Sourdough Principle

“Are you a starter or a finisher?” he asked.

No hesitation. I’m a starter. I love to start a new project. As a teenager, when I used to sew a lot, I always had several projects going on at once; I’d wear dresses to school that were still pinned together in places because I couldn’t wait to finish them. I worked on the same patchwork quilt for ten years. I did get the top pieced together, but had just begun the actual quilting. That didn’t stop me from using though. I wore it out before I ever finished it.

As long as I’ve been doing dishes, I’ve found it difficult to wash all of them. I’ll get a sinkful done, maybe, two. But then there’s always a pot or two that I think is best left to soak. The dishes are never done. In fact, the next day more dishes have appeared next to the unwashed pots.

I can never seem to complete anything. In fact, I almost intentionally leave things a little undone – one dirty dish, the tools not put away, the project never quite finished. Perhaps if I finish something, that is a little death. — April 5, 1986

I call this phenomenon “The Sourdough Principle”. Whenever you leave a bit of a task undone, the leftover bits expand. Often you’re left with the same problem or worse.

Some people say that I should celebrate my natural tendency to be a starter and stop feeling guilty for never finishing what I start. To be really productive, I should team with someone who is a natural finisher. Had I read that advice twenty years ago, I would never have developed the ability to finish projects. Yes, finishing what I start is a struggle. Yes, it goes against my natural tendencies. Yes, I still fail (look at some of my recent home improvement projects.) But the satisfaction and the sense of achievement I feel when I do finish something is exhilarating.

I think it is important to understand my natural tendencies. However, I never want to use the excuse “it’s my nature” to let myself settle for being someone less than I can be.

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