Like many multipotentialites, I sometimes struggle to finish what I start.
And when I say sometimes, I mean most times. As in always.
I loved playing the piano when I was a kid but I hated taking lessons. My teacher wanted me to play Bach and Beethoven and I wanted to play Bette Midler and Billy Joel.
“It’s the 1980s,” I argued, “Not the 1800s” *Rolls eyes dramatically*
But no matter what piece of music I set out to master, regardless of the century it was composed, I rarely learnt it all the way to the end. Once I’d nailed the first few pages — both hands dancing across the keys in unison through the beginning and middle of the song — I was done.
A few thousand dollars in piano lessons later, I could only play a handful of songs from start to finish.
I wonder what the neighbours used to think — listening to the music wafting over the fence, each song ending abruptly at the point where I got bored and slammed my hands down on all the keys at once. It must have driven my parents insane.
I saw this pattern repeating itself in every area of my life until eventually it became part of my story: I was someone who never finished what she started. I was a girl who had potential but wasted her talent.
So it comes as no great surprise to me (or anyone else, I suppose) that after four and a half years of “trying”, I have still failed to finish writing the book I thought would be published by now.
I’ve failed to make my biggest dream come true
I’m about to tell you about my life’s biggest failure to date, which is… uncomfortable.
But by telling this story on my blog and unpacking the reasons why I’ve failed, I’m hoping to turn it into a triumph. At the same time, if you’re someone who struggles to finish what you start, I hope this journey will be helpful for you too.
You see, ever since I could read, I’ve wanted to write a book.
I wrote my first book when I was nine years old. It was 20 pages of fiction documenting one female’s experience of life at every age from birth to her 20th birthday. It felt like a dream come true when my parents printed it out on 80s dot matrix printer paper and put it in a binder so it looked like an actual book.
Later, I sat in the school library imagining what my books would look like up there on the shelf one day… Then I realised each book had the first three letters of the author’s surname printed on the spine and that my last name was Poole. 💩
So I made a silent vow to get married and change my last name before I got published.
I had it all figured out.
Once I started travelling, I wrote letters and emails to friends and family and they often responded telling me “You should write a book!” So many people told me I could easily compile my emails and journal entries into a travel narrative — some actually offered to help and a few even introduced me to people in the publishing industry.
Every time this happened I thanked them gratefully for the compliment and told them I was working on it. But I wasn’t. Not really.
I’d made seven genuine attempts at writing a book and hadn’t yet made it past the second chapter of a first draft. Because once I bashed out a story in an email or a blog post, I was done with it. I didn’t think about it again, nor did I have any desire to write about it in any greater depth. This multipotentialite had moved on.
But then 2014 happened.
A story that needs to be told
In 2014, my husband and I set out on a journey that I recognised was truly book-worthy.
For five years we had been coming and going from Nepal, living with an elderly Gurung couple, Ama and Baba, in a remote village of the Himalayas.
We were working in the village school, and later running a non-profit organisation to prevent domestic human trafficking, and this beautiful family adopted us as their own, took us into their home and painstakingly taught us how to be Nepalese. Over half a decade, they helped us learn the local language and adapt to village life in the Himalayas.
Then one day, in a moment of inspiration and/or insanity, we decided to return the favour. We offered to bring Ama and Baba back to France with us so they could see the world beyond their village and understand a little more about where we came from.
Six months later, Ama (63 years old) and Baba (78 years old, mostly deaf with very few teeth) swapped the only home they’d ever known in the Himalayan rice terraces for the bright lights and fast pace of Paris.
They were incredibly brave. Ama and Baba had never seen hot water fall from a tap, used a seated toilet, taken an aeroplane, driven on a motorway, showered naked, seen the ocean or eaten with a knife and fork. They were trailblazers on their mountain — the first people in their community to leave home and travel not for work, but for pure exploration.
For a month, David, Ama, Baba and I — four people from three different continents — travelled through Europe as a family. A weird, multi-cultural family who didn’t have a fluent language in common.
From the Eiffel Tower to the Mont Blanc, the vineyards of Italy and the red light district of Amsterdam, we explored the so-called Global North through the lens of the Global South. It was an often hilarious, sometimes disastrous and always enlightening trip through a world and culture I thought I knew well, until I found myself in the position of having to explain it to someone who couldn’t understand it.
As soon as the idea for the trip was planted, I had a strong sense this was a story that needed to be told. How many opportunities do we get to examine the mundane aspects of our normal, everyday lives as if we’re seeing them for the very first time?
When I asked Ama and Baba’s permission to tell their story, Ama responded with an emphatic: “GOOD! Yes!”
Then she told me: “I’m not an important person. And I am not a rich woman. All I have is my name. So take my name and tell my story. Tell the world that Dar Kumari Gurung went to Europe!”
And so I did.
Starting strong and falling flat
So little nine year old Laura’s dream was coming true. I’d found a book-worthy story and I started writing enthusiastically.
Throughout the trip I used the voice memo app on my phone to record hours of audio notes about where we went, what we did, conversations we had, challenges we faced and feelings we dealt with along the way. I also had videos, photos and notes scrawled in various journals and notebooks.
We arranged a housesit in Italy at the end of 2014 and I squirrelled myself away to pull these notes together into a first draft.
I was so motivated I knocked out 6000 words a day in the beginning until I developed RSI in both wrists from typing too much. Undeterred, I bought a headset, downloaded Dragon Voice Recognition Software and I spoke my book out loud. The most common word in the book quickly became “arm” because that’s what the software understood whenever I said ”Ummm”.
In March 2016 I wrote the last words of the last line of the first draft of the book. It had taken me 17 long months to pull days worth of audio, videos, photos and written notes together into a completed first draft.
I was instantly overcome with emotion as I hit save, backed it up to the cloud and closed my computer. Then I called David and told him to bring home a bottle of Champagne.
I couldn’t believe I’d done it.
I’d finished the first draft of my book.
It was a total mess and far too long in its current state, but surely that was the hardest part out of the way, right?
I made several attempts to go back and start editing the book but I just couldn’t find any passion for it anymore. Every time I sat down to work on a second draft, I suddenly felt inspired to do a load of washing or Google recipes for cakes I had no intention of baking (in the oven I didn’t have.)
I couldn’t work out how to move forward so I abandoned the book for two years.
Then in 2018, we returned to our village in Nepal to visit Ama, Baba and the family. When we got there, Baba, now 82, was struggling with a chest infection. He looked weaker and more fragile than I’d ever seen him and I realised I didn’t have time to faff around with this book and wait for inspiration to strike again.
Because I had been super inspired when I was charging through that first draft. I was on a mission, thinking “YES! I’ve changed! I’m no longer the girl who doesn’t finish what she starts, because look at me finishing the crap out of this!”
But no… Hold the Champagne, Laura…
I was doing so well, so what went wrong?
Why I struggle to finish what I start
Since reading Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse To Choose, and Emilie Wapnick’s book, How To Be Everything, I now know that nothing really “went wrong.” My brain is just wired to have a different definition of “finished”.
You see, my lifelong dream was to write a book. So I wrote a book. And even though it’s not “done” to the level that’s good enough to be published, or “done” to a level others might expect, it feels done for me.
It certainly didn’t help that after I abandoned this book, I somehow managed to spend 18 months writing and editing a whole other book, Work the World, which I self-published and started selling in 2019. As soon as I’d sold my first few copies of that book, my published author itch felt like it had been scratched.
So why persevere?
Here’s 3 reasons I want to keep going after losing my mojo:
- I promised Ama and Baba I would write their story and they’re not getting any younger
- I’ve already put so much work into this book already and spent years of my life agonising over it. I owe it to myself to see it through; and
- I truly believe this is a story that needs to be told.
So here’s the million dollar multipotentialite question:
Now that I’m bored of the process and desperate to move on to something else, how do I follow this dream all the way to completion?
How do I finish what I start?
I don’t have the answer to these questions yet, but here are a few things I do know:
#1: I CAN finish what I start if there is some kind of external motivation
Even though I’m a multipotentialite, I can bring projects to completion for other people.
I’m a kick-ass finisher at work, awesome at hitting deadlines and I can make the seemingly impossible happen when I’m being paid to do it or someone else is counting on me. I will never let someone down when they give me a deadline.
I can also motivate myself to finish a personal project if I’ve invested a considerable amount of money in it — like my university degree or the online coaching program I completed last year. If I spent all that money and didn’t follow through on it, I couldn’t forgive myself.
But if I’m working on a project for myself that has nothing specific riding on it, it’s pretty common for me to completely lose interest in something I was wildly passionate about not long ago. And once I’ve lost interest in something, it feels unbearable to keep going — an actual physical pain I feel in my body when I try to persevere.
#2: Accountability can be a powerful motivator, but sometimes it’s not enough
At other times in my life, with other personal projects I’ve taken on, just telling other people what I’m working towards makes me feel like I want to see it through to completion.
This is where the ego can be useful.
If I make a public declaration on social media or my blog that I’m striving towards a goal, then the the fear of being seen as a quitter or a “Gunna” (someone’s who’s always gunna do this and gunna do that), usually motivates me to continue.
For some reason, that’s not working for me this time.
Just about everyone who’s come in and out of my life over the last four years knows I’m working on a book. In 2014, my loved ones heard me say “I’ll bash it out in six months” and in 2016, “I swear, this is the year I’ll get it done”.
When I think about how that must look to other people, I feel a tiny twinge of shame but mostly I don’t care what they think because every part of this book writing process just feels too hard, painful and tedious to keep going.
#3: This isn’t a very interesting problem and there must be hundreds of solutions
This is not a unique problem. Most people have probably had times in their lives when they lost interest in a project they were working on but then still had to finish it.
The reason multipotentialites struggle to push through the boredom is because we always have a gazillion ideas for thousands of other projects pulling our attention in other directions, like a crying child tugs on his mother’s skirt, begging to be picked up and hugged.
But the fact this is a fairly garden-variety problem is good news, because it means there are likely to be a tonne of solutions I haven’t considered.
And through this blog, I’m hoping to find them.
Over the coming months, I am going to throw everything I have at getting this book edited and polished enough I’d be comfortable sending it to an agent or publisher by the end of the year.
I’ll try every tool I can find to overcome my perpetually restless nature and achieve this goal, and I’ll document the process here on the blog. By the time the book is published — whether it’s self-published or traditional — I will hopefully have also created an online resource that guides other easily-bored, hyper-curious souls throughs the difficult process of finishing what they start.
I have no idea if I can commit to this without driving myself completely insane, but let’s give it a try…
Strategy #1: Make the Project the Priority
One of my biggest excuses for not finishing the book is “When I finish work for the day, the last thing I want to do is spend more time on my computer”, and more simply “I don’t have time”
Wall Street Journal writer Laura Vanderkam explains:
“Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently. When we say that, we actually mean “It’s not a priority”
So how did it feel when I reframed these excuses so they became “My book is not a priority” or worse, “My dreams are not a priority”.
When I decided to finish my book this year, the first thing I had to do is make it a priority. In order to do that, I had to make room for it in my schedule and prioritise it over other computer-based work so I could physically meet that commitment.
This forced me to make the difficult decision to leave a job I loved and a boss I’d enjoyed working with for almost four years. This was a huge and uncomfortable step for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it was a great job and I was losing the security of a regular income.
But sacrificing my job to make my book a priority means I now have the time and physical capacity to spend hours at my computer writing my book. And by accident, rather than design, I now also have something riding it.
Because imagine I walk away from an awesome job, drop my income significantly and still don’t get this book finished?
I guess you’ve got to put yourself in a position where not finishing the project feels more unbearable than finishing it.
I’ve just started working on a strategy inspired both by my nephew who has autism, and a long conversation I had with my husband in a jacuzzi on a rooftop in Athens last month. I’ll test it for a month and come back to you with an update on whether it works or not!
Wish me luck!
Laura Maya x
P.S. Do you dream of finding a job overseas or online so you can get out and explore the world? Do you want to live like a local in another country and maybe learn a language, but you have no idea how to make it happen?
If you want to travel endlessly, then check out the book I actually managed to finish, Work the World. This 170+ page guide outlines 10 ways to find work around the world so you can explore countries slowly and live like a local abroad.
These are the same tips and tricks I’ve been using to find work and generate an income since I became an accidental nomad in 2001. I wrote this book for all the restless, curious souls with the traveller’s heart who know there’s another way to live but need a little help getting started.