There’s a mistake I make over and over in my life–I don’t know when to quit. I’ll press on with a project even though I’m tired, cranky, and no longer paying close attention. It’s the road to perdition, clearly marked, and I’m driving the express train. But I won’t quit. I keep thinking that in the next minute, I will finish the project, solve the problem, complete the task.
It doesn’t work that way. Right at the moment when the end is brushing my fingertips, almost in my grasp, something goes wrong. Tonight the just-repaired part on the sewing machine failed again. I was stitching the last piece of a card I had promised to get in the mail tomorrow, and the needle flew out of the holder, followed by the thread manager and the entire chunk of sewing machine that holds the needle and the thread tender. It tore a hole in the card. The one I’d been working on for two hours. The one you are not seeing a picture of.
I could give you a hundred other examples. When I made jewelry, I would press ahead to finish a clasp, even if I knew it required more thought than I had left. The instant I focused on the clasp, something would go wrong, and the necklace–a piece of intricate engineering–would be ruined. I did this more than once, more than a dozen times. I’d recognize the situation and think, “it will be different this time.” It was not.
It’s a combination of wanting to complete something ahead of deadline, the need to be done with a project I’ve been working on too long, and the bad decisions made when I’m overtired. It’s rooted in the idea that if I push harder I will do more than if I go to bed. It’s the nasty Catholic-school idea that you don’t rest until your work is done, no matter how tired you are. And I’m not even Catholic.
I want to find that moment I need to quit. Because I keep overshooting it,
wasting too much time doing over what I should have quit doing while I was ahead.
Tonight, I think I found the answer. The time to quit is long before I make the mistake. I keep thinking I need to stop right before the mistake. But that’s not it. The time to stop is while everything is still going well. Before tired becomes exhaustion. It’s so counter-intuitive. We don’t go to bed when we are tired, we fall asleep in front of the TV and get up at 2 in the morning, drag ourselves to bed and find our eyes open and our weariness gone. The next day, our eyes feel like they’ve been rolled in panko crumbs and placed on the grill.
The time to quit a project is while it’s still appealing, before it becomes a chore. Yes, there are times to press ahead, but when you grimly fixate on getting it over and done with, you have jumped the shark. (Another example of not knowing when to quit.)
And instead of finding the perfect ending here, I’m going to bed. Before I wreck it. Feel free to give an example of your own.
—Quinn McDonald is slowly learning when she’s had enough and needs to quit for the night. Slowly.