Recently, I felt motivated by the determination and will of Sifan Hassan, a long-distance runner who represented the Netherlands competing in the 2020 Olympic games representing the Netherlands. Hassan began “powering through the last lap of the women’s 1,500-meter heat…when a nightmare situation came true: a runner ahead of her tripped, prompting a domino effect. Hassan tried and failed to jump over a fallen runner and then fell down herself. She was undeterred; she got back up and, now suddenly in the last place, went on to pass 11 runners to finish first” (Sharon Pruitt-Young, NPR).
When I was a young boy, my mother taught me a rhyme by an unknown author with some variation:
“Once a job has begun, Do it right until it's done. Whether it be great or small, Do it right, or don't do it at all."
And in a bit of Southern vernacular, “Don’t use half of your behind. Use the whole thing.”
Today, I have a half-painted, unfinished art canvas in my studio. The oil painting depicts the beginnings of a beautiful scene of colorful buildings aligning the enchanting La Thiou River that winds its way through the alpine town of Annecy, France. After commencing the art piece years ago, this incomplete canvas has bounced in an unending round from the house where I worked on it for a season, to the garage while I started another project, and then back to the house for me to dabble a little more.
Several questions haunt my mind:
Why I haven’t brought myself to finish the painting?
With the large canvas, did I take on just too ambitious of a project? Perhaps beyond the reasonable investment of my willing time and patience?
Maybe the complexity of too many intersecting angles forming the perspective became overly technical and tedious, even to irritation?
Or possibly, my heart just wasn’t in it.
As I look at it now back on my easel, I still love the subject. I love its artful beginnings. Yet, whether overwhelmed and busy with life or lacking the courage and drive to continue, I fell out of this race before the finish line of completing the painting. And, in its incompleteness, I feel defeated as though the looming canvas has conquered me.
Sometimes we grow weary of striving and fearful of finishing what we choose to begin. Oftentimes, the tasks, projects, and other zealous endeavors we accept to perform in our lives seem like taking our marks at the line to begin a simple foot race. Yet, we find that finishing the race with the same speed and fortitude with which we begin it becomes the greater challenge. Many times we assume more tasks, projects, and endeavors that each vie on different levels for our attentions and energies.
Why do we sometimes abandon our noble intentions—at the starting line, halfway through the race, or right before the end—and leave the race unfinished?
Inventory these excuses in your life:
- Are you growing tired and disheartened at the arrival of challenge?
- Are you afraid to pick yourself up and keep going when you fall or fail? Or, are you overly anxious you might fall or fail?
- Do you feel the need for others to continuously accommodate and entertain you into courageous and continuous effort and action?
- Are you seeking rewards without hard work and sacrifice?
- Do you want encouragement without taking accountability?
No matter our excuses for not finishing, we must effectively learn to endure and achieve the end of any job or activity we honorably start. Failure to work to completion conceals our capacity and forfeits our power. It is only in finishing that we avoid deception and discover the truths about who we really are and what we can become.
Consider these four instructive principles vital to the art of finishing:
Finish by first choosing to establish a fitting focus.
Ultimately, finishing is really beginning right. Stephen R. Covey counseled to “Begin with the end in mind.” We should work to envision not only our finish line but the start and steps necessary and achievable to get there. Such vision requires focus—a focus that fits.
Ironically, focus does not carry us simply to the beginning or end but toward the center. It causes us to concentrate on what is essential, even crucial to consider, in order to begin and to end right. Focus aligns our energies and alerts us to our strengths and weaknesses. It helps us discover where we may excel and where we are most vulnerable to difficulty—especially in the “thick of it” when our efforts can grow fatigued. By first choosing to establish a fitting focus, we can plan and pattern our efforts to finish with triumph.
Finish by seeing obstacles as folding ladders to either collapse or climb.
Inevitably challenges arise with any endeavor. In truth, challenges introduce choice. Choice promotes growth and levies our flexibility. So, rather than looking at your challenges as impenetrable walls, see them as adaptable opportunities like a folding ladder to either collapse or to climb, opening new vistas of perspective and performance.
Walls of doubt, despair, and disillusionment, often ironically placed by our own anxieties of insecurity, do not deserve our energy to climb them. We need to collapse their uselessness, fold them up, and dutifully put them away. Going up the ladder of mistrust does not deescalate but only mounts our fears. In contrast, faith, loyalty, and confidence can tear down and eliminate such diffidence.
“Every next level of your life will demand a different you.” —Leonardo DiCaprio
However, challenges toward attributes worth attaining provide rungs we can labor to scale confidently. More often than not, finishing can be an uphill climb. Ascending the steps of patience, humility, gratitude, and compassion not only elevates our endurance to finish the race but in course elevates our character and integrity as well. Ironically, from that high vantage point, we will see more clearly and with greater empathy to help others soar to their own finish line.
Finish by investing not only your formidable mind but your forgiving heart.
Investment allocates resources with the expectation of positive returns. Investing oneself in finishing likewise brings encouraging and constructive earnings. Yet, sometimes we invest our minds in our undertakings only on a whim and forget the needed loyalty and passion of our heart—as if we can in due time persuasively pull it along into commitment. When we allow impulsivity to govern and regulate both our starting position and our plan to win, we should not be surprised when our resolve and our results are also improvised. Finishing requires the dedication of mind as well as the devotion of heart.
“For me, it is crucial to follow my heart. Doing that is far more important than gold medals. That keeps me motivated, and it keeps me enjoying this beautiful sport.” — Sifan Hassan
Our hearts pull us through when our minds grow weary. Similarly, a forgiving heart helps us heal when we fall short.
Determine now to finish by investing both an established mind and a willing heart.
Finish by forming an untiring attitude to keep on keeping on.
Growing tired becomes the rival to finishing and finishing well. Finishing includes bearing challenges, difficulties, and even wearines without giving way to the urge to quit. Continuing a purposeful course, despite impediments and hurdles, requires unwavering resolve. When we remain resolute in our determination to endure, whether finishing first or last in any race, we will win. Surely an untiring attitude to keep on keeping on brings personal fulfillment and peace.
“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.” —Gautama Buddha
What governing principles help you finish each race?
How has finishing brought you satisfaction and joy?
Written by R. Shannon Mock
Photography by Robyn J. Mock
©Be the Beautiful Life All Rights Reserved
Sources: Sifan Hassan, Dutch Runner Who Fell During Her Race Went on to Win Gold. NPR. Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. Franklin Covey. Although Be the Beautiful Life is not affiliated with or representative of Nike, we recognize and credit our display of the Nike brand socks and shoes represented in the photography of this post.