When I was in high school I was one of those annoying kids who did everything. I played in the band; I sang in the choir; I was in every school play and musical; I danced competitively and taught classes to younger kids; I took an unfathomable slew of accelerated and AP classes.

In fact, I took so many classes that during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I actually paid to go to summer school: I was never going to be able to fit gym or health into my regular schedule, so I voluntarily plopped myself into a classroom at 7am for seven weeks to get it out of the way. Then during my senior year I ate lunch in the choir room every day and sang because I ran out of room for that, too.

I was a little… ridiculous.

My brain took this little trip into years gone by this evening as I wrestled with reading a 5,700-word article on a topic I’m only peripherally interested in. It was fine, but I had two other tabs open to pieces I was really excited about, and which had promise of being more valuable for my purposes than the one I was slogging through.

The obvious action is to close the freakin’ tab and move on — there’s too much out there to consume and to do to bother wasting time on stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter. This is not a difficult concept.

Yet it took me about 2,500 words to accept that my time investment was going nowhere and jump ship.

You see, I have a natural tendency to want to finish things. No matter what. Basically just to be able to say I did. I think part of my brain believes it raises my hardcore cred, and I’m all about being hardcore (this is both ironically true and truly ironic). More hours, more credits, more pages, more miles… and ya gotta stick it out ’til the end, baby — it’s an all-or-nothing game.

This is dumb.

These days I’m generally able to override my gut instinct (“keep going!”) by remembering high school. What I remember most of all at these moments is that for four years I played the trombone in the schools Symphonic Orchestra. For four years I gave it my first hour of the day — 8 semesters by graduation.

And I didn’t care about it at all. I’d started in band because my older sister was band. I thought the trombone was cool and liked that not many girls played it (again with the hardcore thing — my 12-year-old self was more interested in that than boys… and in all fairness, my 25-year-old self kind of is too…). I didn’t find the class engaging though and was lucky to be able to force myself to practice at home once every week or two. I played all right with the bare minimum of effort, and left it at that.

Yet I kept with it year after year, all because for some reason I found the notion of quitting less palatable than the cool things I could have done with that period — photography, physics, drama, yoga… there were so many opportunities I missed because I was more committed to staying the course I was on than figuring out how to get the most personalized value out of my experience, time, and energy.

I’ll say it again: this is dumb.

And it happens all the time. People stay in jobs or careers they’re not interested in, they read books they don’t like, they spend time with acquaintances they don’t enjoy, and on and on and on. Momentum is a powerful thing, but there is so freaking much┬áin this world that is awesome, that it’s worth being aware of when momentum is dictating action and when true interest, affinity, and passion are at the wheel.

All you get when you do it just to say you did it is… the ability to say you did it. And that is roughly… worthless.

If you’re not captivated by what you’re doing, no one else will be either. And if you’re not interested and no one else is interested, then what the hell’s the point?

What does have value is when people get excited about what they’re doing and follow a path that inspires them to do more or be more — those paths create interesting, interested people. And I don’t know about you, but that’s who I want to be, and those are the only folks I want in my life.

2 Responses to “Doing it Just to Say You Did It”

  1. Amy Says:

    Hey Allison!

    Good stuff!

    I full on agree with you. I stuck with wrestling in my Freshman year of high school. You know why? Because I never quit.

    But what’s the point of sticking with something if it makes you miserable? You’re not serving yourself or anyone around you. The only thing you’re serving is your pride and stubbornness, which is worthless if you want to be happy.

    • Allison Casey Says:

      Absolutely. It’s kind of scary how our culture perpetuates — even celebrates — such stubbornness though… I’ll bet a lot more people could be a lot happier if they were okay with letting go of their burdens!

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