Finish What You Start

Commitments are important.  To others for sure, but especially to yourself.

Sometimes life gets in the way of your commitments and your practice falls by the wayside.  When this happens, and it will happen, it is important to start again as soon as possible.  Get back into the gym, pick up the pen, climb back onto that horse.  The negative momentum builds quickly so it is vital to not allow it too much of a grip.  This can only be accomplished by dusting yourself off and taking a step forward.

A slipup in your practice is also an indicator for you to stop and evaluate your commitment.  Why did it slip?  Why has your enthusiasm waned?  Have you overcommitted yourself?  Lost interest?

Taiichi Ohno of Toyota developed the 5 Why’s method in the 1950’s which, in essence, is to question something again and again like a child until the root of the issue is found.  If you have lost interest, why have you lost interest?  Because it seems to take up all of your limited spare time?  Why is that?  You are sleeping later?  Why?  Because you are spending more time with someone and not getting to bed at the same time as before?  Keep going until the true reason appears and then work to fix that.

Once a commitment is made it is important to see it through, no matter how justified you feel the reason for quitting.  It helps if the commitment has a predetermined end date, or desired end state.  This helps to set the stakes and to gauge where it falls in your chain of priorities.  One year is a great place to start for a serious commitment.  You can test the waters with something once a week for a month, something else for a semester.  Your greatest commitments – marriage and children – will be for the rest of your life.

Whatever you have committed to, make sure to fulfill your end of the bargain.  Show up every day and get the work done.  Be mindful about what and how much you commit to as it will affect how much time you have for your other commitments and your free time.

Don’t commit lightly, but when you do, finish what you started.

The Why of Things

I’ve heard it said that when you know the Why of your goals the who, what, when, and where will follow.  But how to find that Why?

Perhaps some people go in to each task with a crystal clear vision but that has never been the case with me.  Rather than reflect too much on things I  default towards Action, then be guided by the results.

Take this website for example.  I had some ideas of the Why when I chose to commit to publishing a new article every week this year but by no means was there a crystal clear vision of a guiding Why that I would be led by.  Instead, there was a loosely grouped bunch of reasons, or more accurately a general gut feeling of what I wanted to accomplish.  These were, in no particular order:

  • Improve my writing
  • Adhere to a publishing schedule
  • Clarify how I feel on various subjects
  • Build a platform from which to launch a book
  • Improve my human interactions by studying communication

Looking back I can see that only some of these truly apply, while others are not as important to me after all.  Improving my writing, completing a long-term obligation, and digging deeper into ideas that I care about have been the driving force.  Platform building has definitely not.  While there are many online entrepreneurs that I admire I now realize that I do not aspire to be one.  Had that truly been my Why I would spend far more time on that aspect, but I just can’t bring myself to apply much effort there.

The point is that I started with the What; publish an article every week.  The exercise is one in consistency and I have reaped great personal benefits from it.  The Why of it all has developed and become clear over time, and will probably continue to evolve.

Having a strong Why is important, but not as important as action.  Without action there won’t be failures, and without failures you won’t learn and grow.  The more you do, the faster you come to your limits, and the more opportunities you’ll have to learn and adapt.  We don’t learn much about ourselves while maintaining the status quo.  We learn the lessons when we are challenged.

If you have a Why, great.  But don’t let that stop you from getting started.


The High Cost of Opportunity

We have near limitless opportunities available to us these days.  The internet has given us the opportunity to communicate with people we would otherwise never have access to, opportunities to learn anything we set our minds to, and opportunities to have a voice and be heard.

But being spoiled for choice isn’t always a good thing.  Analysis paralysis and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are common.  People either do nothing due to indecision, or try to do it all and fail due to lack of commitment.  The hard truth is that we are limited in both time and attention and can only do so much.  While I am confident in my capacity for work I also understand the limits of my time and energy, which forces me to think on and choose those activities and projects that give the highest ROTI (Return on Time Invested).

A Recent Example

A new opportunity came across my desk last week; or rather, through my inbox.  An industry organization of which I am a member put out a call for a new Editor to take over the bi-monthly magazine.  It is a three-year commitment and is a volunteer position.

What an opportunity!

Think about how much could be learned about the publishing industry in three years, which is a perfect amount of time for a long-term project incidentally.  For a writer, it offers a chance to collaborate with others and the opportunity to steer that publication towards a larger vision.  A successful tenure would also look great on a resume and create the potential to transition into that role at another publication in the future; a position that normally requires a bachelor’s degree in communication or journalism, followed by a long slog upwards starting from the copy room.

Now consider the cost.

A commitment like this is a big deal.  You must deliver on schedule, requiring work each day.  This commitment of time, our one true resource, means less time available for other activities.  And the length of the commitment means that, by saying Yes, you are effectively saying No to any number of opportunities in the future.  Those opportunities may be better than this one or worse; there is no way of knowing.  Saying yes now closes the door to many of those opportunities, but would open the door for others in the future.

Every Yes Equals 1,000 No’s

Opportunities are like doors; each one you accept opens new doors to pass through.  But it closes others that were once open as well.  So how do you choose which to grab and commit to?

I mentioned Return on Time Invested (ROTI) earlier.  What value will we receive for our efforts when this task is complete?  Will suffering through night school to achieve an MBA help us gain the position we strive for?  Will it move us closer to our long-term goals?

The first step is to sit down and ask yourself these questions before jumping in with both feet.  Then, if possible, test the waters with a shorter-term project to see if it is going to be a good fit for you.  I did just that last year when I tried out some further education online.  Before the class was finished I had realized that it was not the path for me and happily dropped out of college.  That decision closed whatever doors that would have become available had I finished, but reopened doors that would present themselves in the future.  Doors such as a potential editorial position at a magazine that would have not been possible if still in the midst of that previous opportunity.

Choose Wisely, Then Commit

Saying yes is easy.  Committing is the hard part.  We tend to focus on the end result that the opportunity will bring, while forgetting about the daily grind that will be required to get from here to there.  But if you never commit to anything how will you learn what you are capable of?

Think twice before passing through the door.  Consider whether that commitment will move you closer to your goals, and that it lines up with your values.  Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.

And remember that sometimes you don’t get to choose the opportunity.  Sometimes the opportunity chooses you.  All you can do in these cases is decide whether to throw your hat in the ring.  Just be prepared to commit to the opportunity should fate select you.