I’m sure many of you have heard the joke about finishing what you start:
A doctor on TV said that to have inner peace we should always finish things we start. I looked around my house to find things I’d started and hadn’t finished, so I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of wum, tha mainder of Valiuminun scriptins, an a box a chocletz. Yu haf no idr how fablus I feel rite now. Gud avdice if you need inner piss.
I laughed so much when I read this.
Is finishing everything you start such good advice, though? Do you sometimes see things through just because you feel compelled to?
I look back over my life, and there are things I’ve finished because I really wanted to finish them. There are others that I finished in spite of NOT wanting to finish them. I’d made a commitment to someone else or to myself.
There are other things, however, that I’ve given up on, that I’ve stopped doing, and stopping them has brought such peace.
There are hundreds of quotes about not giving up, about staying strong, about keeping going through the dark times, and sometimes, that’s what you have to do. That’s what you really want or need to do. But there are also a lot of quotes about letting go and moving on.
When I was enrolled for a PhD in Education, I had a full time job and two children under three. I wanted to continue because I was the sort of person who always saw through the things I started. But even for someone as organised as I was, it was getting too much. Small children don’t allow you to be organised! I sat down with my supervisor and looked at all the options. He suggested I turn my PhD into an Honours Masters degree (you could do that back then) and if I wanted to do a doctorate later on, I could. I can still remember the sense of relief that swept over me, the almost physical sensation of the lifting of a burden, and the renewed enthusiasm as I prepared my work for submission. I knew in every fibre of my being, that I’d made the right choice.
Years later, I had to advise my youngest son. He was in year 11 and hated school. We fought constantly about schoolwork and homework and money. Bob and I were teachers at that time. We’d both been to Uni and valued education, but Alex was not like us. I realised that I couldn’t push him to continue something that was making him into a bitter, resentful young man. I asked him how he’d feel if he left school and got a job. He was elated. He wept with relief. He couldn’t believe that I’d even suggested it. He prepared a resume and started job hunting and was so enthusiastic that he managed to land a job in a shop in under a week. I told him that if he wanted to go back to school at any time, he could. But that way was not for him. He loved what he was doing and worked his way up to store manager before he moved on to other things. He and I both felt that sense of rightness to let go of things that were toxic to him.
Sometimes it’s not necessary to push yourself in directions that feel wrong. Sometimes you have to let go. It’s not “admitting defeat” in these cases, it’s freeing yourself of burdens, allowing yourself to move on in life.
Maybe at the beginning of this New Year, it’s time to take stock—to apply yourself with renewed enthusiasm to those things that feel positive in your life, and to let go those things that may have become burdens to you, so that you can move on with joy.
But how do I decide what to do?
The reasons to keep going with things needs to be related to their VALUE to you.
Some philosophers argue that there are two distinct types of value, intrinsic and instrumental. Although this is simplistic, it is a good yardstick by which to judge the value of a course of action.
Intrinsic value is value that something has to you directly. It could be something that you enjoy, or something that is fundamental to your life. If a thing has intrinsic value, there’s very little problem with continuing it. I love crafting and writing. I have no problem with continuing to do either of those, in fact I WANT to continue doing them.
So the things you need to make a decision about are those that may have instrumental value. These are things that, while not of value in themselves, may lead to getting the things you want or need. You may not enjoy them, but you can see the ultimate reward. You may not like going to the gym, for example, but the health benefits are why you go, so going to the gym has instrumental value.
So, examine the things that you’re doing in your life that are causing you stress. Do they have instrumental value? If they don’t, stop doing them, let go and move on.
If they do, ask yourself:
Is the end result worth the stress?
Is there another way to get that end result?
The answers to those questions will often clarify whether or not you should continue doing those things. Then you can make a clear decision as to whether to continue or whether to let go.
There are often bridges to cross and people who would hold you back or make you feel guilty for your decisions, but whatever your decisions are, it is YOU who has to live with them. Look after yourself, and you will be better able to look after others.
What do you think? Do you keep going no matter what?