You Don’t Need to Finish a Damn Thing
“You’re not going anywhere until you’ve finished your meal!”
I remember being a child and having to remain at the dinner table long after everybody else had left. I wasn’t hungry, but I wasn’t free to leave until I’d finished my meal. Those memories have ingrained in the adult me a compulsion to continue eating even when full.
Being forced to finish what you’ve started creates unhealthy relationships with food. But what about the other relationships it impacts? …
I’ve done a lot of different things in my life so far. I’ve been an English academic, a writer, a health care professional, an endurance runner, a coach, a bartender, a cold-caller, and a game designer. If I tell you that I’m an entrepreneur, then this serial focus on different fields of work makes sense. Entrepreneurs are supposed to fail — repeatedly — until they find that thing that will propel them into the stratosphere of success.
But if I describe myself as an employee, rather than an entrepreneur, then that list becomes a series of questions. Why didn’t I persist with academia? What made me give up bartending? Was I ever serious about any of it?
Why didn’t I finish my damn meal?
It’s damaging to compel people to finish up, see out, or follow through every single time. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is stop what you’re doing, dust off your hands, and move on to the next adventure.
There’s a caveat. A serial quitter is someone who gives up when the going gets tough. Someone with an enterprising mindset quits when they’ve learned what they can.
Learning is the key.
I was two years into a PhD when I quit. It wasn’t until I’d immersed myself in academic life and surrounded myself with other academics, that I learned that I didn’t want to be an academic. I looked long and hard at what finishing my degree would mean for my future, and I decided that it wasn’t the future for me.
I didn’t want to finish that meal.
My supervisor told me that I’d ruined my career. She wanted me to finish what I’d started, whether I wanted to or not.
Not listening to her was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Shortly after ruining my career, I started work as a narrative designer for an immersive game company. The job turned out to be rewarding, creative, and satisfying. I would never have taken it had I not quit my PhD.
I’ve quit a lot of jobs and changed direction in my career several times since I started out. But I’ve made sure each time that I’ve learned something of value before doing so — even if I have to uncover that learning in retrospect.
Don’t look back on your previous work history as a patchwork of mistakes or mis-steps. Your work and educational experiences are part of your growth trajectory. They’ve brought you where you are today and that will get you where you need to be.
You don’t need to finish a damn thing.