Woman making silencing motion with her finger to her lips.

Confessions of a Quitter

My name is Marisa, and I have a confession: I’m a quitter. I’ve never finished any personal project that I started, until last week.

My personal (dead) projects include:

An interviewing guide which was completed, but I failed to properly market, because I had no idea what I was doing and lost faith in the idea.

Several websites that I went ahead and bought the domain name for, started writing on, and then gave up because I wasn’t getting any traction.

Several short stories and a novel that I’m currently in the middle of but are all waiting patiently for my return because I don’t know what to do with either the characters or the plot.

A screenplay that I’ve outlined but gave up on because I don’t think it would ever see the light of day so why bother?

Lots of other projects ranging from music to dance that I either started and gave up on or was just too intimidated to even begin.

The Truth Is I’m Terrified

Growing up, I loved to sing (still do, actually). But as I got older, I started to understand what stage fright was. I felt embarrassed for singers that would get up on stage and not be able to hit the notes. I winced for them, panicked for them, and wanted to get away because I could feel the audience’s eyes boring into them.

Slowly it dawned on me that if I kept singing, one day, I was going to be that singer. There was no way I could be perfect every time.

And I loooove the idea of being perfect. The sheer impossibility of it lures me in every time. Because I know it’s never going to happen. I know it’s not possible, but I can’t say no to the idealism of it all.

So I quit singing in public.

Even today, the thought of getting up on stage and singing (3am karaoke not included), scares the absolute shit out of me. Just thinking about it I can feel my heart start beating faster, my eyes fill with tears, and I feel like I can’t catch my breath. A total panic response.

I’m Terrified Because I’m Critical

I know this happens because, if I’m honest, I’m kind of a bitch. I’m working on it, though. That perfectionism mentality also makes me overly critical of other people, so I obviously assume that everyone else is as shitty as me.

And this criticism, perfectionism, and fear of failure created the quitter I am today. Or at least it had, until last week.

So I Took That Fear and Did It Anyway

Last week, I typed the last line of code for UnFuck My Email. It’s a side project that I talked about for months (of course), and did nothing to start (of course), because I had a whole list of really great reasons that sounded totally rational (of course).

So what changed?

I got tired of being a quitter.

Is that how I want to introduce myself? Someone who had ideas but was to afraid to actually try them? Someone who wanted to try something but didn’t because she thought she might fail? Someone who let her excuses and fear dictate how she lived her life?

I said at the beginning of the year, my mantra was going to be “Do It Anyway”. I’m unsure of what I’m doing 97.6% of the time (very specific, I know). But screw it.

I’m at least going to be the type of person that finishes what I start.

What I Learned

Now, here’s the part where I tell you how awesome it was. I tell you how creative I felt. How motivated I was, and how inspired and joyful and wonderful it all was once I started.

Except that’s totally not what happened.

I hated finishing this project. I loathed it. I yelled. I sniped at Jason, who was trying to be supportive, so of course that type of positivity needed to be crushed.

I swore at my computer, and promised to dedicate my life to finding the soul-sucking assholes who created JavaScript because I was convinced they were trying to ruin my life.

I dragged myself to the finish line of this project kicking and screaming.

And I’m going to keep doing it.

Why?

Because people that start and finish projects have confidence, and I want that confidence.

So here’s what I did to finish.

Define what "finished" means to you

Deep down in my soul, way down in the crevices, I know that I’m a writer. Maybe not a great one, certainly not the best one, but writing makes me happy, so I know that’s what I am.

And with that comes the love of words and meanings. Semantics and definitions.

So you have to decide, before you even begin: When is your project actually finished?

Is it once you’ve added the last words to the article? Is it once you’ve published it? Is it once you’ve dedicated a certain amount of time to promoting it?

There’s no right answer, but if you skip this question, you’ll wonder whether or not you’ve actually finished something.

And that’s huge because with each project you finish, your confidence grows. So if you can’t look at something you’ve created and say, “Yes, I finished it,” then you’re not getting the true benefit from your work.

Whatever you decide, make sure that it’s something you have control over. Don’t make it dependent on sales, or likes, or shares.

Because having everyone love what you make feels great, but these projects should ultimately help you realize that you have what it takes to complete something. That you’re a finisher and not a quitter.

When I decided to do Unfuck My Email, I decided that “finished” meant it was live online and that I posted about it so other humans actually knew it existed. That doesn’t mean it will do well, but it does mean that I know I did well.

You just have to start

Everyone has their own personal hang ups when it comes to finishing projects. Mine is procrastination. Hey, you can’t fail if you never start, right?

For me, this was my biggest hurdle. Lining up all of my reasons and rationalizations, and calling them out for what they were: excuses designed to keep me safe.

Unfortunately, there is no magic to this. You just have to sit down and get started.

So, I found a simple minimalist design that I liked.

Then, I opened up Sketch, and started designing what I wanted the site to look like. I love Sketch, so this part was actually really fun. Plus, if you feel nervous about the design you’re making, there’s no commitment. You just trash it and start over.

Once I found my momentum, it got easier to work on it for an hour every day. I’d either set my timer and get to work, or decide one piece of the site that I was going to finish that day.

At some point, the whole project will suck

Remember how I said I hated this project? Well, this is the point I’m talking about.

I happily did my frameworks in Sketch, thinking about how much fun it would be to really design this. I got excited with the front end code to design the look of the site.

And I thought (so naïvely), that learning to make the forms and template in JavaScript was going to be so. much. fun.

Wrong. Oh I was so wrong.

By the time I got to that point of my project, I was in full-on Despair Mode. In the past, this was where I’d give up.

All of my previous stubbornness to start and get this far would fail me.

“Why bother,” I’d say sullenly into my glass of wine. “What’s the point?!” I’d rage at my computer screen. “This was stupid to start in the first place,” I’d convince myself as I tried to fall asleep, ruminating over all of the other things I could/should/would be doing if I hadn’t so stupidly started this project that was never going to end and would probably drive me insane in the process.

This part of projects is not pretty. But it happens to everyone. And it seems to show itself when you’re about 85% done with your project. After you’ve invested lots of time and effort, but haven’t been able to show anyone what you’ve created with all that time and effort.

So it feels hopeless. It feels pointless. And you’re going to want to burn it all down and walk away.

It’s hard to finish a project if you smash your computer though. Credit: All 4 / The IT Crowd

Don’t. Because if you can get through this that means you’re almost done!

The way I did this was to basically rage through the end of the project. It wasn’t fun, but let’s just say the hate fueled me. I was determined. I was stubborn. And no way was I going to get that far and not finish.

What I’m saying is, anger is good for the soul. Harness it. Use it as your guiding light as you scream your way to victory.

Get Comfortable With Good Enough

So I raged my way to victory, finishing the site, and throwing my hands up in the air like I made the winning goal in the game of my life.

The idea of the site is cool, but not perfect. The design is good, but not phenomenal. There’s only one template, but I’m working on others. I put it out there anyway.

Because I’ve got to get comfortable with “good enough”. It’s not an end game. I can always go back and change things to make the site more useful or more appealing.

And now that it’s done, I do feel that satisfaction of finishing. The confidence of knowing that I can actually complete something if I put my mind to it.

My name’s Marisa, and I used to be a quitter.