"Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” – T.S. Eliot
One of the more memorable compliments that I have ever received from a friend was, "Lots of people talk about plans, but you actually finish what you start." I often think back to that younger version of myself and wonder what special characteristics I possessed then, and why they seem harder to come by now.
The obvious answer is probably the closest to the truth. My habit of finishing what I started has not diminished. It has just, with time and responsibilities, been stretched beyond its limit. Pretty much everyone I know encounters a similar, daily conundrum. How many open projects is too many? Today, I hope to shed some light on that question.
Follow-through seems to be an ever rarer quality to find nowadays, in large part, because it is drowning in a deluge of opportunity. The paradox of choice becomes a palpable hindrance to real commitment and real happiness. With so much opportunity before us, the fear of making a wrong decision can be stifling. We either refrain from any action, or try to do it all, neither of which is a path to fulfillment.
What's worse is that with all of life's answers at our fingertips, we have only ourselves to blame for our despair. If only I would have been more organized. If only I would have found the right coach. If only I would have read the right self help book. If only I would have tried harder. If only, if only.
Perhaps the most vital "if only" we should be considering is, "if only I finished what I had started." Completing a single commitment with the highest level of attention possible, is one of the most satisfying and informative actions anyone can ever do. Thinking of something that you want to accomplish, putting the effort in to figure out how to make it work, and executing your plan is as close to magic as one can get. Dream, learn, create, repeat.
But what about projects that have no end, like relationships, life callings, or health? The same principles apply, but the timeline is infinite. These are aspirations that endure after we are gone. Those who die most peacefully are the ones who are doing what they love until their last breath--forever seeking to make the next conversion, the next meal, the next workout, the next book, the next project, or the next experience into the best possible version of reality.
As we near the end of summer, my injunction to myself is to finish as many open goals as possible, or admit that they are no longer important. We will be entering the autumn soon, which is the Metal season in Chinese medicine. It is a perfect time to cut away those things in life that are rotten on the vine, complete the harvest of the ripened fruit, and save the seeds of the best to plant next year. Take great care to close the year with utmost decisiveness and attention. Failure to finish strong is the same as failure to finish at all.