Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to be a Good Finisher

I first must apologize. About 4 days ago I promised to blog within 24 hours. As usual I became distracted with reading about the intricacies of the Nazi regime on Wikipedia and overindulging in sleep at inappropriate hours. Procrastination is exhausting. With that being said, this post is very overdue. And I sincerely hope that mid-post I will not lose interest and start reading Schindler’s List, or start streaming movies online. But you never know.

How to be a Good Finisher

Perhaps the title of this post is a bit ambitious considering I am often overcome by procrastination, discouragement and distraction. One could argue that I am a poor finisher at times. But writing on a topic does not instantly make you an expert or a paragon of that specific principle or philosophy. Thus is the case here. But what I profess to be good practice I fervently try to apply in my life. So here we go.

I have noticed in my life that it is often very difficult to finish. It is tough to complete a long term paper. It is difficult to remain in a relationship. It is hard to have the legs to sink a deep jumper in the fourth quarter. It is not easy to continue to accomplish things when you have accomplished so much. It is difficult to search for innovation when so much has been innovated at your hands. The point is life is difficult, but finishing is an even greater challenge. It is easy to go hard for 90% of the journey, and then let your weariness prevail. That is why we have books half finished, projects barely started and long relationships terminated. It is tough to finish. Like most things in life this is mostly mental. In order to be a good finisher we must change our mindset. And a great way to learn any skill is to learn from the greats, those who dominated their craft. And the art of finishing is certainly a craft one must develop.

For those of you not familiar with Neal A. Maxwell, allow me to explain. He was among other things a prolific writer for the LDS church for many years. He was known for his verbosity and his uncanny ability to touch people with his beautiful orations and written word. One specifically salient aspect of his character to me was his ability to finish. In 1996 he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He remained alive for another eight years. Gordon B. Hinckley said “Maxwell accomplished more in these last eight years than most men do in a lifetime.” That pithy comment speaks volumes to me about the type of man Neal A. Maxwell was. He knew his disease was terminal. He knew no one would judge him for taking it easy. He knew there would be no dire consequences for retiring from his faculties. But alas, he trudged on. He wanted to accomplish more. He wanted to serve and fight until the last day. That is how you finish.

Michael Jordan is an obvious beacon of athleticism. And his work ethic was unparalleled in his sport. But again, his ability to close or finish is what set him apart. If the game was on the line, you knew and he knew that he was going to take the last shot. And most of the time it was going in. If he was sick, you knew he was going to play. And if it was the NBA finals, you knew he was going to win, whether you wanted to admit it or not. One of my favorite quotes from Jordan about himself states: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Thus we see that finishing is not always about an elusive level of perfection, but the ability to continue forward in the face of failure. You cannot finish if you are haunted by your past. You cannot find love unless the demons of erstwhile romances are exorcized.

Finishers that exceed the rest in my mind are the Holocaust survivors. Not only were they starved, dehumanized, beaten and ridiculed in the most horrific manner, they had to witness countless loved ones perish right before their eyes. The psychological toll on them was unbelievable. Many simply quit along the way. Suicide seemed to be the only escape from hell. And some could not bear the culpability of being the only family member alive. But those who endured the war, and the subsequent years of trauma and anguish are the true finishers. One survivor Joseph Sher recounted the last words of a friend before being taken to his death: “Don’t forget, tell the world. You cannot keep it inside.” For this purpose many Jews decided they must endure, they must survive, so their story could remain. They had to finish. They had to.

So often our conundrum is that we are not in a life or death situation. We do not HAVE to finish or Hemmingway novel. We do not have to matriculate from school to get a good job. We do not have to help somebody today, we can help them tomorrow. We do not have to settle down and commit this time around. There is no sense of urgency. But we must have a sense of urgency. If not, I fear we will look back on our lives with sorrow and regret. We will look back at the things we have neglected or left undone. And we will don an eternal frown. It is not easy, but we must learn and strive to be better finishers. And I think we start with the little things. When we start a book, we should finish it. When we accept a task from a colleague, we should finish it post haste. When we set a goal, we should work toward it, and not dismiss it as a silly pipedream. For life cannot be successfully lived ex tempore.We should sojourn on through the difficult times to reach the valley of splendor. And if this is our resolve, we will soon find that we are finishing with the big things. We are graduating college. We are marrying the person of our dreams. We are starting our own business. We are enduring to the end. We are finishing.