The importance of abandoning crap

There’s a flimsy line between wimping out and moving on. I should know; in recent years I’ve left a comfy full time job, launched six websites, abandoned two, ditched archery, and turned my back on origami. I remember the sad words of my cello teacher when I announced I was quitting that: “Don’t tell me you’re starting a bloody rock band.”

I told her I’d defected to the guitar because it doesn’t have a nine-inch steel spike in one end, a missing fret board, or a sad role in a Bond movie where Timothy Dalton uses a £1.4m Stradivarius to steer a makeshift toboggan. The truth is this: the Cello got tough at around grade six, so I switched to an instrument that any talentless shitbag can play.

I have always been fickle: flitting between phases for more than 20 years; purchasing the most expensive thingamijig to pursue each new craft; being careful not to startle those close to me by using it more than once. Imagine my delight, then, to hear Ira Glass attest to the importance of giving things up:

“Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.”

In a must-see clip, Glass sheds light on the process of creating remarkable things. Turns out it’s a tip of the iceberg equation: his greatest work — the stuff that airs — only exists because he kills over half of everything he starts:

“It’s time to kill and it’s time to enjoy the killing because, by killing, you will make something else even better live.”

How refreshing it is to hear a long-time hero admit that their successes are little more than lucky ducks bobbing in a sea of abandoned crap.

Seth Godin echoes this in The Dip — a short book about ‘the extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick)’:

“Quitting is difficult. Quitting requires you to acknowledge that you’re never going to be #1 in the world. At least not at this. So it’s easier just to put it off, not admit it, settle for mediocre. What a waste.”

Abandoning your dwindling hobby, business, relationship, blog, or other pursuit is tricky. Sometimes, though, giving up can be exactly the right thing to do. The thing to take away from Glass and Godin is this: killing a failing project isn’t an act of destruction — it’s a powerful creative force.

And that, for me, is the key. Anyone can make something. But to make something great, you have to find the courage to ditch the things dribbling along at half-past average. I’ve spent the last few years juggling projects and hobbies, abandoning a few to let others shine. It hurts to give up, but I know that my small successes wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Sometimes, the right thing to do is to move on and not hang on.

Abandon your crap. You’ll be amazed at what thrives in its place.