Finish What You Start — Or Don’t. That’s Cool Too.

FINISH in Kulpmont, PAFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been a serial starter.

I’m pretty good at coming up with ideas and beginning a new project with great enthusiasm and excitement and pushing, pushing, pushing forward . . . until I get bored. Or distracted. Or simply lose that initial spark. Or . . . something.

For a long time, I beat myself up over all those false-starts. I bought into the idea that if you start something, you should finish it. Always. And if you don’t finish something you start, that means (cue dramatic, doomsday music): FAILURE.

And not only that! It also becomes a blot on your Human Record, as if there is someone out there keeping a big ole chart of your achievements, tsking and shaking his or her head every time you let another idea for a novel drop into computer file oblivion or whenever that seemingly easy peasy Pinterest project turns into the glitter vortex of hell.

Eh, I’m over it.

The turning point came with a realization:

I’ve followed through on plenty of things in my life — things that really mattered to me, things that I committed to and never wavered from, things that I made the time for.

I have a few academic degrees and passed a couple state bar exams, for instance, which whoop-dee-do in the grand scheme of things, but for me, those were huge commitments, and I followed through. More recently, in 2011, I started a law school personal statement consultancy business, which quadrupled in clientele in just its second year, thanks mostly to the ebook I put out last August (another FINISH!). And I’ve completed countless crafty projects, namely several intricate cross-stitch samplers, which have been gifted over the years.

I don’t list these accomplishments to toot my own horn but to show myself that, hey, you know what? I can finish what I start when I really want to.

So I go back to the second paragraph of this post — that “something” that has derailed me on some past projects. Hmm….

If it's important to you, you'll find a way...

 Could it really be so simple?

Yeah, it really can be.

When I look back on projects that have fallen by the wayside, it’s rather easy to see why they faltered — notice *they* faltered, not I faltered. At this point in my life, I am more comfortable than ever in trusting my instincts to tell me which projects deserve my time and energy and which just don’t. Bonus?

During that trial and error process, we learn so much about ourselves and our true passions.

So I’m OK with letting some things go. I have to be.

As my dear friend Diana Strinati Baur in the north of Italy so eloquently points out:

“We can’t simultaneously be glassblowers, knitters, potters, fine artists and sage advice-givers.  It’s simply not possible.”

We not only can but we *must* pick and choose and devote our energy to only those pursuits that are truly the most important to us — or as Diana writes, “figure out what’s yours” and focus.

But, hey, you’re more than welcome to think that whenever you or I or anyone else abandons what turns out to be a misguided project from the get-go that we’re quitters or failures.

My response to that echoes The Big Lebowski aka The Dude:

Now go forth and give yourself permission to choose wisely.

And finish what you start! Or don’t. That’s cool too.

51 Beans of Wisdom to “Finish What You Start — Or Don’t. That’s Cool Too.”
  1. Joanna Hamil

    All parents should read this. Let your kid start things and then, if those things falter, let your kid quit. Unfortunately, some parents say, “You never finish anything! So, no, you can’t have piano lessons (a tennis racket, etc., fill in the blank).” Sad, but true.

    michelle Reply:

    I agree, Joanna. Although I didn’t write this with children in mind, I think it *is* important for parents to consider that children do sometimes have a “feel” for what they should pursue…it definitely depends on the kid, though, as with just about everything. Some children probably do need more encouragement while others are just more secure in their choices. Lots to think about when you bring kids into it for sure!

  2. 05.07.2013

    I know exactly what you mean .. I give up too easily … I wanted to do a Proof reading course,, bought it, tried it and gave up .. I know why?? I cannot study on my own … I much prefer having someone around me, to ask questions. Also still not transferred over to WordPress,, I have one set up, but still not sure how to add stuff.. so what do I do ,, I stay with blogger.. My fault entirely.

    michelle Reply:

    Eh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Anne! It’ll all get done in its own due time…and if it doesn’t, it wasn’t meant to anyway……..

  3. Well, you know, that’s just, like, a really great blog post, lady! 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Hee hee hee…grazie cara xx

  4. Marsha

    Amen! Yes, we don’t finish everything we start because we find other plans, projects, etc. that are more interesting, positive, practical… It’s also a sign that one is open to trying a variety of things and not getting stuck.

    Thanks for these reminders today! I too often feel bad when I decide not to go forward with an idea, to change “strade”…

    Namaste :-).

    michelle Reply:

    Changing strade can be so refreshing and inspiring too…thanks for stopping by!

  5. 05.07.2013

    Thank you Michelle this makes me feel better 🙂 Really good points. Reminds me also of what a good friend once said about trying to do too many things: you can do (/have) it all, but you can’t do (/have) it all at the same time.

    michelle Reply:

    It’s so true, isn’t it?! Excellent reminder from you as well, thanks!

  6. 05.07.2013

    Well said Michelle-a truly enjoyable read. Giving yourself an option to finish what you once started allows for the flux and changes in life that make it so beautiful. Choosing to not finish what you feel you must let go of allows for more space that can be filled with what is truly deserving of your time. Thanks for that wonderful reminder.

    michelle Reply:

    Thank you for commenting, Sophia!

  7. 05.08.2013

    Wow! I guess I never thought about it long enough to know that I am a serial starter, too.
    Thanks for the insight, MIchelle.
    Also, I never really felt bad about it, either!

    michelle Reply:

    Good on you, Caterina! No guilt is EXCELLENT!

  8. Michelle, thanks for this post! I’m a serial starter too! I wake up so full of ideas all the time but I find I only follow through on a select few as well!

    You’re so right – I completely follow through on the things I truly love & am passionate about and I find ways to avoid (or at the very least, spend less time) on things that I don’t particularly like.

    It’s hard to accept that so many of my ideas are merely indulgent, wishful thoughts that won’t become concrete but I’m learning to accept his dreamy aspect of myself. It’s true that we simply don’t have the time to do every thing we dream of – but I think that’s a good thing since living life intentionally, choosing to pursue the things we love, makes our accomplishments feel that much sweeter!

    michelle Reply:

    Those of us with a million great ideas (or what we start out thinking are great ideas!) can easily feel overwhelmed…it’s so important that we pare down and focus. Yes. Thank you for commenting 🙂

  9. 05.08.2013

    A lot of people are serial starters. Like you said it’s healthy, it’s good just to be going out and trying things, you’ll continue the ones you want to.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for chiming in, Sam; it really does open our eyes to all different pursuits when we allow ourselves to try and change course if necessary 🙂

  10. 05.08.2013

    Fabulous post Michelle.

    I rarely give up on projects. However a few years back I finally gave up trying to finish reading books that I found tedious or badly written using the rational that there are too many good books still to be read.

    michelle Reply:

    YES. As I wrote elsewhere in the comments here, I had such a hard time with books in particular, but I no longer feel ANY guilt about not finishing something I’m not enjoying…too many great books out there waiting for me!

  11. 05.08.2013

    Thanks for a great inspiring article like this… Now i can let go of all things i’m not passionate about to make room for my focus.

    michelle Reply:

    I hope you find your focus and run, run, run with it, Giusy!

  12. 05.08.2013

    I love this. Society at large tells us to “finish what you start.” But when we know we’re going in the wrong direction or have lost our passion for a project or a book or whatever, why waste the time on finishing it (unless we have an obligation to someone else)? Life is too short. Thanks for reminding us that it’s OK to not always tie things up. It’s liberating!

    michelle Reply:

    Totally with you, Jann — obligations to others, sure, things should be followed through, but otherwise? Woohoo…liberating indeed!

  13. 05.08.2013

    Words of Wisdom Michelle, it is important to try different things but just sometimes they are not right for us. It is not failure to give up, life is to short to always persevere but of course every situation is different sometimes it is wrong to give up.

    michelle Reply:

    LLM, this is something that has been difficult for me to adopt with books I don’t like, but I’ve finally done it! Life is *definitely* too short and there are *way* too many excellent books out there for me to waste my precious reading time on the bad ones! *phew* I feel better 😉

  14. 05.08.2013

    Years ago I went to a therapist after walking away from my law job. I was in my early thirties and had three degrees so obviously I’d finished a lot of stuff and hadn’t had time to quit many things but the therapist zeroed in that my problem was not finishing things. I never went back but his words stayed with me and ever since I’ve felt a little twinge every time I walk away from something. For me the tricky piece is deciding when something really is just not the right direction or the project just isn’t going to work and when I need to just stick it out. But I’ve never agreed with that guy that you always need to finish stuff or else you need a therapist to sort you out. I like your point of view!

    michelle Reply:

    Haha, yeah, that therapist really should talk to someone 😛

  15. Gil

    Great post!

    michelle Reply:

    Thx Gil 🙂

  16. 05.13.2013

    “the glitter vortex of hell”–wonderful phrase. Thanks another thought-provoking post.

    michelle Reply:

    Glad you liked that, Rebecca…I don’t tend to do those kinds of projects any more, but I can certainly imagine myself getting in deep with Pinterest experiments and making a huge mess!

  17. 05.15.2013

    I am a starter, I jump into alomost everything with 2 feet, at 100 miles an hour, I invest in all the tools – for instance I just started juicing a week ago and went out and bought a jucier AND a blender, and 3 books on it and more Kale than any one person can probably eat (or drink in a week). I like to immerse myself.

    Then just as quickly I can do a shar 90-degree turn and be onto something else. I have learned to accept that while I might never have a “lifelong” passion there is value too in being a “jack of many trades”.

    I think there is also value in teaching kids to finish what they start. If you sign up for soccer for the fall, you see it through – then if you never want to take it again – try something else. There has to be a balance or we never learn to stick it out when something gets unpleasant, and yes there are times in our lives when we have to do things we don’t like.

    But when it comes to most things? If it doesn’t suit you? Move on.

    Great post!

    michelle Reply:

    There are times when we’ve committed to things that need to be followed through, absolutely — but for me, that pretty much only means when other people are involved. And no, this isn’t necessarily a post geared toward children trying out soccer 😉

  18. 05.17.2013

    Great post!! And you now have another follower – how could I not follow with a name like ‘Bleeding Espresso’ – love it – and then the Dude!!!!! My 16 year old’s hero (the hamster very nearly got named The Dude). And the quote in the middle hits it on the head – so simple, yet so true.

    michelle Reply:

    The Dude really knows it all, doesn’t he?! Glad you’re here, Kathryn 🙂

  19. Sam

    You did not write anything about Ferrero Co. going to court to quash “World Nutella Day.” They did not want a private group infringing on their name.


    michelle Reply:

    No comment publicly from me on all that…such an interesting situation 😉

  20. 05.24.2013

    Ahh, good thoughts here! As I writer I have to know when to bail out on something that’s weak and going nowhere. I’m pretty precise about that. But as for finishing things – going all the way with editing and submissions – sometimes I’ve just been crushed by it when I should have gathered more determination and pushed through to the other side. The key is knowing your onions! And measuring out your time and energy.. such precious resources Xcat

    michelle Reply:

    I think writing makes it particularly difficult to “know your onions,” as you say — knowing when to push through and when to move on is definitely a skill that takes time to develop, IMHO 🙂

  21. Amber

    Me too Michelle, I am a serial starter and a sometimes finisher. I wonder if that is a libra thing? 😉 I so want to be a renaissance woman and do it all. Sigh. But I am only human. I love this idea of forgiving yourself for the “failures” maybe if I do that enough I can focus on what really matters without that little voice judging me for what I have not done…

    michelle Reply:

    I’ve often wondered about the Libra connection myself, Amber…I know quite a few of us! Wouldn’t have it any other way though 😉

  22. 06.18.2013

    This post made me smile so big. 🙂 I too have struggled with the things you wrote, and lived in a community where I actually was judged, evaluated, and found wanting. But moving to Australia and starting over has been huge for me. I’ve learned that it’s not only OK to try a gazillion different things in order to find the ones that really tick with us, it’s fantastic! It’s a gift! How lucky are we to get to try so many different ideas, projects, crafts, etc, until we find what makes our hearts sing. Thanks for the very timely reminder. 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    You make me think about the connection between expatdom and this trying things out business, Krista…lots to unpack there methinks…perhaps in another post? 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

  23. Teti Konstantinidou

    Leonardo (Da Vinci) had so many ideas on projects that he DIDN’T CARE to finished. How about that?

    michelle Reply:

    EXCELLENT point, Teti. Thank you!

  24. 07.02.2013

    Heey, I totally missed this one XD Where have you been, I miss your posts!

    Anyway, I started a blog of my own, and just thought if you would care to check it out (not trying to spam your blog, just sorta getting the word out):

    Anyway, I really miss reading your posts!

  25. 07.25.2013

    Just new to the site. I have so many irons in the fire and find that most ideas get burned out too fast. Now as I get older I am finding that choosing the project that fans the flames of passion within me is the direction I must follow. Paulette

  26. Margaret

    I am so happy to have learned this concept by having an accident that forced me to slow down and not worry about finishing anything I started. Now 15 years later I have to keep looking at am I procrastinating, lazy, just going slow? Then I see I don’t have to start every thing I want to do, and I look to what I do accomplish. I choose carefully and if I don’t finish something I am pretty clear about saving it for later or just letting it go.

  27. 07.27.2013

    Interesting thoughts…

  28. 07.28.2013

    Life is busy and sometimes, something has to go. It is also okay to seek help. I could use a gardener, a housekeeper, a cook and a 4 day work week! Or, maybe, I just need to go on vacation to Italy!



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake