Getting Over The Need For Completion

I have a bad habit of having to complete things. Normally you’d think of this as a virtue. The willingness to see something through to the end is usually considered a good thing. But I’ve learned that my obsession with completion is sometimes costly and often disappointing. Some things are meant to be finished. Others should be let go, uncompleted.

Of course you should always finish things like work assignments, family obligations, and many other projects that you start. But sometimes things go south and they aren’t worth completing. I can’t count how many times I’ve bought the next book in a series, simply because I’ve read all the others and I feel like I must see it through to the end. It doesn’t matter that the author peaked four books ago and that subsequent books have only been so-so. Or worse. I keep buying because I feel a need to see it through to the end.

I’ve done the same with movies. I loved Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, but I thought the second in the series was only so-so. But that didn’t keep me from the theater when the third came out. I went, not because I really wanted to see the movie, but because I was invested in the series and had to see it through to the end.

Star Wars was another case where I should have given up. I loved the original movies, but the first one of the new group was so bad (Jar Jar, anyone?) that it almost ruined the others for me. But yet I went to all the rest because I felt like I had to. I’d grown up with Star Wars and loved it and I felt like I had to be loyal and finish. I’ve done this with seasons of TV shows, too, and while it hasn’t cost me much money, it has certainly wasted more time than I care to think about.

Of course that’s the attraction of a series from a marketer’s perspective. They understand basic psychology and know that if they can hook you with the first one you’ll likely stick with subsequent offerings even if they are garbage just because you need to see how it ends or if it gets better. It’s not that they intentionally make crap (although sometimes I wonder), but they feel less risk with sequels because they know they can count on a built in audience, at least until things get so bad that we wise up and stop going. And even then, there are a large number who say, “I have to buy it/see it. I’ve seen/bought all the others.”

I’ve also regretted certain projects or hobbies. I can’t remember how many years I kept taking piano lessons beyond the time I stopped really enjoying it. I just felt like I should keep going because I’d already invested so much time and money into the piano. It was the same with knitting and scrap booking. I kept doing it and buying supplies because I felt like I should. It’s cost me money and time I could have spent on projects I really enjoy.

Lately, though, I’ve started training myself to get over my need for completion. I’ve been thinking about what else I could do with the money and/or time I’m wasting by seeing things through to the end. The two hours in the theater watching a bad movie could be spent on a project I love. The $20 blown on that movie could buy me a DVD of a favorite classic, or be saved toward a vacation. Putting things in those terms helps me to see that I’m gaining nothing by completing things, and that I’m actually losing a good deal.

In the case of movies I’m learning to wait for the DVD, if I have to see the series to the end. At least I’m already paying for the DVD rental subscription and, if it’s bad, I can tune it out or turn it off if I’m not enjoying it without losing so much money. In the case of books I’m relying on the library. I’m a heavy user of the library but for some reason I’ve always bought the books in a series if I’ve enjoyed the first ones. Now when the series starts to head south I’m getting the next books out of the library. If they’re bad I’m not out anything and if they’re good, I can still buy them later. The TV problem has been solved by largely eliminating TV from my life and simply renting any series that I think will be good. When the episodes start to turn bad, I can move that series out of my rental queue and move on. When a hobby stops being fun, I’m learning how to just put it down and move on to something else. Maybe I’ll come back to it later. It’s hard to walk away from things I’m invested in, but when the costs aren’t worth the reward it’s time to get over my need for completion and let it go.

Completion has its place but when you’re blindly seeing things through to the end and there’s no reward to it anymore, it’s time to move on. If I have to see something through to the end, there are other alternatives like DVD’s and libraries that let me finish the series or see if it gets better without committing a lot of money and time. It’s better than wasting my money and time just because I feel like I have to gut it out to the end.

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5 Responses to Getting Over The Need For Completion

  1. Far more people look like they have a psychological motivation to leave all things unfinished. You need is a commendable one, to complete things.

  2. Steven says:

    Wonderful post.

    I have the same issue in my life. However, unlike you who seems to have a handle on it, I’m still dealing with it.

    Since my childhood was very unstructured, I think I find structure in my adult life by having everything I do complete. Of course, the flip side to this is the financial costs you pointed out and the emotional stress and the time it takes to search for that book, DVD, or whatever.

    Like you, I am learning to use the public library more. And I really do enjoy Netflix since I haven’t owned a television in years.

    Good luck on your journey.

  3. Jay Gatsby says:

    Sometimes you just have to know when to cut your losses. Unfortunately, most people suffer from a thing called ego, which doesn’t allow them to admit they failed. This is what casinos “bank” on (pun intended), as do stock brokerages that charge high upfront fees.

  4. minny says:

    Interesting – it’s up there with ‘if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing well’ – no, there are loads of things I do averagely. but if I was prepared to put in more effort I could do them much better. My view is that the extra time is better spent in other ways!

    There was a time that I spent hours trying to get things perfect – to the point I stopped doing so much. It was a chance remark by my husband, he said people rarely notice the small flaws that come with any handmade item, that helped my view change.

    To escape the feelings of ‘completing’, will be like a release for you.

  5. Gail says:

    More things need completion than just movies and book series. How about a set of dishes. I loved a certain Pfaltzfraf set that was going out of print and one day I had a chance to buy all the pieces I was missing. One of the dishes (a soup tureen) has never seen any use except as decoration and is now tucked away with the rest of the set as they are all too heavy for me to handle with arthritis. What else could I have done with the money that I spent of things I didn’t need.

    I still have a hard time resisting craft books although fiction books I am very happy to borrow from the library or pick up cheap at book sales. Learning when enough is enough is a huge part of being frugal. It is also a Godly thing to be content with what you have.

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