I’m a completionist by nature. I love checking everything off my to-do list for the day. When I discover a blog, podcast, or webcomic I love, my curiosity pulls me toward consuming its entire backlog. I spend hours spelunking the archives, finishing every last morsel of media.
Growing up, I attended Catholic school and was taught by nuns to finish my lunch because there were children starving halfway across the world. I was taught to complete one book before starting the next. Taught to give equal attention to every station of the cross.
This type of perseverance can be a valuable tool in one’s toolbelt. There are moments in life that call for grit, when it’s crucial to push through discomfort and disinterest. But fetishizing finishing isn’t nearly as helpful as it feels. Just the act of completing something isn’t virtuous by itself—the context matters.
We are living in a time of ceaseless information overload and ever-expanding choice. Thousands of photos are posted to Instagram every second, 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and millions of books are published every year. You can’t consume all that “content” even if you want to. Your time and attention are limited resources. In this context, a better skill than finishing is knowing when to finish something and when to abandon it.
I’ve gotten better at this over the years. I’ve become more attuned to what my body and brain are telling me about the future value of what I’m currently doing. These are the questions I ask myself when deciding whether to stick with something or bail:
- Am I enjoying it?
- Is it feeding my mind or my heart?
- Will it help me accomplish something or solve a problem?
- Will it matter in a year? Five? Ten?
- Is there something I’d rather be doing?
- Have I had enough?
- Might it be better to set it down now and pick it up again later?
- What’s the worst thing that would happen if I give up?
These questions help pressure-test the idea of continuing to follow my current trajectory. And sometimes their answers reveal that I should have pulled off the highway a few exits ago. But no matter how close to the end I am, it’s never too late to stop.
I want to give you permission to quit the thing you’re trying to finish that’s not working for you anymore. It could be a New Year’s resolution you regret making, a book that all your heroes recommended but you keep bouncing off, or even a side project that doesn’t bring you joy anymore but that you keep maintaining out of a sense of duty. Whatever it is, you’ll know it, because just the psychic weight of it being unfinished is stressing you out.
You don’t have to complete everything. You don’t need to be in it for the long haul. Quitting something doesn’t make you a quitter. Instead, it makes you someone who knows their worth and knows what they want. Letting go of one thing can give you space to start something new that will serve you better. And if you regret your decision, it’ll still be there when you’re ready to pick it up again.