How to Get Started, and When to Stop
Life is a series of endeavors, or things we want to achieve. All endeavors are different. Some things are so easy to achieve we don’t even realize we’ve achieved anything, like deciding to keep breathing or to eat breakfast. If we don’t do these these things we will die, but they are relatively easy to get done. Other endeavors are more difficult, like going to outer space or making new friends.
Though all endeavors are a little different, there are always two things to consider before setting out to do anything: You have to figure out how to get going, and you have to know when to stop.
It is easy to know how to get started with simple things. If you want to have a productive day all you have to do is wake up at a reasonable hour. If you want to go on vacation, you can get started by booking plane tickets. But you should also make sure there aren’t any plagues where you are going. Getting a job is something a lot of people want to do. The best way to get started doing that is to just fill out some applications.
Getting started on easy things is no problem, but most of us want to set out on more complicated endeavors as well. It is easy to get started looking for a job, but what about getting a job you like? How do you get started doing that? You have to find out what you like and what you don’t’ like, and find some position that meets your criteria, and then determine how to get yourself into that position. All of this can be quite daunting.
Some people have even higher aspirations. They want to change the world! How do you get started with such a monumental task? Should you start by dabbling in politics? Should you start by writing about esoteric things on a personal website? Should you set out to change the world by starting a YouTube channel and peddling conspiracy theories? Changing the world is an ambitious endeavor, and the hardest part is probably just getting started.
Then there are the things we want to achieve that seem simple enough, but you’re never sure how to get going. Sure, it is easy enough to talk to people and make jokes, but how do you pursue meaningful relationships with other people? This is one of the most fundamental parts of human life, yet many people have trouble getting the ball rolling on this one. In my experience, I have hesitated to connect with people more than I have made any actual connections.
Finding work you like, leaving your mark on the world, and connecting with other people are all noble endeavors that can make life better. Once you know how to get started.
Sometimes, even with all the technique and knowledge in the world, things just don’t get going. The furnace won’t light. The mechanism won’t engage. It’s nobody’s fault, but can still feel like a personal failure, especially if you keep trying to get something started that is seized up and just won’t go. Just like knowing how to get started, when going after the things you want to achieve, it is important to know when to stop.
There are many good things we never experience because we didn’t know how to get started, but there are also bad things we keep doing because we don’t know when to stop. It is easy enough to know when to stop doing simple things. You stop snacking when you start getting fat. You stop drinking and smoking when your family stages an intervention. You stop spending when you run out of money. It is easy to know when to stop doing these kinds of things, but many people keep doing them anyway, because they are stupid.
Even the most intelligent among us may not know when to quit, especially when we think we are achieving something good. It is healthy to complain, and may even be beneficial, but you’d better know when to stop or else everyone will hate you. It is good to stand up for yourself, but at what point do you start doing more harm than good? We all want to work to make things better, but if you don’t know when to stop you can start making things worse.
Recently I have struggled with this. I like to work to make things better, and can get a little myopic about everything else. Then I fail to realize that in my attempts to make things better for everyone, I am actually rubbing people the wrong way and making things worse for myself.
It makes me think of a person shoveling coal into a train furnace. He is like a machine, and keeps shoveling and shoveling and the train goes faster and faster. Excellent! But the shovel-er is so focused on his task he fails to realize the train is off the rails. It is barreling over rough terrain and into the town square, where the mayor is giving a speech! And all the townspeople sigh and say, “that guy can sure stoke a furnace, but he needs to learn when to stop.”
So you should definitely work hard, but pay attention so you know when to stop. You should try to make things better, but remember to let it go before you make things worse.
Then there is the ultimate of human endeavors: pursuing meaningful relationships with other people. If it is difficult to get started connecting with others, it is just as hard to know when to call it quits. Sometimes people don’t click. The mechanism doesn’t engage. Pursuing meaningful relationships can make you feel good about yourself, but pursue someone for too long when its not working, and you just end up making yourself feel like a creep. If you are after something that is supposed to feel good, but it is starting to make you feel bad, then you probably should have quit a long time ago.
Life is a series of endeavors . If you want to do something, all you need to know is how to get started. If you are already doing something, keep an open mind about when it might be time to stop.