I have an unhealthy relationship with finishing things. The good thing is I’m aware of this. The bad thing is… well… I have an unhealthy relationship with finishing things.
I know, you’re thinking, “How can someone have an unhealthy relationship with finishing things? Isn’t finishing something good?”
Yeah, it’s probably safe to say it usually is. But what if it becomes compulsive? What if you open a box of cookies and somehow finishing the box gives you a weird sense of accomplishment? What if you feel more at peace if you know there are no half-eaten bags of chips in your cupboard? What if it feels like your duty, like it’s the RIGHT thing to empty a bag so that the “task” of eating said chips is done?
Or what if you start a new TV show on Netflix and you can’t stop watching? And, not because you just gotta see what happens next, but because you must complete it so you can check it off your list? You have now watched every single episode of Jane the Virgin. Job well done. Task complete. Time to move on to the next task… but not before you’ve finished what you’ve started.
I finish reading every book I begin. That means if I get ten pages in and it’s dragging and I hate it, I don’t toss it aside and say, “Guess that wasn’t for me!” I keep reading. I finish that book. Even if it’s torture. Even if it’s awful. Finish what you’ve started. You must complete the task.
I always shop for birthday gifts and Christmas gifts early. Is it because I’m just super-duper on top of things? Or could it maybe be because I must complete the task? Finish it. Get it done. Check it off your list. Not finishing is failure.
Finishing = Success.
A few years back I was in grad school.
[fade to white, picture me slaving away at my computer]
After getting into every grad school program I applied to (yay me!), I ended up passing on all of them because they all required me moving across the country and uprooting my little family. I ended up finding an online program that I thought could fit my needs, and I applied and got in.
The university was a great university, and I did well—I had a 4.00. I got almost halfway through the program when I realized that sticking it out wasn’t a wise thing for me. I’d been applying for jobs in the field I was getting my master’s in (and my resume was legit!), but I didn’t even get a nibble. What I was missing was job experience in the field, but no one would hire me to get that job experience! If I hadn’t been attending the university online—if it were in person—I could have gotten an internship and then been able to get the “real” job. (The lesson here, kids, is if you don’t already work in the field you’re getting your degree in never do an online master’s program.)
I basically realized that I was throwing my money away, and by this point I’d racked up an extra $17,000 in student loan debt. To finish grad school it would take me an extra $20,000. I knew in my gut what I wanted to do, but the compulsive part of me that NEEDS to finish things was struggling.
I emailed an old professor/mentor and asked her if she wanted to get together for lunch. At lunch she asked me how grad school was going and for the first time I said it out loud—that I didn’t think it was going to lead to anything besides more student loan debt. She listened and then asked, “If you quit, what are you going to do?”
I answered, “I think I’m going to write.”
And my brilliant professor, the best mind I’ve ever known said to me, “Oh, that’s perfect.” And not sarcastically or condescendingly. She knew my writing and when I told her—a person with both an MFA and a PhD—that I was thinking about quitting grad school, she cheered me on.
It was still hard to do, though. I told the other people in my life who I was close to that I was quitting and at first most people didn’t say much. I interpreted the silence as support (I know… foolish). One person who had at first acted like they supported and understood my decision later asked me, “But, couldn’t you just finish?”
Finish. Finish. Finish. You must complete the task. Finish. You must finish what you’ve started.
The person treated me like I was quitting because it had gotten too hard. “Couldn’t you just take less classes?”
I had a 4.00. I am actually amazing at all things academic. The queen of essays. I enjoy tests because I’m such a good test taker. Grad school was never hard. It was just fruitless.
I always finish the bag, the show, the book… but what do they cost me? My time? That should be precious enough. With grad school I could watch my student loan debt ballooning and it was easier to see what having to finish everything cost me.
I’m proud I walked away. My only regret is that I went at all. That was an expensive mistake.
But still I know there are people in my life who think my quitting—my not finishing—was a failure. That I am by default a failure. And I internalize this. Sometimes I don’t begin things because I am afraid of the pressure to finish them. Because I know if I start, the nagging in the back of my head won’t stop. I don’t tell people about what I’m doing because I don’t want them to treat me like a failure if quitting is the healthiest/smartest/best route. And I don’t want them asking me about how close I am to the finish line.
Finish. Finish. FINISH.
My voice is loud enough. I don’t need others’ voices added to my own.
I’ve got several books I’ve started writing and I haven’t finished. Every single day the thought of those books gives me anxiety. The task feels insurmountable. So I finish the box of cookies. Or I finish watching New Girl. Or I finish shopping for all the summer birthdays. Or I finish laundry.
I think I need to give myself permission not to finish things and then maybe the things that matter most to me will be easier to complete. I don’t HAVE to finish. I don’t have to finish. I don’t have to finish.
But it sure feels like I do. And it feels like if I don’t it will feel like grad school again. I’ll feel the judgement of others. The gavel will drop and I will be declared a failure by those waiting for me to finish. I’ve disappointed everyone. Again. Even though my choices, my life, and the tasks I complete really impact no one but myself and my spouse.
Wow, this blog post sure has spider-webbed. Anyway… I should probably finish this. Or maybe the better test for me would be to stop mid