When I was in my 20s (shockingly long time ago that was!), reading The Far Pavilions got me interested in learning more about the Khyber Pass, so I bought a book on it. Despite the interesting subject matter, the book was the most boring book I had ever read. Even though my boyfriend suggested I just stop reading it, I struggled through it because once I started a book, I could not NOT finish it.
Imagine my shock when some years ago, a friend told me about the wooden boat he was building. He had gotten the plan as a result of his volunteer work at a nautical museum, bought the first installment of wood, and started the build. By the time it was partially built, he decided he wasn’t interested in finishing it, tore it apart, and used the wood for firewood. When he told me this, my jaw dropped. I mean, how could he do that? Wasn’t it morally wrong? Did this make him the kind of person who could never finish a project? My verbal reaction was more restrained, but those thoughts were the background to my asking him what he was thinking.
What he was thinking was that he had no interest in using the boat once it was finished and that it made sense to stop work before he spent any more time on it. It wasn’t even that the process would teach him a skill that he didn’t have—he was already an accomplished woodworker.
Fast forward to a couple of days ago when I was having lunch with a friend. She told me she was reading a book that had gotten great reviews. She had already read a couple hundred pages of this 700-page book but just could not get into it. I said, ‘so stop.’ I couldn’t believe how easily the words came out of my mouth, but I’ve come to see the value of not finishing what I start. I struggle with the concept, but I’m more likely these days to stop reading a book that doesn’t appeal to me or is poorly written or has no discernible plot or interesting characters.
It’s not just books, though; really, why should we keep plugging away and wasting time and energy on pursuits in which we have no interest? After all, as a college professor of mine said, activity precedes interest, and if we find out through activity that we’re not interested, why not let the project or craft or learning experience go if we decide it’s not for us?
However, it still bugs me when I think of an internal and external landscape littered with unfinished books and projects and crafts, so I went looking for perspectives on the subject. I found a blog post by Scott H. Young, in which he says, “I believe the solution is to view all activities you undertake as being of two different types: experiments and commitments.” Experiments, he goes on to say, are okay to quit. Ah ha! Brilliant! (Another thing about getting older—I realize I’m taking advice from people younger than me.)
So I said to my friend, ‘stop’—you don’t always have to finish what you start.
Kaye, M. M. The Far Pavilions. St. Martin’s Press, 1978.
Scott H. Young. “How to Build the Habit of Finishing What You Start.” Scott H. Young. April, 2015. Accessed 10 July 2017.