Starting things is easy, finishing them is hard. Or at least, it is for me.
I like saying “yes”.
To a certain extent, I think everyone does. We all enjoy saying “yes” far more than we like telling people that no, we actually don’t have time. It’s not like we don’t want to do certain things, it’s just that we can’t, because, realistically, you just can’t be at multiple places at the same time, and the day just doesn’t have enough hours.
I start projects that I don’t have the time or capacity to finish. I tend to take on more work when I should be taking on less – perhaps as a way to distract myself from what I should be doing. And then, from time to time, life gets in the way, and you’re left with all of these unfinished projects dangling in front of your nose, tickling its tip as a reminder of where you’ve slacked off.
This year in July, someone dear to me passed away way before their time. In situations like these, everything shifts into focus for me. Of course, events like this catapult you into a deep sadness. But they also have the unique potential of helping you realize what is important to you. In my case, I realized that I have to finish what I have been privileged enough to start (and to continue to pursue) against all odds. And now, finally, I’m close to finishing the project that’s been dangling in front of my nose for forever, and have committed to a new one. And once I’m done with the one, all-consuming project that my PhD has become, I will get back to all of the other promises I’ve made, and finally get around to keeping them. At least, I intend to do that. Failure is always an option, and that’s alright. Maybe I won’t be able to finish in the end, and that’s okay, too.
Along the way to now nearly finishing what I’ve started, I’ve failed multiple times, I’ve been stopped dead in my tracks, have had to work to get back up, stalled myself and self-sabotaged. Sometimes, I’ve tried my best, and yet still failed to succeed. Failure, of course, is an important part of life. Rejection helps you grow. Even if you don’t finish something, you will still have learned from it (not that that’s helpful to hear when you’re in the process of failing, but when you fail again after all, you will at least fail better). Sometimes, failing has nothing to do with the time and effort you put into something. And hopefully, as you pursue your ambitions, you will learn how to reject and set boundaries yourself.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, reflecting on this mindset of mine that seems to be so very neoliberalist. I’ve concluded that my ideas of what constitutes a good, a meaningful life are influenced by neoliberalist thinking and norms on happiness. They, i.e. these ideas, need to be reflected and further expanded on in time. But I also think that if you want to become active in any way outside of your own, personal bubble, you need to be able to do so without feeling as if you’ve left things unfinished. That being said, I don’t believe in “wasted potential”, or “untapped potential” or whatever else terminology life coaches and wellness gurus have cooked up in their anxiety inducing kitchens. The way I see it, if we’re going to focus on individualism anyway (at least to a certain extent), we might as well focus on individual well-being. For me, that doesn’t gel with (self-)enforcing an arbitrary timeline of when I have to finish certain things in life (and comparing myself to other people).
Of course, I’m writing all of this from an extremely privileged position. I already have a degree and am in the process of finishing my PhD. I know what I want to do once I’ve finished, and, of course, I live in a place in time that affords me the incredible position of not having to fear for my livelihood or my life. So by all means, take these words with a huge pinch of salt!
I’m writing this before the start of the new semester, because I’m sure some of you are trying to finish your term papers by the end-of-term deadline. Others among you may be considering whether what you are doing is worthwhile at all. Hopefully, this will remind you that we all have these types of thoughts, that sometimes it’s just not possible to finish something right away, and that you are under no obligation to anyone but yourself to commit to things you cannot finish.
You’ll start, you’ll fail, you’ll falter – and sometimes – probably most times, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now – you will finish what you set out to do.