Monday, September 19, 2011

Law 9: Completion - Letting Go

The cultural persistence of maudlin memes from the sappy 70's makes it nearly impossible for me to say, "if you love some thing, let it go," with a straight face even though it's a crucial part of of the ninth Law of Making: Completion.

I don't know if it extends to all human nature, but in our society we spend a lot of time and energy on how to get into something, but very little on getting out. Think of all the books written on how to get into school, land a job, or find your soul mate. How many books can you think of that cover how to finish school, leave a job, or say good bye?

They don't tell you that letting go can be much harder than beginning a project. When you start something, it's all about potential: the world is full of bright prospects and you have no way of knowing or even guessing what it might cost to pursue those prospects. When you finish, you know exactly what it cost: how much time, effort, anxiety, energy, devotion, and love you've poured into the effort.

The temptation not to let go--not to finish and allow the work to stand on its own--is analogous to the sunk cost dilemma: when you have a project on which you've spent considerable time and effort that hasn't payed off yet, do you stop the project and take the loss or do you continue in the hope that it might eventually pay off? Similarly, it's much easier, when you care deeply about the thing you've made, to keep revising and refining than to stop, let go, and declare it to be finished. It takes real courage to face the fear that the work would be been better received if you'd only done more.

There are, of course, a wide range of tasks we have no problem finishing: you do the job and when you're done you forget about it and move on to the next thing. But when you've poured your heart and soul into something, finishing is the last sacrifice you must make. It is an act of humility, acknowledging that you are limited and finite, when you recognize that you've truly done all you can do and set down your tools.

It just might be that the two hardest words you'll ever write are, "The End."


Image: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net