Michael Ashcroft

June 25, 2022

Needing things to be finished

I’ve been noticing a subtle background feeling whenever I work recently. It seems to be saying “this isn’t done yet, why isn’t this done yet?” In fact, I can feel it right now, even though I’ve only written 50 words. But this is clearly insane, since I’ve only just started writing. Nothing starts out finished.

This feeling is sufficiently uncomfortable that it makes me want to avoid it, which is how I end up on Twitter so easily.

I wonder if this is partly the cause of The Rut I’ve been in these last months. It shows up mainly with creative work, the kind where the starting point is nearly, though never entirely, a blank slate. It’s almost as if I consider there to be value — or perhaps more accurately, reward — only when I hit publish. Or, perhaps even more accurately, when someone hits ‘like’.

If the only enjoyment I get from creating is the moment I share it, then I’m gonna have a bad time, quite literally. I’ve fallen fowl of the classic trap that Alan Watts talks about:

“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.”

And the thing is, I know this! I teach this, even! This is not new wisdom or insight for me, but it’s funny to see how sneaky it can be in showing up again and again. It’s like a whack-a-mole of stuckness.

This is not how I want to be, though. I want to fall in love with the process, in all areas of life, over and over again. Life is in the living of it, not in arriving at any particular destination. Or, as Ze Frank says so perfectly:

And God, let me enjoy this! Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.

Perhaps this is a lesson that is never fully learned. Perhaps this is a lesson that deepens every time I re-learn it, when I see it playing out again and again across the fabric of my life.

Right now, I’m enjoying writing this note. Publishing it will be a nice little extra, but I’m choosing to enjoy articulating my thoughts, the tactile sensation of my fingers on the keyboard and the serene writing environment that is Obsidian.

I’ll play with generalising this attitude again. There’s no such thing as a finished YouTube channel, a finished blog, or even a finished online course, really. It’s all an unfolding flow of creation that I get to participate in.

Certainly, there’s no such thing as a finished life. But it seems that needing things to be finished is an excellent way to suck the enjoyment out of the journey.


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