You probably heard the one about the guy who never finishes anything.
For the purposes of this story let’s call him Little Johnny. That’s generic enough for now.
But this guy Little Johnny always had a gajillion projects kicking around. They weren’t even specialized; they ran across several disciplines. He wanted to record an album, help Franz Schubert come up with an ending to his Unfinished Symphony, climb Mt. Kilamanjaro, write a novel and be home in time for cornflakes.
I’m reading The DaVinci Dilemma, which tells all about Little Johnny. A true Renaissance man, great at many different things and able to finish exactly none of them. These DaVincis act, paint, play music, write, invent things, start many businesses and snap off a mean backdoor slider. Kind of like the original DaVinci.
The folks who wrote that book act, write, sing professionally in a choir, do street performances, engage in some stand-up comedy, coach people and produce art in various media. And that’s two people, not five or six.
These DaVinci types have a terrible time getting things done. All these shiny objects floating around, it gets durned near impossible. Many are given Adderall or Ritalin or some such thing. I can sure appreciate that; my mind is a veritable playground.
A good friend of mine works as a counselor. He spent a career in the Navy, and he has all these interests. He plays a pretty good rhythm guitar. He’s run marathons. He’s ridden a motorcycle down the Tail Of The Dragon, which has something like 300 curves. He told me he has at least one book in him, and he was playing with that off and on. He’s planning to join me on a hike in western North Carolina in a few months. A busy guy, and admittedly quite ADHD.
Guy like that, it’s amazing he ever gets anything done. Somehow he does; he recently finished his Ph.D. The guy totally makes me sick.
A hole in my bucket list
I’m rather infamous for starting things and never finishing them. I’m like Little Johnny here; tons of ideas and maybe a few completed projects if you look hard enough. Here are a few ambitions I’ve played with:
• Record a solo album, all instrumental.
• Get a bus, gut it and make the coolest bus conversion of them all. To this day, every time I ride a bus I measure it off I my mind and decide where to put the bathroom.
• Drive that totally cool bus conversion on a “four-corners” trip of the USA, writing about everything I see.
• Of course, through-hike the Appalachian Trail. Well, yeah, that’s a no-brainer. Write about it, particularly relating the stories of people I meet. Kind of like something Studs Terkel would write.
• Write a novel, blow out the bestseller lists and have lunch with Stephen King. Just as long as they’re not serving finger sandwiches.
• And so on and so on, ad nauseum.
So I have all these notes and mechanical drawings and half-completed music charts on a hard drive, but that’s about all.
It got to where my parents would roll their eyes every time I mentioned yet another project. Have you ever heard eyes roll on the phone? Trust me, you can, especially when it’s your parents.
It got to where even my ex-wife took to social media to push me into finishing something — just once. She’s in another part of the country, got married again 15 years ago, and we have not laid eyes on one another since I moved to South Carolina. And she reminds me; what’s up with that?
Triggering finish mode
While on a training hike with a friend, I related my predicament. He’s also talented, a trail-grabbing fool like me, and he’s been there a time or three. He was one of the two I went with on an Appalachian Trail section hike a year ago. And I had a revelation.
It wasn’t until I got back from that AT hike that I actually started finishing stuff. That’s when I found out that completing a project is actually a rush. It’s addictive.
The AT hike didn’t go as well as planned; one of our party had health issues that couldn’t be ignored so we shut it down a day early. But something happened anyway; something very cool.
Soon as we got back I sat down and wrote. A short ebook, no more than 20,000 words, but I completed it within a couple of weeks. Shipped it, too. Knocked out something from my bucket list was all.
As I write this I have Part II of a novel on hard drive, a few days away from a completed final draft. It was something that had been kicking around in my mind for 30 years; well it’s about time.
Also in queue is another fiction work, now in the time lag between first and secnd drafts. I hope to start releasing it in parts around the middle of the year.
Okay, what’s the secret sauce here? How is a chronic non-finisher able to finish things all of a sudden?
Lots of possibilities. Improved mental attitude. Good support system. The Lamictal’s working. A sense of urgency that starts showing up when you hit your mid-50s. All of the above. None of the above.
Only thing I can guess is that time on the Appalachian Trail. Yeah, part of it was an abortion on wheels, but in many ways it was still a victory. I got there and did something I’ve never done before.
I think it was Thomas Merton who said we need a taste of victory to gain possession of ourselves, to keep our hopes alive. A person has to know what victory is and decide it beats the pants off defeat.
But that’s how it works. Victory tends to beget victory. Didn’t you know?
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What say you? What victories can you claim right now? Can you ride them to the next victory? Please share.