Conventional wisdom says finishing is what really counts. But I have a different take. I’ve found the only way to finish is to just keep starting – over and over again.
My philosophy on starting comes from years of running. Back in the day (don’t you just love it when somebody says that) when I was running more than 25 miles a week, I found I frequently had to keep starting in order to finish a long run.
Starting a run was exhilarating. I actually loved the idea of lacing up the running shoes and hitting the streets. Thirty minutes or so into the run, though, I found the excitement of starting had succumbed to the reality of the run itself. My legs were starting to tire and thoughts began to fill my head about my breathing, or the heat, or the dirty air. You get the idea; I was looking for a reason to quit.
At that point, I’d choose to simply start again. Typically, I’d pick out a point on the horizon, say a mile away, and start to focus on just getting there. Once I finished that part of the run, I’d repeat the process, pick another point in the distance, and focus on reaching that goal. I know it sounds goofy, but it worked.
All those years of running taught me many valuable lessons, not the least of which was the value of persistence. The challenge of fighting through the pain or the fatigue always paid off with the feeling of accomplishment I had when I finished the run.
Today, I apply those same principles to my work and my career. As a speaker, writer and executive coach, I find lots of opportunity to start and start again before I finish an important project or task. Just like taking a long run, building a career or a successful life requires a lot of starting before you finish.
Let’s personalize this philosophy. If finishing seems to be a problem for you, let me suggest focusing on the start. Any finished work, any great accomplishment, any worthwhile endeavor, will happen because of a decision to either keep going or starting again. Stopping doesn’t equate to failing, but quitting does.
Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden started his illustrious career with 10 losing seasons before winning one national championship after another. Do you think he figured out the value of starting again.
The next time you’re in the middle of an important challenge and you’re starting to tire or get frustrated, just pick a piece of the project and finish it. Here’s what you’ll find: just finishing that little piece of the project will stimulate the desire to continue. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, though; just pick out another point on the horizon, another little piece of the project, and get there. The feeling of pushing through the difficulty of a tough situation will create a real sense of achievement and the desire to finish what you’ve started.
Looking back, I realize all those of years of running and all those miles I logged really prepared me for future success. Fighting through the fatigue and the hundred-degree heat, and choosing to start again and again until I finished, served to strengthen my character and resolve. Slowing down was an option, and occasionally I had to stop, but quitting was something I chose not to do.
Learn to be a finisher by making the choice to start and start again when necessary. Pick out the next spot on the horizon and commit to getting there. Harness the power of persistence.