Personal Growth

The Weight of Finishing

Quoted Out There: On Not Finishing (Longreads)

What happens if the stories we tell ourselves about our lives leave us lonely, wrestling with meaning?

We talked about how I have a desire to tell a specific story: a story of perseverance, a story I have been telling myself for so long as a way to make sense of my own life, as a way to prove, to myself, that I could love myself, and deserve the love of others. For a long time I have believed that love and joy come after. They come after accomplishment. They come after pursuit. They don’t live in the present. They have to be earned.

I didn’t want to be doing, I wanted to be done, so that when I was done, I could say I did a thing. … Accomplishment happens in an instant. Accomplishment is awarded the moment the finishing is done. But being out there takes a long time, and if it is only done for the sake of accomplishment, then it feels like an even longer, more painful time.

And yet: when was the last time anyone ever told a man to be ordinary? Think of the difference that would make, to begin to dismantle our need to be heroes, to finish things, to consider ourselves defined by accomplishment, particularly in a world where women make less money on the dollar and yet are defined, in settings both casual or professional, by what they have done or failed to do.

How, then, can we learn to love the ocean that signifies duration, the ocean that takes time? How can we acknowledge the plot when it calls for us to be ordinary? It takes a certain kind of grace to give yourself permission to do this, a certain kind of grace to say to yourself I’ve done enough, and sit down for a second, a minute, a day, a long time.

There is something about finishing that our culture is obsessed with. I even think of finishing school, that age-old culture-training course for women to enter into society. For them, finishing manifested itself as a right-to-enter. Which is the case so often, isn’t it? The act of finishing allows someone in society to enter into another realm of society.

Meaning unshared is barely meaning at all.

— Devin Kelly

I have been working, the past few years, on separating my self worth from my accomplishments and accepting that I am enough as I am. It doesn’t matter if I never finish writing my book. It doesn’t matter that I’m “a nobody.” It doesn’t diminish my value to lead an ordinary, simple life.

It’s tricky sometimes to balance this recognition with the fact that I do have goals I want to accomplish. To recognize that what I am doing is hard and there is value to doing it but also that the value in finishing it is not tied to my value.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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