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On Finishing vs. Not Finishing

May 8, 2010

I’m reading a book that has me in a tizzy.

It’s called Refuse to Choose: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams. I admit to loving self-help books, because even though many of them end up being cheesy or underwhelming, every now and then there will be a nugget of inspiration that makes me see things differently.

This book is all about “Scanners”… people who have a bajillion different interests, who start projects but don’t finish them, who want to learn and try and do and experience EVERYTHING. This book is about me.

I can’t explain to you how excited I was to read the first few chapters… I actually ran into the living room and interrupted Justin to explain it all to him. It’s like I make sense to myself now… and I finally feel that there are other people out there like me who just can’t settle on ONE career, ONE hobby, ONE life.

I made a list of all the things I’ve done in my life… from moving to Boston to starting yoga teacher training… from cooking at a bed and breakfast to performing in one-act-plays… from learning photography to cooking to learning about cocktails to knitting to sewing to learning French. There are so many things in this world I want to do! And until now, I’ve always felt like such a quitter… I never finish anything. I stopped halfway through yoga teacher training and personal chef training. I took half of one chemistry class for pre-med. I stopped knitting when I could knit a scarf easily. I stopped sewing, and embroidering, and scrapbooking.

The author of this book, Barbara Sher, says that I am not necessarily quitting at these things, I’m just finished with them. While others may delve into a topic so deeply that they eventually master it, I prefer to do something until I feel competent at it, then move on. My goal is not to master each thing; it’s to feel that I am competent, that I could apply those skills to help others, to satisfy my curiosity and then move on. And, most importantly, THAT’S OKAY.

Ohmyga, internets! It all makes sense! I want to take barista training, I want to work in a restaurant. I want to teach English in a foreign country, I want to document everything I eat, I want to learn French and Japanese. But I don’t want to do any of these things for the rest of my life, and THAT’S OKAY. It’s exhilarating! It’s like a load has been lifted from my shoulders!

I am learning how to speak French now. And once I feel competent in it, I’ll probably stop. I am learning photography… but I have no desire to become a paid photographer. I like to cook, but do not want to be a chef.

It’s like I’ve finally given myself permission to try anything I want to, and, more importantly, to stop doing that thing when I’m satisfied, without guilt. It’s possible that the rest of the world will still judge me… I still hear it sometimes…

“When are you going back for med school? Are you taking any classes this semester?”

“Are you interested in finishing yoga teacher training?”

“Are you going to sell your photographs?”

“Are you going to write a cookbook? Become a food critic?”

“Why are you learning French? Do you plan to live in France?”

No, no, and no! I just want to do these things, until I don’t want to anymore. And, unbelievably, that’s okay.

Heck, I’m not even finished reading Refuse to Choose, and it’s already changed my life, just by giving me permission to be me. This is why I love books… I learn something amazing from every single one (I’m reading Little House in the Big Woods right now also… and learning how Pa made bullets and loaded his rifle and butchered hogs… fascinating!). Anyway, I just had to share this with you all, because I’m so excited for tomorrow, and what new thing it will bring… and I’m so excited to be able to drop a project when I’m done with it, instead of when I think others would be satisfied with it. Amazing!

Happy Saturday, internets!

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7 Discussion to this post
  1. Liz says:

    Love this post! I don’t know that it’s necessarily me… but I totally love that you learned something new and it gave you a new sense of understanding about yourself. What a great feeling. 🙂

  2. Flavia says:

    Oh dear, here I go again saying how much I relate to what you wrote.
    Just so it’s a bit more believable, let me start by saying that when I graduated from high school, in Brazil, and couldn’t choose what to study further cos by then I had already considered about a milion different careers, I started working in my father’s ad agency as a copywriter because that’s what I was naturaly good at. I loved the fact that I had to do many little researches on various subjects, but never spent more than a week on each, so I never got bored. One day I finally decided that working with family wasn’t for me, so I called it quits and moved on to a different city where I began teaching English to kids and teenagers. Than it was time to move again and I chose Italy, where eventualy I took two short courses (Pasticceria, in Perugia, and Barista, in Trieste) simply because I’ve always loved sweets and because coffee in Italy is an art, and I thought I might as well do that for a living. Turned out I never worked as a Pastry chef, but I did as a Barista and one year was enough for me. I tend to get very disappointed with just about everything because my imagination works wonders and the reality often ends up being much less charming and interesting in comparison. So I saved money to move to London to study something that had me interested many years ago: Acupuncture. I flew to London for the first time just for the interview at the University and got accepted, so I moved a couple of months later and completed the first year of three and a half. But once more, that was it. While I studied I realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in London, and while deciding to go back to Italy I had to come to terms with the fact that I could never be an Acpuncturist in a country where the laws say you’d have to graduate from a Med school first. I had also started learning French and six months later I stopped. Same with the Cello. Same with so many books that I never finished reading.
    I think what happens is I pretend too much of everything. I have this big, huge dream to have a solid career on something unusual and fun and interesting, that every time I start learning something I put so much pressure on myself for committing to it that I freak out and let go. This year I’m turning 28 and I get so embarrassed to tell my family, all the time, that there’s something else I want to study that I actually told my husband I won’t tell anyone anything again until I actually finish it. Just now I’m embarrassed to say I’ve decided to take a Photography course. It’s like it’ll jinx it!
    Now, as I pack to move back to Italy, I am reading a few books on self-coaching and realising that my goal should really be to know myself better, to acept myself better and to deal with things in a lighter way. I have decided that I’ll try to do the things that interest me even if in the future nothing really solid as a career comes out of it. At least I’ll enjoy the ride and get inspired along the way.
    Hello, my name is Flavia and I’m a Gemini. I don’t intend to ever be sober but I might change my mind.

  3. Barb says:

    It was so good to see your name in my comments today! My poor little book blog gets so little traffic, that made it all the better! How did you like the class with Susannah? It turned out to be bad timing for me, so I saved all the info and will get into when I can. All my stuff is packed up right now, so I couldn’t fully participate. Sounds like fun though.

  4. Teddy says:

    I need to read this book… NOW… in the last few years I’ve been an accountant, studied for my HR certification/worked in HR and now I’m somehow a certified macrobiotic chef. I still don’t know what I want to “do” with these things. I just wanted to know them, but that seems to be a terrible thing to tell people. It seems some people come with a set thing that they want to do. I think we need time to just do everything.

  5. Nicole says:

    This is so much like me, Crystal! Now I see why we are always relating to each others’ posts so well.

    I feel sometimes like I’m the queen of hobbies and interests too. Every few months, it seems like it’s something different– knitting, sewing, reading, painting, writing a novel, yoga, tennis, nutrition, etc. Pretty much the only thing that has remained consistent is cooking.

    And I’ve moved around a lot when it comes to what I’m studying too. I started out in journalism, then moved to French (to become a translator), then moved to education, and now I’m in accounting. And even that changes. Sometimes I think it would be awesome to study nutrition or personal cheffing or something too, but I know I should probably just stick with a line of study that will always be needed and that I can always fall back on.

  6. Heather says:

    Oh my word… I ran across your blog while poking around online, and I cannot wait to read this book! I’m also intrigued as to how finishing the it has affected you and your general life plan 🙂 My bachelor’s in English with minors in art history and biology (UT), plus an associate’s degree in Fashion Merchandising (FIT in NY) have led to me working fashion editorial at W magazine, copy editing/helping plan conferences at UNESCO Bangkok, being a “tuttofare” (handyman/woman) on a Tuscan farm, and now working PR in Austin so I can be with friends and pursue hobbies (like learning to play the bagpipes) before bouncing off for my next career movies (documentaries of the National Geographic ilk!).

    Anyway, thanks again! And, supremely last minute, but while I’m here: I’m working with the Hyatt downtown, and if you’re in Austin and available tonight, they’re doing a complimentary sushi event for local foodies, 5 to 7 at Marker 10 lounge (awesome lake and downtown views!) They just hired a new sushi chef, and I believe they’ve never offered sushi before. I promise the food is wonderful. If you’d like to go, let me know! Limited space, of course, but you can RSVP to hkmcclellan at gmail dot com.

    • Crystal says:

      Heather, I’ve finished the book and need to return it to the library so everyone else can check it out! Actually, you might want to buy a copy, so you can highlight things and write in the margins… I ended up having a bazillion sticky notes marking things, and just typed up some notes afterward. I’ve been thinking about writing about the after-effects of it… it has definitely changed my attitude toward the things I do and want to do!

      I’ll email you about the Marker 10 thing, too. Thanks! 🙂

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