Angie McKeown

              I'm only me, but I'm very good at it

Everything is okay, Motivation

The Art of Quitting #1: You are not lazy

…in which I waffle about my tendency to quit everything, and how I came to terms with it.

I’m a starter. I’m great at coming up with ideas, investigating the details and making a start on a project. I am filled with natural enthusiasm at the beginning, but as time goes by it inevitably disappears and I usually find it so incredibly hard to stick at things that I end up quitting.

I could make a quit list as long as your arm, ranging from jobs and college courses to housework and half-done DIY jobs. I know how to quit! I am not a fan of self-flagellation! My internal monologue likes to look after me: Is it getting too wearing? Just stop for a while. Lost sight of why you’re doing this nonsense? Don’t keep doing it. Boss or co-workers continuing to make life difficult? Step away, you can respect yourself more than that.

This inevitably leads to a long, long list of uncompleted projects.

I am always in awe of my father and brother, because they are not quitters. They plod on through the hard parts, the boring parts, the cold and the rain, and achieve whatever it was they started. I don’t know if it’s natural determination, resignation, low self worth, or what. I suspect they don’t find it easy, but on they go to the bitter end, achieving things. My father completed his HND in Electronic Engineering in his fifties. It’s a difficult subject with a lot of math which he was kindly informed he would never manage to complete at his age, and the class went from 20+ to 3 as steadily higher numbers dropped out – but not he! We all attended his graduation ceremony with pride.

I needed an extra year and constant goading from my boyfriend just to finish my latest college course, and I only finished my teaching certificate because my uncle attended the same course and insisted I didn’t leave.

This, naturally, led me to the lasting conviction I was an awful person, who just needed to be less lazy and knuckle down and work. But it seemed no matter what I tried, I just found it a Herculean task to finish things. My self-worth plummeted, and my internal voice wasn’t just critical anymore, it was taking on a tone of disgust and loathing. It took years of low self-esteem, beating myself up and telling myself off for being rubbish (not to mention some experience with Dyslexia and ADD sufferers) before I became willing to admit to myself that perhaps I just wasn’t wired that way, and that I needed to find a way around it rather than through it.

So many problems in life can be better managed by changing how we think about them.

I now realise that I may be terrible at finishing things, but I’m great at starting them. I start lots of little housework things while I’m waiting for the kettle. While others prevaricate and worry about the risks of business, I often get on and do it. I see things as possible that other people wouldn’t consider. I have an enormous amount of initial enthusiasm about even the smallest of things. New stuff excites me! From making badges or gathering beach shells to sell on ebay, to starting tech companies and writing a novel – I launch at it like an excited puppy at a new visitor.

And I work so hard at the start of things. I’m often too excited to sleep, or I get so obsessed with it that I can barely talk about anything else. I know it annoys my boyfriend – we are often at a movie or dinner when I find myself thinking out loud about whatever I’m working on instead of spending time relaxing. My current project often fills my thoughts as I fall asleep, fills my dreams, and is then my first thought as I waken up.

But that right there is worth something. There are many people who find it hard to drum up enthusiasm, or avoid worry, or can’t help but point out all the negatives, and can end up talking themselves out of starting things altogether. I can start things. I can give the group the excitement and impetus to get going. And when the initial motivation wanes for me, and I have a project well under way but no motivation to continue, those other awesome people who see things through, well they are the ones who save the day! We need each other. There is a place for everyone at the table, and we will all excel at different stages of the project.

And just acknowledging my patterns helps me to work around them. I now know that sometimes I can finish some things by tricking myself into being excited about small components of them. And I’m much better now at asking for help. Sometimes I can delegate parts, sometimes I can simply recruit someone to keep checking on me until I finish.

There is a place for everyone, and your contribution is more valuable than you realise. Don’t fall for the negative voices telling you you’re just lazy. Don’t beat yourself up to work harder, work smarter instead.


See also: The Art of Quitting #2: Unfinished Projects are Great!

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