Winning isn’t everything. Here’s why finishing is more important.

And I’m not saying that just to make you feel good.

I was talking to a friend of mine I consider a hero and whose grit I deeply respect. This is a guy who's faced some pretty tough life challenges, including losing his father early, and at one point, practically living on the street. And yet he makes out time to reach out and offer hope to others who are struggling, even though his own journey is still very much ongoing.

Like I said, I think he's a hero. He doesn't.

This came up again when I mentioned something he’d accomplished and which I thought he must feel proud of himself for getting done. His reply?

Actually, I didn't because I knew I could do it better than what I did.

Now, I heartily believe it's important to push for our best. But​, I was sad to hear him say that, because what I was hearing was him downplaying something I thought was just as important. So I said…

But you should learn to take pride in finishing. Not just in perfecting. They are two different things and both worthy to celebrate.

The entire exchange got me thinking about finishing, in general.

If you’re like most people, you make much of starters, and call them bold and courageous. You make much of winners, looking up to them and wanting to be like them. But do you do as good a job making much of finishers? Or do you too take finishing for granted? Do you respect the courage of those who start, celebrate the victories of those who win, but then are sort of indifferent to those who "only" finish?

You see it everywhere. You see it in entrepreneurship, where serial starters and big winners get a lot of the press, but those who just steadily grow, not so much. You see it in relationships, and how people make a big deal of weddings but not so much of anniversaries. You see it in politics, where it’s the politicians who make big splashes that everyone talks about, but the ones who steadily plug away and actually get things done, not so much.

It’s easy to see why finishing gets so little love

Beginnings are spectacular: nothing, then suddenly, something. Victories are spectacular, too, especially when they’re hard-won. But completions—those tend to be more quiet, don’t they? There’s not much fanfare to something ongoing getting finished.

School probably contributes too. Years and years of being trained to not only finish tests, but also get perfect scores—it’s not hard to see how that can leave an almost permanent mark.

And that's not to say it's enough to finish tests. Quite the opposite, in fact, because one of the most important ways to get great scores is finishing. And the most certain way to not "win" (especially in essay type tests) is to leave questions unanswered.

It's an analogy (and therefore imperfect), but it illustrates a major, but easily missed, point.

Winning is great, but to win, you must first of all finish. (Except you cheat, and even that, if you plan on not getting caught, requires you to see it through.)

Winning is the result, but seeing things through is how you get there. When you make much of wins, you put all the emphasis on the results (which actually can encourage cheating).

But if you make just as much of completion (without downplaying the importance of giving your best), you subtly shift the emphasis to the process of seeing things through.

Which, it turns out, is how to win.

Okay, so what does this mean, practically?

To be clear, I don't expect that everyone will stop celebrating starters and winners: it’s something people are drawn to, like birds to bread. But then I'm not writing this for humanity, either. I'm writing it for you.

You can choose, starting right now, to celebrate the things you complete. You can make a list of things you've completed this month, or this year, or in the past five years, and celebrate their completion, irrespective of their perfection. You can be grateful for…

  • the degree you finished…
  • the jobs you saw through…
  • the sales you closed…
  • the projects you wrapped up…
  • each year of marriage or parenting that you made it through (that’s not cheating: those don’t finish until someone dies or you divorce, so you need another way to celebrate their finishing)…
  • whatever else!

And most important, you can teach those you care about to do the same, by doing it for them and reminding them that it matters: your children, your friends, anyone.

You can choose, starting right now, to honour the practice of finishing in your life and the lives of those you care about.

So no, I'm not writing this for everyone. I'm writing it for you. And for my friend, a practised finisher.

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