstatic.

Then in a few months the dog grows up.

Maybe he’s stuck in the back yard, ignored and neglected.

Or maybe the kid was true to his word.

It’s your call. How do you think the scene ends up?

Your idealist versus your perfectionist

First, the creative impulse shows up. You’re excited! You are inspired. It’s love!

No challenge is too great. Trusting the original impulse, you know you can see it through.

You feel certain.

Is that certainty? Or idealism?

The early moments of a project are a blank slate. The world brings you all the freshness of dawn. Your inner idealist shines like the sun.

That feeling is like rocket fuel.

Then, the work begins. No problem!

The work continues.

The honeymoon phase is soon over. Depending on the ease of the project and your skill level and various other factors like how much time you have and whether everything else is working in your life, you maybe got close to finishing your project.

But then things change.

That idealism that was there, that sense of boldness, the memory of inspiration’s grace, maybe it’s gone. Or maybe it gradually dwindles, replaced by other feelings…

Doubt. Fatigue. Depression. Overwhelm.

Photo by Supushpitha Atapattu

You have three options:

  1. “Forward!” You can press on …
  2. “Reconsider!” You can make adjustments …
  3. “Halt!” You can abandon it …

Sometimes experience shows you that a project really is a bad idea and it would be a waste of time to see it through.

If you heart is truly not in it, give yourself license to abandon what isn't working. Click To Tweet

Most often, though, when I think I should abandon a project and I check in with myself, the truth is that I want to finish it. But it has begun to feel harder and I don’t enough courage to see it through.

Whoa, where’d my courage go? My inner perfectionist has informed me that everything about my project isn’t perfect. It doesn’t match the purity of that original impulse. What if no one likes it? What if it comes out monstrous and distorted and no one sees what my inner idealist saw?

My inner idealist is devastated, so it wants something else to do. Anything. It wants to feel alive again. Even if it has to seek satisfaction in something difficult, something banal. If only it can find something else to begin…

Unless you’re clear that you want to abandon a project, be very suspicious about your motives to delve into something else.

That leaves you with the first option, to press on, and the second, to adjust.

Photo by Inzmam Khan

My suggestion is to do something between the two.

If you blindly press on and you ignore the perfectionist’s suggestions, you may finish, but your project might need major changes. Pressing onward like this in a rigid way is a surefire ticket to burn out. Your writing will not invigorate you. It will leave you drained, and the end result will suck. If only you had made that change in chapter two, the whole rest of the book wouldn’t need to be reworked.

On the other hand, if you choose option 2 and make adjustments to your project, it’s tempting to fall into a trap here as well. What begins as a desire to fix the stuff that isn’t working can easily end up with you appeasing the fussy part of yourself that would never be happy with anything. Too much fussing means no forward momentum. You’ll create as many problems as you solve. You’ll never finish.

A more surefire approach is to retain your commitment to the project while taking a step back to get some perspective on it. See the forest for the trees.

Long term big picture thinking helps if you want to:

  1. Take on a big project
  2. Actually finish that project

It pays dividends to go deep and check in with yourself. Your truth. Your gut. Your vision.

My suggestion is to take ten minutes and do a freewrite, using these questions to focus your flow of words.

Questions to ask yourself to gain perspective:

  • Do I love this? What do I want to honor here?
  • What will it take to complete this?
  • Do I have what it takes? Can I have what it takes?
  • How does this help me get what I want in the short term and the long term?
  • What can I do to enjoy myself more as I work?
  • Am I inviting joy and connection to this task?
  • What will happen if I don’t finish it?

Here’s wishing you success and fulfillment on your creative journey.

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