It’s March now, meaning there’s about one month left of classes. Then there are exams, and then–that’s it. Graduation comes along, and I exit Glendon with my degree and in making that exit, I remove myself from the educational system for the first time since I was three years old.
It’s pretty hefty stuff. It’s making me think a lot about the nature of endings. And that’s making me think a lot about the nature of ending things. Ending projects, ending cycles, ending life phases. As a soon-to-be graduate, a recovering perfectionist, a raging multipotentialite, and someone who spooks herself with existential crises pretty much on the daily, I’m compiling all the things I’ve discovered about finishing what you started. With any luck, you can learn from my experiences.
1. Sometimes the only thing harder than starting something is finishing it.
For some things–like doing the dishes–this does not hold true at all. But for big things, like finishing a degree or ending a relationship or deciding to publish that artwork of yours, it can be terrifying. The longer you’ve spent on it, the more effort you’ve put into it, the more you stake your identity on it–the harder it is to put down. To walk away from. Sometimes that’s because, once it’s done, you have to show it to people; sometimes it’s because of a deep-seated fear of success (which is even more powerful–and even more prevalent–than a fear of failure). Sometimes it’s because you just don’t know what to do with yourself afterwards. Because you don’t know where you will possibly go once it’s all over. No matter the reason, it’s worth it to give yourself that final push. Nobody should be stuck working through the same projects and lessons and mistakes for their whole lives. Novelty and change are vital to the growing process, and to having a fulfilling life. Even if they’re scary.
2. However, you don’t actually have to finish everything you start.
Take it from someone who starts twelve things at once and is equally excited about all of them–it’s highly unlikely that you’ll follow through on every opportunity that you show interest in. Especially the big, long ones. We tend to change a bit too fast for that–both internally, as in our wants and needs and goals, and externally, as in the circumstances and resources we are living with at the time. Living with the assumption that you must complete every project you begin will only weigh you down–and it can be remedied either by accepting that what you have learned is valuable in and of itself and then cutting loose, or by redefining your personal notion of completion itself. By revising your idea of ‘achievement’ into something more personally resonant, you free yourself of the need to see everything through when you could be letting go and putting that energy into other ventures. An example: you don’t have to aim for super fluency in every language you dabble in. Sometimes “a few basic phrases” is mission complete. Choose for yourself.
3. Extremely few people will appreciate the amount of work you put into finishing a large project.
In case you ever wondered why nobody seems to be celebrating your achievements with the enthusiasm you feel is appropriate, this is probably why. Here’s an example: I finished my book. Back in January. Which is freaking AWESOME, and plenty of people have been celebrating with me, but get this: it took me four years to write. The sentence ‘I finished my book’ is four words long. Every word in that sentence is representative of a full year’s worth of near-obsessive effort and imagination and creative angst. But you don’t see that when I tell you I finished my book. You see the broad strokes, the big picture. It’s going to be like that with nearly all of the large-scale ventures in your life, and it’s best to get used to it now. It’s fun to try and get people to fully appreciate the magnitude of whatever it is you’ve done, but there’s no guarantee.
4. Similarly, but conversely, you need to get used to what Tim Urban calls the Mundane Wednesday.
While other people have the slightly-exasperating perspective that whatever you accomplish just sort of magically happened in the span of a sixty-second movie montage, you yourself have the much-more-exasperating perspective of seeing every single tiny thought and action that goes into completing anything you complete. And here’s the thing: most of those thoughts and actions are inglorious. They’re unromantic. They’re mundane. There are icky parts to doing literally anything, and boring parts, and grunt work, and you know what, sometimes even the fun parts just sort of feel like a chore. There will never come a project, or a phase in your life, where everything is fun and thrilling all of the time, no matter how much you love what you do. It would serve you best to internalize that notion as fast as possible–because then you can get on with finding ways to make the mundane enjoyable.
5. Everything ends someday, no matter how far in the future it feels.
Like the Hebrew saying, “Gam Ze Ya’avor”. This too shall pass. Everything will be finished eventually, and sometimes that’s no big deal, and other times it’s the end of the only time that thing will ever happen to you. Be grateful for the chance that you had to experience it at all, and do your best to embrace it fully, because once it’s over, it’s over, and you may never do anything like it again.
What are you finishing in your life? What cycles are ending? (And what new cycles are beginning?) Let me know in comments!
Love and looming endings,