Focus on Finishing
A couple of years ago I came to the realization that I have a problem: I love starting new projects.
Hi. My name is Maleah, and I am addicted to starting.
There. I said it.
I am a recovering starteraholic. I love the beginning of an endeavor when my mind’s machinations have endless potential and I am still filled with excitement, energy, and unrealistic optimism.
* Drawing up plans for a remodeling project.
* Painting the first wall in the kitchen.
* Landscaping the flower beds.
* Writing the first pages of my best-selling novel.
Starting gives me a tingle in my stomach because, in my head, my project is a perfect replica of the picture from Pinterest.
My disconnect from reality reads the book of Genesis like this:
“In the beginning Maleah created something that looked exactly like it did in her imagination.”
For me, starting is never the problem. I have enough big schemes bouncing inside my cranium to keep a planet of Oprah show producers busy for a millennium.
I’m not alone. When I tried to check myself into rehab for my addiction to starting, the staff escorted me back to the sidewalk, explaining that if every person who struggled with finishing was allowed into rehab, then the entire population would be inside and only dogs and cats would be left to run the world. Canines and felines don’t struggle with finishing; once dogs or cats starts licking, they don’t stop. I wish I knew their secret, because I’d like to be more consistent in getting my projects licked!
A tour of my house on any given day quickly reveals my penchant for abandoning tasks mid-completion. I load the dishwasher, but instead of putting away the cereal and wiping off the countertop and table, I leave the kitchen to check my email. I vacuum three-quarters of the family room, then, feeling a dire need to check FaceBook, I leave the vacuum parked in the center of the floor to “finish” later.
About the time my piles of unfinished undertakings starting suffocating my family members, I discovered a fabulous book by author Betsy Schow called, Finished Being Fat. In her book, Betsy recounts her personal epiphany that if she was going to be successful in finally shedding those extra hundred pounds––for good—she was going to have to learn to be a “finisher.”
While reading Betsy’s story, I discovered that I was in the same boat. I was fat with ambition and weighted down with unfinished goals. I was consuming too many starting gates without digesting any finish lines. I chose the word “Finish” as my word for the year. I saw a new image of myself as a Finisher. I decided that I would practice finishing. I would stick with a task ‘til it stuck to me! I would finish the dishes, put the laundry away, wind up the vacuum cord, paint all four walls. No more walking out on unfinished tasks! No more putting down one half-done project in order to start a new, more potentially satisfying project. Heck, I would even practice finishing my sentences!
I began to notice specific hurdles that kept popping up in my path. Maybe you can relate.
Hurdle #1: The Appearance of Busy-ness
I grew up reading Beetle Bailey comic strips. In one comic, Beetle is seen carrying a rope from place to place. Sarge passes by and, seeing the rope says, “Keep up the good work, Private.” Beetle’s friend, Killer, asks Beetle what the rope is for. Beetle replies, “Because the sledgehammer I was carrying around to look busy got too heavy.”
It took me some time to realize that I like to look busy.
I get an unsettled feeling in a room where everything is put away. I walk into a tidy room and think, “What does the person who lives here do all day?”
Heaven forbid that anybody should walk into my house and wonder what I do all day. Particularly if that person is my husband.
Is that why I leave the vacuum in the middle of the room? Does my subconscious believe that dishes in the sink equal work-in-progress? Am I leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so Dear Hubbie can follow my path of productivity?
Somehow my skewed brain has conjured up the idea that just in case some unexpected anthropologists (read: neighbors) show up to study my living habits, I need to leave solid evidence that the woman of the house is a hard-working animal—no lazy lioness lying around the Lampoul lives here! Leaving a wet mop in the entry, the overflowing garbage can next to the door, Clorox cleaner on the bathroom sink, and the half-sorted mail on the office desk all serve to prove that I am in the middle of something (even if I’ve interrupted all those tasks to play on online game of solitaire).
Hurdle #2: Deriving a false sense of identity and worth from being busy.
Linus drags around his blankie for comfort; I drag around a trail of unfinished tasks. It soothes me to have visual evidence that I won’t run out of things to do. I’ve started to notice how I get an anxious gnawing in the pit of my stomach whenever I get close to finishing a project. My head starts to buzz, and that little Tasmanian devil in my brain who feeds on being a chronic blur of motion starts to go crazy. Once this is done, what am I going to do next? What if everything was done? WHAT WOULD I DO?!
I get a little panicky at the idea of having nothing to do. But when I leave a task close to––but not quite––finished, there is the comfort of having something to come back to. I am starting to see that if I want to be a finisher, I might need to focus more on living as a human be-ing and less as a human do-ing.
Hurdle #3: BOREDOM and DISTRACTION
These two hurdles, Boredom and Distraction, almost always travel in pairs. I’ve noticed that I can rarely be distracted unless I’m already feeling somewhat bored.
Distraction is a sneaky fellow because he seems to be the creation of my environment and circumstances: the phone ringing, the dog pooping on the brand-new carpet, the school nurse calling to say that my first-grader threw up in the library, the wind blowing down the tree in the front yard. By the time I put out the fire, my first task is long-since forgotten or it’s time to make dinner, so I move on to the next task leaving the first unfinished. Curse you, Distraction!
As if unplanned distraction weren’t enough to derail my good intentions, one of the worst boulders blocking my Quest to Completion is my own acute ability to get bored and lose steam before finishing. Classic example: In junior high school I signed up to run the mile at track meets. Only one other girl had signed up to be a miler, so at the preliminary trials for my school, all I had to do was finish the race, and I had a guaranteed spot on the traveling track team. Two laps into the race, I stopped running. I don’t know why. I wasn’t particularly tired. I was exactly in step with my running partner. I got bored.
Then I got distracted. The lush green grass wanted me to lie down on it. The drinking fountain desperately needed to be drained. My shoes needed to be taken off. The shower wanted adequate time to cool me down before I had to go to math class.
And it’s happening again right now. Here I am, about 75% finished writing this article, and the howls of distraction and boredom are calling to me to stand up and leave this computer. Suddenly, my teeth need to be brushed. The mailbox is shouting that no one checked it yesterday. The five-week-old, fuzzy baby kittens sleeping in the next room desperately need to be snuggled. The kitchen is whispering about the milk the kids put on their cereal this morning. Is it back in the fridge? It’s mid-morning, and I’m still in my pajamas. I should shower and get dressed. This typing is getting old.
Suddenly, my teeth, the mailbox, the warm milk, a shower, all of it seems far more important than writing. If I were writing about any other topic, I would probably be carrying a kitten out to the mailbox already. However, I am writing about finishing, for Pete’s Sake, so I’d better do just that. I won’t get up—yet.
Hurdle #4: Starter’s High
I have big hopes and high expectations when I’m standing face-to-face with the possibility of something new. Somewhere between the beginning and the middle, the helium gets let out of the balloon. Any task requires a certain amount of energy in order to reach completion, and learning to balance that energy from beginning to end is a great challenge of human endeavor. Too often, I use up all my energy in the beginning by over-planning, over-extending, and all around biting-off more than I can chew. I’m learning to pace myself, to ease off in the beginning, to be more realistic about the scope and length of the project and to allocate my time and energy accordingly. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I am seeing some great
In my journey towards becoming a finisher, I have garnered some awesome tools that power me up and propel me towards the finish line. I’ve tried to write them in descriptive form, but what I’ve discovered is that they are best taught using images and verbal explanations. So I am creating a Webinar that teaches effectively (if I do say so myself) tools for leaping over hurdles and plowing through obstacles in order to become a finisher. It makes me excited just thinking about it. I can’t wait to share with you. However, I have a little (350-page manuscript) to finish this week and submit to the Utah Arts Council Original Writers Competition.
I will keep you posted about the Webinar!
See you at the Finish Line!