Breaking The Completionist Cycle

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Completionist Dead End

I admit it: I’m a completionist. I am compelled to finish a book series, watch a TV series to the end, collect all the expansions for a board game, or buy/see every movie in a franchise. Anything I start, I have to finish. I am the person that the phrase “Collect ’em all!” was coined for.

Now that I’m reaching a certain age, this behavior has to stop. Not only is it expensive (and kind of stupid), I now realize that it’s just taking my time, money and attention away from other things that are better. I don’t want to waste my life on crap anymore.

The problem is this: Too many of these book and movie franchises, board games, TV shows, and other products simply go off the rails after a while. It might happen as early as the second book or movie in a series, or it might not happen until the fifth expansion of a board game or the fourth season of a TV show. It’s not usually a question of “If,” but “When” the decline in quality will occur. Very few authors, directors, or game designers are capable of turning out high quality content time after time, particularly when they are constrained by a successful franchise that limits their ability to do truly creative work.

I know it’s a dead end, but I drive right off the cliff along with the show or book.

It’s hard to keep creating new content for a franchise and to sustain the desire to work on the same thing over and over. You’re either hampered by a storyline that took a wrong turn (or has just gone stale), characters who’ve stopped being interesting, collaborators, editors, or executives who demand you take a certain turn with the work, or a loss of interest generally in the project. Many projects end up as either hollow shells of their former glory, or as bloated, muddled messes that resulted from their creators trying to “throw everything but the kitchen sink” at the project to keep it interesting. Like produce, good franchises eventually go bad. I can maybe count on one hand those that have had staying power, at least for me.

My problem is that I can’t seem to stop buying, watching, and playing the bad fruit. Instead, I keep buying the next and the next and the next, convinced that it has to get better. “It will end well,” I say. “Oh, the author had other obligations while writing this book, the next one will be better.” “The next season will resolve those awful plot-lines and the show will improve.” I stick with things long after there are clear signs that nothing will resurrect them. I know it’s a dead end, but I drive right off the cliff along with the show or book.


Missing Piece


Maybe it’s a misguided sense of loyalty on my part. “Well, I’ve stuck with them for this long, I feel like I owe it to them to see it through to the end.” Of course, it’s not like the author or designer cares about my loyalty. For the most part, they’re all too big to notice. They’ve got plenty of other people who adore them, so my sticking by them doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t matter to them, it shouldn’t matter to me.

I need to let go of my completionist tendencies because it’s taking me away from better things. If I’m spending time reading a failed franchise, I’m not reading that great new book from a different author. If I’m playing a board game bloated with five “meh” expansions, I’m not playing the really great, streamlined game that just released. If I’m sitting in the theater watching the fifth incarnation of a superhero which is worse than the previous four combined, I’m not watching the new, genre-bending movie that’s showing next door. My completionist self is cheating my other self out of awesome experiences by continuing to be loyal to failed systems.

It’s not usually a question of “If,” but “When” the decline in quality will occur.

I’ve recently made a start at eradicating my completionist tendencies. I watched part one of the first season of the TV show “Outlander” but didn’t care for it, despite loving the books. I cancelled my Starz subscription and haven’t watched part two. I also gave up watching “One Upon a Time” after it became the all-Frozen-all-the-time show. I have nothing against “Frozen” and enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t care for those characters coming to Storybrook. I figure I’ll tune in for the final episode whenever that may be and that will be enough for me. I’m not wasting any more time on it. I’m still kicking myself for watching the final season of “Castle” last year when I knew it was over after season seven. That was a whole wasted year.

And so it goes. I’m a work in progress. I have no issue continuing to buy and watch things as long as they warrant my time, money, and attention. But when it’s clear that the end has come, I’m learning to let go. It’s mostly a matter of willpower and recognizing that I’m being stupid by sticking with junk that’s just not good anymore. I ‘d hate to miss something great because I was waiting and hoping that something old and tired would resurrect itself. That happens too rarely to count on it.


(Photos courtesy of bmcmath & 422737)

1 thought on “Breaking The Completionist Cycle

  1. Mirka Breen

    Sticktoitness has its virtue, and is admirable for many reasons. It’s far better than quitting easily. But then, like everything, we need a balance, right?
    I have abandoned many books and shows as well. I even walked out of a movie in the theatre once. All of these were things I would never have done in my twenties. But my one hold-out and still “must complete” are manuscripts I write. I couldn’t live with a drawer full of unfinished stories, as some do. Maybe it’s fear that if I ever do that it will be the last time I finish anything? 😉
    You’re right, Jennifer. We’re all works-in-progress. “Completion” may be an allusion.


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