I was thinking about finishing this blog post somewhere around halfway through – maybe mid-sentence – for comedic and dramatic effect. The message would be that you don’t need to finish everything that you start, even if it is informing people about that message.
However, I quickly realised that that isn’t the message at all. The message isn’t to throw in the towel when you don’t feel like finishing something. It isn’t to never feel any pressure to finish what you start, even if it’s kind of your job to finish it. No no, the message is the power of not feeling the need to finish everything that you start, and when to use that power. Like with most ideas and messages that I post here, there is always a dichotomy.
Away from my digressions and poor sense of humour, one of the most obvious (but often ignored) places to start is with books. With so many great books coming to light from the past as well as new incredible ones being published all the time, you might find yourself in a similar position to me where for every one book you read, three more go on your reading list.
If you listen to audiobooks, then you have other things like podcasts competing for your in-ear attention. If you just read regular old books, then you still have things like your smartphone sitting next to you begging for attention. Although there are tried and tested methods for getting more from your books and eliminating distractions like your phone, sometimes you have to take a different path. Realise that not every book that you read you are going to like. And every book that you don’t like you don’t have to finish.
Distractions and patterns of binges and neglect are normal for any book reading cycle but if you find that a certain book is leaning more towards the chore side, it might be time to put it down. There are too many incredible books out there – as you already know – for you to be sacrificing your precious time to see if chapter twelve is finally better than the other dire eleven that preceded it. You are going to love books that others didn’t rate. You are going to get bored at books that others rave about. That’s called having different tastes and being different people. All that matters is if you are getting enjoyment and/or value from a book and if you aren’t, it might be time to ditch it.
Personally, I give a book two chapters before it’s decision time. Of course, this message goes for any shows, movies or any other form of consumption that seemed good but now you are regretting. Starting them is a sunk cost, and you can walk away and save the rest of your day and life at any time.
Books aren’t the only thing that many people – including myself – struggle to walk away from when the time is right. Projects are one of the most common things that people start and are always extremely reluctant to finish. Maybe it’s because projects become like a child where they are nurtured, grow with you and so become tough to abandon. Maybe they become a part of your identity (blogger guy/crypto girl/start-up kid/[insert literally any label]) which makes it easier to go down with the ship than get on board a life vessel. Sunk cost probably plays a big role again. These are all just theories but the end result is usually the same – some people have to finish projects even if it kills them.
Don’t get me wrong, every project requires work. Whether it be launching a cafe or writing a thesis, hard work will always be required. Bumps in the road, doubts and coffee addictions will probably join you on the journey too. The skill (and courage) comes from knowing when it’s time to stick it out and when it is time to walk away.
There are plenty of examples of people who walked away when they knew it was right for them versus what was expected of them. Two recent ones that come to mind for me are Andrew Luck, the former star Colts quarterback who retired at 29. He was battling injuries throughout his career but could have easily put on a brave face for a few more years. He decided to put his body, health and family first and walk away from the game, stunning the football world.
The other is Jack Gleeson, the actor that you might know as King Geoffrey from Game of Thrones. He was set-up for a life of stardom after his performances in the series. However, he decided he didn’t like the lifestyle that came with being famous and he simply walked away from acting altogether. People that follow their own path are the sorts of people that are worth looking up to.
To wrap up
The power of not finishing what you start or trying to finish what you know isn’t fun or enjoyable or right for you isn’t just limited to books and projects. You can apply this to almost anything you can think of: jobs, careers, relationships, friendships, goals, hobbies, interests. Just because you started it doesn’t mean you have to finish it. Just because it served you once upon a time doesn’t mean it still serves you today.
It can be a difficult thing to walk away from anything that you have spent time on – from books to work to people. The courage and wisdom come from knowing when to stick it out and knowing when to say enough is enough.