Book: Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff

Readers,

Like the majority of sewers, I’m enchanted by novelty. There’s always a new fabric, new pattern (or new-to-me vintage pattern), new tool, new technique, new Craftsy class, or new discussion of the Craftsy class vying for my attention.

Likewise, the prospect of starting a sewing project is practically irresistible. Despite numerous failures and unfinished projects I remain unreasonably confident about the success of the garment I’m planning to make. My optimism reminds me of how Samuel Johnson characterized second marriages: “the triumph of hope over experience.”

“Moribund Projects” is more like it.

Call me hopeful, then. If I’d relied solely on the brutal facts of experience to guide my plans I would have closed up shop and hired a seamstress long ago, there would be no hero’s journey, and no blog. Unthinkable.

However, I wouldn’t mind improving my batting average. So when I learned about Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done I immediately requested a copy from my library and read it at a leisurely pace over a couple of afternoons.

Here are some observations and bits of advice I found useful in Finish:

  • Perfectionism is the enemy of finishing. More people quit Acuff’s online goal-setting course, 30 Days of Hustle, on Day 2 than on any other day. “Why that day?” Acuff asks. “Because imperfection doesn’t take long to show up. Imperfection is fast, and when it arrives we usually quit. That’s why the day after perfect is so important. This is the make-or-break day for every goal.” Acuff spends the rest of the book identifying perfectionism’s sneaky reasoning and disguises so we aren’t taken by surprise.
  • Most people set goals that are foolishly optimistic–a practice called “planning fallacy”–which results in a high failure rate. Acuff recommends scaling back your goal to stay in the game.
  • Perfectionism claims “You can do it all.” You can’t. Acuff recommends, “Choose what to bomb, and succeed at a goal that matters.” I would add that it has helped me to recognize where I have low aptitudes and need to find expert help.
  • Perfectionism can come in the form of distraction.

    • The first form is the “hiding place,” which Acuff describes as “an activity you focus on instead of your goal,” that doesn’t require the discipline that your goal does.
    • The second is the “noble obstacle,” which is “a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish.” Noble obstacles often have “until” or “if…then” in their elaborate explanations for not realizing a goal.
  • “If you’re not excited about your goal right now, ask yourself, ‘What’s my real goal?’ Make sure that what you’re chasing is actually what you want to catch. As you progress with your goal you should continue to come back to this gut-check question because it’s really easy to get off track despite your best intentions.”

    What is my real goal with my unfinished projects? Good question!

  • “If you don’t have a lot of joy in your goal right now, make sure you’re using a method that plays to your strengths. If you pursue the right goal in the wrong way, you still end up in the wrong place.”
  • “Data moves us beyond discouragement.” Emotions change, memories fade and change, but numbers can be your friends. Acuff gives 23 ways to measure your progress, including inches or pounds lost and subscribers or money gained. In sewing a wardrobe, I realized a measure of progress could be the number of outfits I could create planning a capsule rather than a stand-alone garment. And that would be a fun puzzle to work out.
  • “The past is trying to teach you.” Answer questions like “What happened the last time you attempted a goal like the one you’re planning?” and “If you didn’t finish, which parts tripped you up?” to help you shape a better process this time.
  • Perfectionism rises up even when you’re nearing the finish line “for one more barrage of fear.” “The day before done is terrifying,” Acuff says, as “What now?” “What if it’s not perfect?” and “What’s next?” appear. A friend can be important all through the process of meeting the goal but never as crucial as at the end.
  • Ask yourself “What am I getting by not finishing?” because you are getting something, Acuff says. “You get to hold on to the illusion that you could finish if you really wanted to. Rather than find out you might not be good, you hide in the myth of maybe.”
  • The worst thing perfectionism does is make sure you never try.

“But you’ll never know the unbelievable joy of keeping a promise to yourself unless you finish,” writes Acuff. “That’s what we’re doing, keeping a commitment to ourselves and knowing we’ve fulfilled it when we finish.”

Finishing Finish yesterday afternoon, I had a strong urge to finish something. I went to my baker’s rack and pulled a jacket project I wrote about in 2014.

From 1959, Vogue Special Design 4036.

I started this jacket in 2011, and my last notes were dated January 16, 2015.

Did I feel a fresh resolve to finish this jacket? Not in the least. I decided to pitch it. No apologies, no regrets.

Since I last looked at this project, I’ve learned that I’m best in garments with a defined waist, and this jacket doesn’t have one. I’m also not sure this collar is a good look for me. I still like the fabric, but I’m not so sure it likes me. It may be too busy: the texture, contrast and colors are all attention-getters possibly to my detriment.

I made samples of the pocket and flap and bound buttonholes and did some special Kenneth King technique on the collar pieces.

But it was the dreary prospect of making a third muslin that dealt the death blow to this project.

Let’s recap:

  • not the most flattering silhouette
  • the fabric might steal the show from my face
  • hard to incorporate this jacket into a wardrobe capsule, plus
  • either I’d have to decipher muslin #2 or start over with muslin #3. Either way, no fun there.

I concluded this would not be a hero’s journey but a fool’s errand.

So I did the sensible thing: I declared my project done–without finishing it. Upon the further examination Acuff recommended, I reminded myself that my real goal is a wardrobe that serves me. This jacket doesn’t serve me. Case closed.

I am not breaking any promises to myself, caving in to perfectionism, or admitting defeat.

I’m just giving myself the gift of done–and enjoying it immensely.

Oh yes, I am going to dump this.

 

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3 thoughts on “Book: Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff

  1. Yes a great post. I work in IT projects where being done can sometimes (often/mostly) over ride the perfection element. As I’ve become more experienced I’ve seen that going live with a work off plan is often better than making everything perfect, I have also worked on some things which got cancelled, and rightly so. I find the Agile approaches can be quite useful in sewing (as can TNTs)

  2. Bravo and well said. A very astute art and antiques dealer once told my husband and me that 95% can be better than 100% in many aspects of life. I think this is true in sewing. It is so difficult to reach perfection. As one who is rarely completely happy with any finished project, I remind myself that two years from now, that imperfect point or tiny pucker where it shouldn’t be will probably be forgotten or at least not noticed anymore. And as you have discovered, sometimes just walking away can be the wisest solution. Think I’ll read this book!

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