Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Start Here...

Would you start something if you knew there was a high likelihood you wouldn't finish it? Could you get halfway through a seven hundred page book, put it down, but still feel satisfied? Could you knit half a sweater, put it away in a drawer and still smile that your stitching was neat and even? If you're a commitment phobe that might be the very definition of ecstasy, but if you grew up in a generation that was the iteration of 'finish your plate,' then starting and not finishing is equivalent to blasphemy.

I had lunch with a friend last week and we were wondering if the journey was enough. Was the journey only valid if you reached your goal, or was it O.K. to do something just for the hell of it? We decided that starting three different projects, even if none of them got finished was fine because at our stage in life the very act of starting something new was the goal.

Let me just put it out there that I grew up with the mindset that you never quit anything. Ever. Oh, you hate guitar lessons? But you signed up for the year. Sleep away camp not for you? You'll come home when the summer is over. Yes, I was a dogged finisher of things. I stayed with boring books, friends whose friendships were less than satisfying, and slogged through my last semester of college highly pregnant for fear if I took off a semester, I might never finish. 

I encouraged my children to complete their projects, give their piano, saxophone, and ballet lessons a chance, and to think carefully before undertaking something new that had failure built-in. But I did let them quit their music lessons when they felt they had enough, and we did bring one child home from sleep away camp a week early. Yes, we made certain all our children finished school and they are responsible adults who hold down jobs, but sadly, none of them play instruments or can draw or perform ballet. But at least they had the opportunity to try those activities out and decide for themselves. 

And we have a half-painted shed in the backyard that is a victim of some apparent miscommunication. Every time I look at the shed, drunk in its slapdash coloration it annoys and amuses me, much like the child who was a supreme starter of things.  

In economics, throwing bad money after good is called sunk cost. Having been an economics major in college, a really long time ago, it was an idea that had never resonated with me. Until now. I had always figured I just needed to stick with it and magic would happen. Having spent most of my adult life finishing things, I have now embraced the not finishing of them. It is incredibly freeing and fertile for the creative mind to allow the process to serve as satisfaction.  Yes, it's hard to walk away from a project that has consumed you and taken a part of your sanity with it, but it can be energizing too. 

Now, I find myself sometimes reading two books at a time, and depending on my mood, I might or might not finish them. I took a screenwriting course because it seemed a fresh way to work on my  book and attended only the first eight sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed them and got as much out of them as I thought I would. An old advertising slogan motto comes to mind, "Try it--you'll like it." And if you don't like it, that's fine too. At least you gave it a chance.

1 comment:

  1. There was an article in the NYTimes a while back about how the longer you've waited for a bus, the longer you're willing to wait and that maybe, sometimes, it's not efficient to be the kind of person who would pass the marshmallow test. As someone who doesn't care about "the ending" as long as the process was enlightening (and by the way, Daddy said, "why are you painting the shed, we're getting a new one?" so I stopped, which was a relief because it was a boiling hot summer!), I am wonderful at cutting losses. There was that one morning when I got to the train and the sign said "delays" so I gave it five minutes. 5 minutes later, when it still said "delays" I called a car service and ordered a car to take me to work. My car pulled up at the same moment that three older businessmen came around to join me at the driveway (hello, Metro-North), all on their phones ordered cars. If it had been a race--and let's face it, everything's a race--I would've won.