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Finish What You Start

By Jul 03,2014 Follow Me on Google+
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Summary
People with meaningful lives finish what they start; this says a lot about their character, and leaves a lasting impression on those around them. Completing the tasks you are assigned will make you the kind of person that companies retain year after year, and will help you better assess your capabilities. You must be accountable for finishing what you start, and you can do so by putting your mind to it. When you always finish what you start, you will find yourself performing at your absolute best.

If you drive less than an hour outside of any major city in America, you will very quickly begin to see a different world. Typically, in the best neighborhoods and areas, the lawns are well maintained and there is not much to see beyond trees, flowers, and shrubs. However, when you start getting into poorer neighborhoods outside of major cities, you begin to see things like automobiles on blocks rusting in front yards and the landscape looks a lot different. I’ve ridden through these neighborhoods with wealthy people from larger cities. At least once I heard someone say something like, “Why don’t they clean up that mess?”

I know exactly why they do not clean up that mess because I have some family members who live in the country who also collect vehicles on their front lawns and behind their homes. They do not clean the mess up because they are in the middle of trying to restore and fix those various vehicles. There is a story to every car and truck that is in a state of disrepair. One needs a new transmission and will be fixed soon. Another needs some complicated engine work. Most of the cars were purchased on a whim and for cheap when they were already broken. Everyone believes they will one day fix the car or truck and when they do, they are going to make some good money off of it.

It is almost as if the unfinished car or truck gives the person who owns it value. It makes them feel as if they are important because they have some untapped wealth or power of which they’ve not taken advantage. Isn’t this how many of us are in our own lives? We have untapped power of which we’ve not taken advantage, and we’ve started things we have not completed.

One evening, I was at a mall and saw a poster advertising surgery for women to lose weight. I saw the most stunning before and after pictures. A woman was at least 350 pounds and so large you could hardly make out her face. After the surgery, she had lost about 200 pounds. Her transformation after losing the weight was amazing. She was very attractive, and she looked much happier. What was so striking to me was the difference in potential the two pictures represented. One woman looked like a supermodel and the other could not fit into clothing you would find in an average mall. Why would someone want to pass up the incredible potential they have in their life? This is only one example of potential.

People start diets and never finish.

Others tell themselves they will start exercising and never follow through.

Others start school and never finish.

Others plan to start a business and never follow through.

Others tell themselves they will start saving and never follow through.

Others start a novel and never follow through.

Others start taking the path to a better life in one of a million ways and never follow through.

In fact, I think following through and finishing what you start is one of the most important things you can do. Why don’t more people follow through? What is it about following through that scares so many? Why don’t most of us finish what we start?

I know so many people with so much potential who could be incredible artists, lawyers, programmers, businesspeople, and more who never complete what they start. I know people who are chronically unemployed because they never finish what they start. I can think of whole groups of people I know of who are brilliant and talented but have lives of complete mediocrity because they never finish what they start.

Before you read any further, I want to make sure you are aware of one thing: the only thing separating the people with the most important and meaningful lives from those who have average lives or fail is that the latter don’t finish what they start.

When I was practicing law, I remember being at a cocktail party with numerous partners and associates from the law firm where I worked. One of the associates was joking with the partner that the law firm had only made two partners in the entire 14 years it had been in Los Angeles. The partner looked at the associate and said, “That’s because you guys get too scared you will not make partner and always leave before we have a chance to nominate and vote on you.”

I thought that was an interesting statement because, regardless of the truth of it, the partner was saying that no one who worked there ever followed through by staying on the job. They got too scared and left. Perhaps those associates went somewhere they were positive they would make partner. The thought of all of those careers that were stalled by not following through was an interesting one to me. Maybe those associates like to say to themselves, “I would have made partner if I stayed around, but I did not like it so I left.” I don’t know. However, what I do know is this situation is not much different from those people whose personal worth is tied to the fact that if they fixed up the cars on their front lawns, they would have a lot of money. If only.

Once you go inside the homes with cars rusting in front of them on blocks you will see additional projects that are half finished. You will see a bathroom that is being remodeled, and that has been for a long time. For years, the family may have been taking a shower in a bathroom where there is no tile on the floor. This epidemic is not just confined to rural areas. It also exists in cities. People do not collect cars on their front lawns in cities because the police and authorities in these areas don’t allow it. Go inside many homes in cities and suburbs and you will also see a huge collection of unfinished projects.

I want to be clear about something with these unfinished projects: it is not just about the money. You can tile the average bathroom with inexpensive tile for less than $30. You can rebuild a transmission quite inexpensively if you know what you are doing. It just takes time.

My mother is someone who was always attracted to dreamers and she dated a lot of them while I was growing up. These were men who always told her tomorrow was going to be far different from today. They were on the verge of getting rich, they were going to build a house on the water, something was going to change and change soon. My mother had relatives all over Michigan who did things like drive trucks and work in factories in the country, but she had a small house in a nice suburb. The whole outlook of never finishing what you started came right into our house with these men who were dreamers. Most of them were contractors or were involved in contracting, and they would start one project after another and keep the projects going for years. One project might involve replacing the kitchen floor. A few hours would be dedicated to ripping up the floor on a Sunday and a few years would pass before a new floor was installed. For years we would get splinters and eat in a kitchen with no floor.

In the interim, they’d start numerous other projects. None of these would be completed, either.

What was the meaning of all of these projects left incomplete? Why did so many things consistently not get done? What was happening?

The answers to these questions are complicated. However, I believe a large part of it is a desire not to be held accountable for the result. If the kitchen remodel is completed, we will have to call the result our kitchen. If all of the cars are fixed, we will have to explain why we do not have any money. If we finish college, we will have to be accountable for getting a high-paying job.

How many people have you met who have started a novel and never finished it? Almost everyone knows someone like this. Have they not finished the novel because they do not know how to write? Have they really had writers’ block for the past eight years? The legions of people with unfinished novels are legendary. I think so many of these novels go unfinished because if they did finish them, the person will have to come to terms with the fact they are not the next great novelist or they are not as important as they would like to believe they are deep down.

Many of us want to represent ourselves as something other than what we are. Finishing what we start forces us to confront who we really are. So we are afraid to finish what we start. This brings me to you and your job. Do you finish what you start? I have supervised and worked with hundreds of people over my career, and the number one characteristic I have seen in the very best people is they finish what they start.

Finishing what you start is the most important thing you can do in any job. The people you are working for need to know whatever work you are given you will finish. Every week for the past several years I have had a series of teleconferences with various individual employees in my company. The purpose of these teleconferences is to solicit various ideas about our businesses, to go over projects that have been assigned, and to assign new projects. They are the most effective method I know for making our company strong, ensuring the continual promotion of the good people, and pressuring the average people in the company to “shape up or ship out.” These teleconferences are simple and there is really nothing to them but ensuring that people finish what they start. I believe that cycles of action and finishing what we start are the most important things that can happen in any company.

Several years ago, before I conducted these weekly teleconferences, I found most of the projects I assigned never ended up getting completed by certain people. It was a constant source of anger for me when things did not get completed, and after a while, I would simply give up on them.

The typical teleconference goes like this: we start going over the assignments for the current week and explaining them. Then we go over the assignments for the previous weeks and the person with the assignments provides an update. The spreadsheet may look like this:

Assignment Weeks

Write a letter to all previous EC clients re: sale 7
Call Franchise Tax Board re: new tax ID number 7

Certain employees never have any task go more than one or two weeks, and others have their assignments open for months at a time. The people who complete tasks are the people who remain at the company and work there year after year. In the past, I have hired people from other great companies, great schools, and people with a lot of “flash” who could never complete an assignment.

I have also hired others who did not look as good on paper but who always finished an assignment. Our company has no venture capital or borrowed money and must support itself with real revenues. In our company, the only thing that really matters is whether or not projects are completed. If a project is not completed, our company does not make any money. I believe the downfall of many companies begins when there are more people not finishing tasks than finishing them. There are people who are in the habit of not finishing what they start. The same employees who do not finish what they start are often the people who have the most doctors’ appointments and waste the most time during the day. They spend their time in a nonproductive zone. I do not judge people who do this because I am also guilty to a certain extent of not always finishing what I start. The fact of the matter is, however, the way to do the absolute best in your job and life is to make sure you always finish what you start no matter what.

When you do not finish what you start at work, you are sending the message the task and the company are not important enough to you. If you do enough of this in the business world, people will stop taking you seriously. People do not have confidence in those who do not finish what they start. Companies do not promote people who do not finish what they start.

Everyone, regardless of who they are, must be accountable for finishing projects. When Hillary Clinton was running for president, one of the images I could not stop thinking about was when she pledged to fix the healthcare program in the United States when her husband had been president years previously. After a great deal of effort, she failed completely. I saw her at a news conference and she said something to the effect that “I do not know why anyone even tries. You cannot get anything done with these people in Washington.”

To me this was a striking statement. It was striking because she had essentially “thrown in the towel” and given up. I wanted to see her succeed. After this sort of attitude, I felt it was very unlikely she could have really thrived in Washington. For example, when Al Gore lost the run for president, he kept fighting for his belief in fixing the environment–even without public office. I wonder what Hillary Clinton would do with healthcare reform if she were not in office. My feeling is not a lot.

Finishing what you start says a lot about your character and leaves a huge and lasting impression on everyone around you. It is extremely important you are always finishing what you start. The results you will have in the world and the impact you will make will be in direct proportion to your ability to finish. Everyone can finish what they start if they really put their minds to it.

The rewards for completing what you start are huge. When you complete what you start, you learn about your capabilties. You learn lessons you can use to take the next step and grow.

I believe most people will do a lot more to avoid pain than they will to experience pleasure. For many people, completing a task may represent the potential for being criticized or judged for something, which is painful. People want to avoid pain. Success, however, could be compared to creating constant failure and forcing yourself to grow in response. If you finish a task and do not believe what you have done is good enough, then you will learn lessons that will drive you forward to do as good as possible the next time. The important thing is that you finished. Growth only happens when you are completing tasks.

THE LESSON

For a step-by-step guide to transforming your career in just 44 days—including interviewing, where to find jobs people are not applying to, negotiating the best offers and strategies for the on-the-job success—check out Harrison Barnes' Career Transformation System.

People with meaningful lives finish what they start. This says a lot about their character, and leaves a lasting impression on those around them. Completing the tasks you are assigned will make you the kind of person that companies retain year after year, and will help you better assess your capabilities. You must be accountable for finishing your projects and you can do so by putting your mind to it. When you always finish what you start, you will find yourself performing at your absolute best.

  • http://www.theuglychair.blogspot.com JusRobin

    Crazy Insightful! I shook my head to just about every sentence in your story/blog/session. I wouldn’t classify myself as a dreamer but I do have a lot of started projects….that just haven’t been finished with plans to going back to them…needless to say it ends up a “car on my lawn”. I looked up this information, seeking help, or a reason for this, and I received all of that in this article. Thank you so much, Im not sure if this is going to make me get up tomorrow morning and clear off my lawn, but I hope it’s a start, and just not another one of my inital exciting ventures. Thanks again!
    JusRobin

    JusRobin did not rate this post.
  • Cynthia

    Good article. I would like to have read more about why people do not finish what they start. Completing a task is clearly a success skill. Even if the task is not done well, one can use the experience to learn how to be better, as you pointed out in the article. I agree that not doing something well can be damaging to the ego for most. The interesting thing is that many people have no problem getting started with some things, but for some reason lack the staying power. What is it that prevents a person from pressing forward? Answer that question, then you will have solved the problem of many. Is it a question of will, ability, or fear? Perhaps it is a bit of all three.

    Cynthia did not rate this post.
  • Jay

    I think very many people that are this way, are aware that they are this way, and would enjoy not being this way, if they only knew how to break the cycle.

    I think one force against us might be not knowing when and where to set boundaries. -When to say “I can’t do that, while I’m doing this”. Maybe some of us just can’t say no, and overwhelm ourselves by continuing to take on new projects. This could extend to a workplace dynamic where an employee may be reluctant to say “no” or “I don’t know how” to his superior.

    Maybe the superior is the superior because he needs to know just that information; the real information. -So that he can re-task and arrange his assets appropriately to get the whole job done. -Then maybe get you in some training.

    And yes, others can’t finish a project because it’s not quite perfect, yet. Perfection is really an unrealistic and dysfunctional expectation. Perfection, as I understand it, would be downright Holy. -Of God.

    Some say God is perfection, so we humans with our free will couldn’t possibly be perfect. The best we will ever do on any project will always be something under that.

    Realizing that, goals become reachable, don’t they? Projects can be broken down to their parts, and sub parts, and all of these can be put on a timeline. This and that time is when you have to have the best that you can do, done. -It’s not the time it has to perfect. Do your best, finish it, and move on.

    It’s literally exhilerating to let these little loads off your back, as you finish them.

    Jay did not rate this post.
  • http://www.littlehazel.com Kayte

    I wish I knew HOW to finish what I started so long ago. The feeling of not finishing something I start is excruciating to me. I wonder if the truth is really that I started something that really wasn’t going to sell – regardless of how much I believe in it and how good it truly is.

    Kayte did not rate this post.
  • Ellen

    I started reading this because I need to begin finishing what I start, the mess of junk cars in my mental front yard is really rembarrassing to me. But I just wanted to say that one sentence really stopped me from my digging your article, right int he middle of my digging. It was, “in fact, I would rate her a nine out of ten.”

    It makes me feel like you are a douchebag. You see, that type of rating system sounds like you hold yourself in the position of judge at the woman-show (picture a dog-show.)”And how are her haunches? Can we see her haunches? Ahh, a fine specimen. A nine of ten!” You see how that is off-putting? You really could have left that sentence out, the two after it tell the story well enough and leave out douchebag indicators. Maybe you are a fan of the “hot or not” type of thing, but I think most people don’t like to be rated, especially when they are not putting themselves up to be. So please take a little time to think about that way of thinking, it is trashier than ten junk cars in an over-grown lawn.

    thanks,

    Ellen

    Ellen did not rate this post.
  • Pierre

    Thanks for the article. Respect.

    Pierre did not rate this post.
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  • amy

    I love this article!

    amy did not rate this post.
  • http://www.krazykatstudio.com krazykatstudio

    My kitchen is “under construction” = not finished. It takes both time and money to remodel. But I will get it finished, and it will be in an issue of BH&G! Thanks for the motivation.

    krazykatstudio did not rate this post.
  • Milton kundu

    Maybe the superior is the superior because he needs to know just that information; the real information. -So that he can re-task and arrange his assets appropriately to get the whole job done. -Then maybe get you in some training.

    Milton kundu did not rate this post.
  • Rachael Sutton

    I only agree to a point with your thoughts here. While failing to follow through can be an ingredient for failure, it isn’t the only thing that separates people from average or meaningful lives. Quality and attitude definitely contribute – as does timeliness. Taking shortcuts can short circuit your path to success as well.

    Not all projects rank equally in importance. Home projects are not the same as work assignments – some are time fillers, and some are top priority. Some are merely hobbies, and it isn’t about completion, but about the social interaction or hand-on learning opportunity, or the time alone while doing the activity. When it comes right down to it, we are all works in progress, and if all our projects have been completed, what is left to look forward to. Projects and goals give us hope for the future.

    As for why some people don’t complete projects, it isn’t as simple as just giving up. Sometimes, as in Hillary’s case, it was her ability to do a cost vs. benefit analysis. When the effort required is greater than the reward, prudence tells you to cut your losses. As you can see, even with Presidential backing, the resistance to that project is still extreme.

    Some people quit because they are afraid of failure. Some quit because they are afraid of success. Some quit because the project is much more complicated than they expected and they don’t really have the tools or experience to tackle the job. Some quit because they can’t break the whole project down into simple steps. Some quit because they become bored or find they don’t enjoy the work required. Some quit because of health or disability. Of course, as you indicated, some just like to feel sorry for themselves and make excuses.

    It is easy to make assumptions about other people’s motives, but, unless you fully understand the details, assuming is a silly game.

    In the workplace, some businesses are much more project and deadline focused. For example: accounting and inventory; magazines and news media; and law. Instead of becoming angry or disappointed about open or incomplete projects, it is better to make them a team effort with clearly defined and assigned components. It helps if you place reasonable deadlines that allow for plan B, when people, who are human, drop the ball.

    It is also important to remember every person is unique and not everyone has the same sense of urgency or ability to approach projects that your IQ, education, and experience allow. Also, people don’t exist in a vacuum. Sometimes, the challenges they are facing outside of work may affect performance for a time. The manager’s job is actually more like that of a coach. You train, motivate, inspire, assign the right people to the right positions, and then, fill the gaps. If you do that right, everybody looks good, and instead of assigning blame, everybody gets credit.

    Rachael Sutton did not rate this post.
  • http://rstanmoy Tanmoy Saha

    I think very many people that are this way, are aware that they are this way, and would enjoy not being this way, if they only knew how to break the cycle.

    I think one force against us might be not knowing when and where to set boundaries. -When to say “I can’t do that, while I’m doing this”. Maybe some of us just can’t say no, and overwhelm ourselves by continuing to take on new projects. This could extend to a workplace dynamic where an employee may be reluctant to say “no” or “I don’t know how” to his superior.

    Tanmoy Saha did not rate this post.
  • http://rstanmoy Tanmoy Saha

    I only agree to a point with your thoughts here. While failing to follow through can be an ingredient for failure, it isn’t the only thing that separates people from average or meaningful lives. Quality and attitude definitely contribute – as does timeliness. Taking shortcuts can short circuit your path to success as well.

    Not all projects rank equally in importance. Home projects are not the same as work assignments – some are time fillers, and some are top priority. Some are merely hobbies, and it isn’t about completion, but about the social interaction or hand-on learning opportunity, or the time alone while doing the activity. When it comes right down to it, we are all works in progress, and if all our projects have been completed, what is left to look forward to. Projects and goals give us hope for the future.

    Tanmoy Saha did not rate this post.
  • Ashley

    I was practicing law I remember being at a cocktail party with numerous partners and associates from the law firm where I worked. One of the associates was joking with the partner that the law firm had only made two partners in the entire 14 years it had been in Los Angeles.but I hope it’s a start, and just not another one of my inital exciting ventures. Thanks again!

    Ashley did not rate this post.
  • Gaurav

    Persons who are in the habit of starting things with fanfare then leaving them unfinished always languish in mediocrity. You don’t find the likes of them on or near the top in any field.

    Gaurav did not rate this post.
  • Pete Waldron

    Mr. Barnes —
    This is one of the best columns I have read in a long time. All of us are guilty of not finishing what we start OR not finishing what we start in a realistic time frame. You gave me much to think about. I need to goi through my list of professional, family and volunteer projects and commit to a definitive timeline for each one. I appreciate the inspiration.
    PETE WALDRON

    Pete Waldron did not rate this post.
  • maria

    very nice,keep up the good work…

    maria did not rate this post.
  • http://healthcarecrossing.com Deborah

    I thoroughly enjoy your advice about finishing what has been started. My husband used to tell me the same thing. I completed my bachelor’s degree and used it has a motivator to finish other goals in life.

    Deborah did not rate this post.
  • Marty

    What a neat article. I had no inkling.

    Marty did not rate this post.
  • Future President

    I will keep this in mind when I become President. Thank you.

    Future President did not rate this post.

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