Why You Shouldn’t Finish What You Start
Photo courtesy of MIKI Yoshihito.

Why You Shouldn’t Finish What You Start

Written by Emilie

Topics: Featured, Productivity

I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and she started telling me about her newly sparked interest in interior design. As she spoke, something interesting happen: her voice become timid, almost revealing what sounded like shame…

It was as if she was afraid that I was judging her, simply for exploring something new.

Of course, being the outspoken (yet introverted) multipotentialite that I am, I had the complete opposite reaction. I immediately got excited for her and wanted to hear more about her new passion. She began telling me about lighting, “room themes,” and the relationship between interior design and mental health.

As she went on about all the nuances and intricacies of interior design, her hesitancy not only disappeared, but she literally came alive.

She was a multipotentialte in love.

Later I asked why she’d seemed so worried about sharing her new interest with me. She told me that she’s actually stopped sharing her pursuits with a lot of people in her life because they often don’t take her seriously. So many people just roll their eyes and smile condescendingly, as if to say, “Yeah yeah, sure. What’ll it be tomorrow?”

I used to feel this way a lot. I remember one extremely painful experience, when I ran into an old teacher from high school. She asked me what I was up to and I excitedly shared my latest project. She responded by saying, “I thought you were going to be a filmmaker?

Internalizing the Shame

This experience hurt a lot at the time, but instead of thinking that there was something very wrong with my teacher’s reaction, I thought that it was me with the problem. I felt ashamed, broken.

Of course, now I find the entire exchange incredibly offensive. I mean, just take my friend. Conversations like these have made her afraid to share the things she’s most excited about in her life. She had internalized the shame of being a “quitter” to such an extent, that even with me, she was afraid to be herself.

Yes, there is a huge problem with society’s refusal to recognize and value multipotentialites. However, we need to stop applying specialist standards to ourselves. It’s hurting us.

What Finishing Means to a Specialist

Here’s the thing, specialists define “finishing” differently than multipotentialites. To a specialist, finishing means hitting an external end point, like obtaining a degree, or even devoting your life to one path. It means 10,000 hours or some shit (that’s right, I said it).

Anything short of “mastery” is seen as a failure– as “giving up.” Forget about the fact that even being moderately good at something can have actual practical application in the world.

What Finishing Means to a Multipotentialite

To a multipotentialite, however, finishing looks very different. Finishing simply means that you got what you came for.

“What you came for” could be the completion of a project (multipods tend to be more project-oriented, which allows us to hit an end point faster, so that we can get the experience and move on), but it could also be something more internal, like developing new skills, exploring, creating, teaching, problem solving, etc.

For example, I had a student who loves understanding the “syntax” behind her various interests (that’s how she explained it). She loves diving in, really cracking the code, and understanding how something works– the hidden pattern, language and scripts that are at play. But once she understands that syntax, she becomes bored and loses interest.

We all have driving forces that move us from interest to interest. Once that driving force is satisfied, there’s no longer any reason to stick around.

Barbara Sher uses the analogy of a bee. You wouldn’t judge a bee for leaving the flower, after it gets the nectar, would you? Of course not. It got what it came for, why on earth would it stick around?

What Did You Come for?

As someone who loves goal setting and personal development, I often try to pinpoint my goals before embarking on a new project. Sometimes it’s the completion of a project, other times it’s a particular skill or quality that I’m trying to cultivate (becoming more creative, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, developing my public speaking skills, etc).

It helps to know what your goals are before embarking down a new path. That way you’ll know for yourself when you’ve hit your end point, and you won’t inadvertently start applying someone else’s definition of finished, and continue past the point of boredom. Boredom is your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to move on.

Not knowing your end point is okay as long as you listen to yourself (and not the specialist bully inside)

Although having a “Why” can go a long way towards motivating productivity, I don’t actually believe that you must know your exact end point before beginning. A lot of the time we don’t know how the dots will connect, or what we’ll truly get out of an experience, until reflecting back years later.

In these circumstances (well, in all circumstances really), it’s important to listen to yourself and trust your intuition. This means really paying attention and appreciating the little voice inside that screams, “I want to study interior design!

The voice may be very faint at first, especially when compared to the booming specialist bully inside who’s been yelling at you for years to “grow up and choose.” But the more you listen to the little voice and give your multipotentialite interests an outlet, the easier it will get, and the quieter that bully will become.

Similarly, when your body is telling you that it’s time to move on, listen to it. (Of course make sure that it’s not Resistance trying to trick you into stopping prematurely.)

The Advice to “Finish What You Start” is Everywhere!

In the third Productivity for Multipotentialites class (launching this Wednesday), we dive into the concept of “finishing” in depth. It was probably the class that was the most fun to teach, because both Michelle and I have very strong feelings on the issue…

The message to “finish what you start” is ubiquitous. You hear it from practically every freaking guru on the planet. I’m sorry, but this advice simply doesn’t cut it for us multipotentialites.

So I say, DON’T finish what you start. Or if you do, then you’d better redefine what finishing means to you.

Your Turn

How do you know when you’re “finished”?

***

The “Productivity for Multipotentialites” video course will be released on Wednesday, March 14. We will also be sending out a puttylove discount to the multipotentialites on the email list. If you’d like to jump in on that, fill out your details in the green box below.

29 Comments

  1. Debi says:

    I still hear the inner chatter about being a quitter or that I need to decide what I want to be when I grow up. It’s not as loud as it used to be but it’s can, at times, be pretty argumentative. I’ve found that being “finished” doesn’t necessarily mean that I completely walk away from something — I have a number of things that come and go depending on what’s happening in the rest of my life. What I dislike is people who think I’m a “know it all” because I can intelligently talk about so many different things. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know it ALL — rather I’ve got really varied interests that allow me to carry on conversations with almost anyone and not sound stupid.

    Interesting symbolism about the bee (even more so as my name means “the bee”).

    When I’m finished with something it gets boring and I lose interest. It’s really bad when I’ve started a new job and after the first 6 months I’m ready to move on — when I figure out what I’m doing and clean up the problems I inherited. In today’s job market, moving on isn’t always possible. There’s nothing worse than staying someplace when you’re completely bored :)

    Anyway … thanks, Emilie, for another great post.

    • Emilie says:

      Right, and also, in today’s job market, sometimes staying PUT isn’t possible. :)

      Yeah, I have issue with people who judge others for being “know-it-alls” (or for any reason really). It’s like calling someone stuck up, when they’re really just confident. I think both ultimately stem from jealousy.

      Thanks for your comment, Debi.

      • Margaux says:

        I’ve noticed some people getting eye-rolly around me when they think I’m being a know-it-all. I’ve altered my behaviour around these people to keep my lips zipped more often than not. But I don’t take issue with them because I can understand how it could be exhausting to be around someone who always has an opinion or always knows something about the topic of conversation and has to put that out there. In fact, I feel that way about other know-it-all MPs sometimes. Learning to keep quiet and to just listen can be instructive, too. Sometimes people just want to mouth off about something they know nothing about, but they also aren’t interested in being informed about it either, so telling them just leads to eye rolling. They really don’t care about the topic; they’re just trying to be funny or sociable.

    • William says:

      As far as Work/Life balance goes, I prefer a “Dull Boring Medical Device Production” Job that I can easily leave at work and not take home with me. This way at work I can think and work on all the other interesting things I am doing with my life at work. That way my job interferes with my other projects in a steady expected way. A more interesting job might turn dull or intrude unexpectedly, causing more problems then the interestingness is worth.

      Thanks for the great posts, Emilie.

  2. Brenda says:

    Unless my scanning has to do with something conceptual or information only, I usually try to complete one item from a new project. This really drives it home whether or not I have enough sustaining interest to incorporate it as part of my business ventures. I am taking your advice from one of your posts to have a little bit of a cooling period between new passions, since purchasing supplies while in the “love” mode (which can happen a lot with my brain) can get REALLY expensive and not always pan out.

    I agree with Debi’s comment that some people look at multipotentialites as “know it alls” or threats to their own intelligence. Sometimes I pass on commenting in front of short sided people like that and laugh to myself when I find them giving out incorrect facts and figures on topics! Ignorant people like that will hang themselves, if you give them enough rope. :) It is a little game that I play to make it easier to put up with certain people that I am forced by business or relationships to spend a certain amount of time with… Ugh! Since venturing out on my own into the internet, I have just simply got tired of being the recipient of their scorn and have tried to phase them out of my life as much as I possibly can. But I have true friends (that are NOT multipotentialites) that compliment me on my enthusiasm for making any topic in my aresenal interesting and wonder how I keep the info all in one brain! LOL ;) So… It is definitely a weeding out process with who one surrounds themselves with – negative vs. positive.

    Great website Emilie! I am currently reading through old posts and am relieved to hear that there are more people like me in the world and can hopefully harness all my interests into a productive business for myself. Thanks!

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks Brenda. I’ve cut toxic people out of my life too. I find that being around negativity hurts my confidence and productivity. I don’t need that. Gotta protect myself.

  3. Janet says:

    I can relate to the points you’re making in this.

    “To a specialist, finishing means hitting an external end point, like obtaining a degree, or even devoting your life to one path. It means 10,000 hours or some shit (that’s right, I said it) Anything short of “mastery” is seen as a failure– as “giving up.” Forget about the fact that even being moderately good at something can have actual practical application in the world.”

    ^^ I read Gladwell’s book, and he came to an interesting point (though some find it debatable). He says that most people require about 10,000 hours to become good at something. But those who were *great* weren’t necessarily better than those who were just “good” at it. That you don’t have to be *the best* in order to be successful. And yes there are some things (like doctors, for example) where getting that 10k and then some is probably a good thing. In our case, I think we have the 10k hours specializing in learning new things and adapting new information very quickly. That in itself is quite a skill that some can never master.

    I am one of those people that becomes interested in learning new things and often change my focus after I feel I’ve done “enough” of something or just lose interest in it. But, I can understand an outside person’s impression of that behavior as being, well, flaky. It’s the things I stuck with longest that I feel most accomplished about (perhaps by then I’d gotten my 10,000 hours in, I dunno.) This doesn’t keep me from wanting to try new things, and I kind of feel it’s my best and sometimes worst attribute.

    Ultimately, I think when you stop worrying about what others think, then it really doesn’t matter. Make your own goals and your own definition of success.

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, I agree with what you said at the end. Why waste your time trying to prove something to other people? I’ve also found that people who are creating themselves don’t criticize others nearly as much. When I get criticism, it’s almost always from someone who’s not doing very much themselves.

  4. Adam says:

    I relate to the “what are you going to be tomorrow” statement. I switched majors in college 14 different times, and every time my roommates would scoff using this statement. Even after I “finished” my bachelors (in political science) and masters (in theology) I decided not to pursue those options. I was done being involved in those areas.

    I hate the 10,000 hour thing because I will never get there. Ever. It’s not an option. It’s not defeatist thinking either. I would just get bored.

    I agree with @Debi. Finishing= when you get bored.

    Thanks Emilie for combating the 10,000 hour craze. I know the good folks at Expert Enough tried to tackle this question too. But of course there were very few multipotentialites in the conversation.

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, I can’t quite figure out Expert Enough. It’s run by multipotentialites, but there also seems to be a lot of talk about “becoming an expert.”

      I think boredom is a symptom of being done. It happens when you’re no longer stimulated, i.e. you got what you came for.

      • Adam says:

        I don’t know what to make of EE either. Sometimes I feel like it caters to us, but other times it goes into hyper expert mode. I usually either leave the site feeling great or really lousy.

  5. Livia says:

    Thanks for posting this. It came just the right time. I will now remember to define my finishing point by “getting what I came for”. Life has just gotten a lot simpler and I can let go of some guilt now.
    Thanks again.

  6. Maria says:

    The word relationship keeps ringing in my ear. Youch.

    • Emilie says:

      This could apply to relationships, certainly. Of course again, it would be important to make sure that it really is the end and not just resistance/fear. I also might re-frame it in less egocentric terms than “you got what you came for”. Something more like: “you both learned what you came into the relationship to learn,” or something.

  7. Ann-Sofi says:

    Great article (again:)) I´ve found this to be one of the things many scanners/multipods suffer from the most – the inner voice saying their way is wrong and the fear (that is usually totally legitimate) of being judged from others. Personally I still find it hard to tell the difference when my lost of interest has to do with actually “being done” (according to the bee-defenition) and when it has to do with resistance (like fear of success…:S ) But one picture that I´ve found helpful to justify the “bee-behaviour”, both for myself and scanner friends and clients, is the analog with watching movies. Very few people would think you´re strange if you like to watch movies (or reading fiction) sometimes – even if they are on totally different topics and even genres. Imagine someone who enthusiasticly tells you one week about a comedy they´ve seen, and the next week about an action movie. Would you ask them questions like “What´s the use with that?” “What do they want to achieve?” or, “OK, and I bet next week you´ll be all into drama…!” The thing is, for scanners the experience of diving into a new area they´ve fallen in love with pretty much equals the excitement others feel when watching an action movie or going downhill skiing. And just because most people think that “studying” equals “boring” they simply don´t understand this.

    • Emilie says:

      Nice analogy, Ann-Sofi. You’re right. I also think that most documentary filmmakers (and filmmakers in general) are probably multipotentialites for the same reason– you get to explore many different topics “through your lens.” Also it’s a field that requires you to know about a lot of different areas (writing, directing, editing, etc). Definitely one of the things that drew me to it… Of course, then I got bored and moved on. :)

  8. Tom says:

    First time commenter.

    Love reading your stuff, Em. I have a lot of “I’m not the only one” moments everytime I read a new piece.

    I’m the same as your “syntax” student. If I tallied up the “unfinished” projects (or video games, haha) over the years… well, it’d be a really long list. And there is always a collection of future projects to do, most of which will probably end as “unfinished” – or at least “finished-enough”.

  9. I couldn’t agree more with this beautifully written post! It’s so funny – one of my “unfinished” projects is this children’s book and accompanying little video on YouTube that I made a couple of years ago, and this post made me think of it, and I didn’t realize until now that it’s about being a Multipotentialite! Which just goes to show that just when you think something’s no longer serving you, it pops back up and serves you again! We gain something so valuable from everything we put our heart into, and those little threads run through everything we do and come together in the most wonderful ways – wether we “finish” or not! Just thought I’d share that little “full-circle” moment I had today. Thanks Emilie! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsiCWclUJ-I

    • Debi says:

      This story is so cool, Sunni. I shared it on my Facebook pages. Maybe you have more in you :)

    • Emilie says:

      Beautiful Sunni! Thanks for sharing that with us.

      Also, I agree, some interests definitely do resurface after years, though often in different forms. I don’t bother trying to make sense of my interests anymore. I just trust that if I’m being drawn to something, there’s a reason. And usually it works out just fine. :)

  10. Maeg says:

    I love this post, Emilie!

    I’ve been really considering whether I am ‘done’ with some major projects in my life, looking for a new direction to pivot toward. I feel like the idea of following through to the end, not quitting before you succeed, etc. etc. has been drilled into me.

    Not to mention all that “War of Art” stuff about resistance, which is great–people talking about how resistance is a sign you’re actually on the right path, break through it, etc.

    Now I’m reading this and thinking, maybe my resistance is a sign that I’m done. I love the idea that done can simply mean getting what you came for–self defined success that can just be an experience or a skill.

    I’m not sure what I’m going to do next but I feel more permission and leniency with myself. So thank you.

    P.S. found you through blogcast fm, love your work! xxoo

  11. Cherilyn says:

    Ohhh, such a beautiful and encouraging post for all of us who fall in love with the next fun thing! Thanks so much. I’m a 40-something multipotentialite who happens to hand out with a bunch of other ones, so my three boys assume everyone has a handful of interests.

    I’ve also found that most folks who give you the “Can’t you focus?!” rap are usually secretly intimidated by people who know about lots of different topics. Multipotentialite pride!

  12. Sherri says:

    Hello Emilie and everyone :) I just stumbled upon your website a couple days ago, and I have been reading and reading ever since. I have never come across anything about multipotentialitity before and I can honestly say that this realization may just change my life. All of the negative feelings and encounters that you describe seem like my own. I have always felt that something was wrong with me… why can’t I just pick something?… why don’t I know who I am? I am at a point in which I’m just beginning to think about starting “over” again and learning something new. The search has brought up so many negative thoughts and I have been feeling almost disgusted with myself… what are people going to say? Why on earth am I unhappy again? Who is going to hire me with such a random resume? Even though I am ready to move on with my work I have felt like a failure for even looking. I feel like it is expected of me to pick something and just stay with it and I will do this until I am miserable then finally make a switch. I have never once thought that having all of these interests could be a positive thing and I have felt judged by many people. But, now I found your page :) and I hope I can start associating myself with the positive parts of multipotentiality and start seeing my potential and my worth. Thank you so much for getting this out there!! :) Sherri

  13. Andiswa says:

    Wow. You have no idea how liberating this is. Actually, my 17 year old cousin asked me just a month ago, “Andiswa, what dont you want to do?” And my answer was NOTHING!! Sometimes I also hide things I want to do from people because I fell they will judge me for the “unfinished” or the “parked” thing I was crazy about last week or last year. There is also the bully inside me always putting pressure on me to “finish” and not to start on something new until I have put to bed the other thing. This post is really liberating.
    For me personally, the illustration about the bee who leaves a flower once he has gotten the nectar just defines finishing. What really is the point of hanging around when you have got what you had come for? I am the biggest multipode I know, hahaha.

  14. Lehua says:

    I LOVE this post, Emilie! It’s great to hear how you reached out to your friend and reignited her self-confidence with her multipod nature. It’s sometimes so disheartening to be in a world where the majority of people don’t understand that there’s strength and innovation in pursuing multiple things at once, and diversifying.

    I’ve had so many interests at once growing up… it’s like a whirlwind to think about! From learning languages to musical instruments, I felt “wrong” for not pursuing an interest to expert status. I -wanted- to be fluent at Japanese and Hawaiian, and I really longed to learn the clarinet, flute, piano, drums, guitar, and violin… but I eventually got bored with each, and moved on to the next thing that piqued my interest. A lot of these interests waned to boredom just as you said– but looking back on it, it really -was- enough for me to just learn to play a few songs, or to have a conversation with a native. The experience of something new was enough fulfillment for me to move on, but society trained me to feel guilty about it. (Not anymore!) :)

    Now, even as I pursue my ultimate passion of starting a professional organizing business, after receiving my Master’s in Counseling, I often get the “So you’re just going to give up on Counseling?” or “You’re putting that on hold?” Or people think it’s just a side thing, and another phase I’m going through. It’s so hard to talk about my mission at times, and I often default to the “Well, I can still use my Counseling degree for this business,” to which most people nod. But it still doesn’t feel quite right… I know that I’m not fully understood, and that many people will -never- understand my multipotentialite nature and its strengths, but there are people (like you and your community!) who do get it. And that, in essence, is enough. :)

    So after that long story, I just wanted to say thank you. I’m bookmarking this for sure and will share!

    Cheers,

    Lehua

  15. Jess says:

    My issue with never finishing anything applies to all the courses I have started in my life, from university onwards, because I get bored or change my mind or lose motivation. The problem? I am wasting an incredible amount of money. In January I started an expensive 1 year and a half long course, I was extremely excited at first, but now, 5 modules away from the end, I hate the idea of attending and I am in a bad mood at the idea of having to force myself to go. I know that I probably won’t carry on, but that means throwing away 5k. Does anyone have the same issue?

  16. Emily the Frenchie says:

    I have issues with starting and not finishing as I feel myself engaged when I am investing money in courses. So I keep going on, even if I feel I will never use it. The current one is a long journey through therapy. And I realized very quickly that I am not meant to be a therapist. But I am still going on. I am now taken a transversal path towards coaching within the same school but, in fact, I am already a coach. So, why should I persevere in this course? I don’t know but this is it. Feeling I have started something and paid for it means I have to go on. I am a kind of bachelor + 18 years of specialization in so many domains. however, I am still switching from a career path to another. And I never feel myself totally fullfilled. Something like: ‘I am missing something’. In the mean time, I am excellent at coaching other’s careers…

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