Finishing Harder Than We Started

It is the uninterrupted walk of 1,000 days that brings real, sustainable growth; the accretion of tiny layers of knowledge and experience that build a strong mountain that will not erode.
Finishing Harder Than We Started
In: Column, Goals

May 3, 2011

2011 proves one’s world can turn in an instant. In one minute, the American Dream, a nice home, can be reduced to rubble and scattered, literally, to the four winds by a killer tornado. One minute you can be the world’s most wanted terrorist, and the next, your lifeless body can settle on the bottom of the ocean.  Car crashes and Doctor visits can spin a life or end it. The short lesson is to live each day fully and always stay close to God, for we do not know what a day will bring.

Another lesson can be demonstrated by what I drilled into our kids when they were in track: Always finish the race faster than you start it! The road in front of our home has a long, slight incline. Back in the day, I used to train by running down the hill away from our home and back up. Bad knees and a bad back are my excuses de jour for not training as I should now. I imagine age and the seductive pull from my recliner after a hard day of brain work has something to do with it, too. Anyway, I ran the hill recently—jogged, really—and couldn’t shake the old habit: I had to run the last 25 yards as hard as possible. And then call the ambulance. “Hello. 9-1-1. I need a ride to my recliner.”

Finishing harder and faster than we started means a life of continual improvement. Monumental, staggering, instant changes aren’t necessary. (I have found that only bad changes happen overnight. When good changes appear to happen overnight, it is because months and years of hard work have coalesced.)

It is the uninterrupted walk of 1,000 days that brings real, sustainable growth; the accretion of tiny layers of knowledge and experience that build a strong mountain that will not erode; it is resisting temptation and doing good in a million small ways that build an unassailable strength of character. True, lasting excellence cannot be won in the lotto!

But that is the rub in a world that can change in the blink of an eye—we, especially Americans, want instant everything: forget a lifetime of healthy eating and exercise habits; hand me a pill, a cream, a rub, a potion, or a scalpel. Forget a lifetime of hard work, sacrifice, stick-to-it-iv-ness, and savings; “come on, lucky 7!” (Or, “come on, Uncle Sam!”) For the billions of us who won’t win American Idol, we should spend our lives hitting a streak of singles and forget the Babe-Ruth-Esque swings for the seats.

One key to living a life of continuous improvement is to occasionally stop and take inventory. We should see if our stock has risen, not compared to yesterday or last month, but compared to a year or a decade ago. This is extraordinarily difficult for young people—it was for me. We should then note and celebrate our improvements—it gives us the energy to continue. In 2011 and beyond, life can and will change in an instant. But what we really are—our character—simply will not. You and I should patiently do the hard work to finish harder than we started!

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