I am great at starting things. Not as good at finishing them. I’ve always thought I could make a lot of money if I created a business model where people brought me a situation they needed an idea for–I brainstormed with them, gave them some ideas, and whammo–they left to implement the ideas (paying me, of course, for my stellar brainstorming services and ideas). I am your idea gal, not so much the nuts-and-bolts-‘get ‘er-done’-one.
My husband has often said to the kids, “Finish! Just finish!” when he encounters dirty dishes in the sink versus the dishwasher or towels on the bathroom floor instead of hung on hooks (he’s learned not to say that to me, although I believe he thinks it a fair bit). He’s a Finisher–you know the kind who writes things on a to-do list and then actually crosses them off? IF I cross something off, I usually add 3 more. It was a huge gift of unprecedented proportions for me that I married a man who gets things done. [God laughs and claps God’s hands.]
I hear a voice in my head a lot: “Finish, just finish–why can’t you finish, dammit?!”. It is primarily my own voice. It is not a kind or happy voice. It is a voice of judgment and shame because I feel failure around all I’ve started and not finished.
The other day, in a counseling session with the best therapist on the planet (I actually mean that), I was lamenting the fact I have trouble finishing things (like books I’ve started to write or read) and denigrating myself for this. He sat there and listened, as he is good at doing, and then looked at me and said the most life-changing thing:
“What if, instead of beating yourself up for not finishing things, you worked instead on growing them?”
I sat there stunned. HOLY WISDOM WORDS SPILLING FROM HIS MOUTH. Why have I never looked at it this way before? I KNOW HOW TO GROW THINGS. I KNOW HOW TO NURTURE THINGS ALONG. For goodness sakes, I absolutely adore planting something and seeing where it goes and watching it take on a life of its own and adapting to it.
This shift in language/looking at things may seem small to you, oh those-of-you-who-know-how-to-finish-things.
But we are talking to one who struggles with this.
This word/rubric changes it all–changes the spirit and the energy around something. What if I don’t have to load myself down with the damn weight of finishing something or knowing how it is supposed to end or look (which we usually don’t know, btw) but I can instead say, “How can I grow this?”
How can I grow this book?
How can I grow my artistic skills?
How can I grow my understanding of issues?
How can I grow my relationships to marginalized and maligned people and communities?
How can I grow in advocacy and kindness?
How can I grow my spiritual direction practice?
How can I grow my body of work?
How can I grow in sharing my body of work?
How can I grow in my role as unconventional pastor and preacher without a pulpit or a church?
How can I grow in care for my physical body?
The word FINISH doesn’t even work in some of these sentences. Do you see that? Finishing some of these things is not even possible because they are alive and fluid and contextual to life seasons. I am never going to be finished or done with what I want to do or with the places and ways I want to grow or expand. But instead of bouncing from one thing to the next or abandoning something because I don’t know how to finish it or am afraid or know I can’t, what if I continue to play with it, work on growing it, give it a little more water or time or sun or pruning or whatever I think might help it flourish? In my garden, I don’t read books about what to do (usually not, anyway). I experiment. If something doesn’t grow well somewhere, I dig it up and try it somewhere else. If a plant is too leggy, I give it a hard prune and hope it comes back better the next year. When I discover plants spreading, I say, “Oh, is this what you want to do?” and step back and consider if I like it. Often I do and I roll with it, delighting in how it has filled in the space or added something pleasing to the eye. Other times I say, “Oh no, you don’t” and I rip it out.
People, I know how to grow things. I can do that.
So today, I’m going to work on growing my book because I think I know some things about marriage in its middle years that might be helpful to some folks. I’m going to work on growing my understanding around a particular marginalized community because people are getting squashed like bugs and they are ending their lives because of how they are treated and it is not okay and the Church, in particular, has some answering to do for their role in this.
I am going to work on growing some fall/winter veggies in my garden. I usually give up this time of year and let things run their course. But I want some kale and some spinach and lettuce I don’t buy in the grocery store but go pick from my garden on the fall days where it is rainy and I go into fear about all of the rain and gray coming for months on end.
That’s what I am going to do. How about you?
What will you work on growing this very day? What project is stalled? What is an arena you long to enter but haven’t really yet? How can you dip your toe in and grow your skills in that place?
What’s it going to be? I’d love to hear!
Love you, dearest Kimbers! Look at you–you grew your idea for this blog post into something beautiful that will bless many people. I love every word of this. xoxo
Thanks, Jen, for your encouragement in all the places and all the ways…
Helpful words. And not everything begun needs to be finished. Life is so full of opportunities and challenges. Just isn’t time for everything I am curious and care about. Seeking to choose well for my next phase of life.
I am sure you will, Barbara. I’ve always been grateful for your curiosity. And yes, you are right–not everything we begin needs finishing. Wisdom is learning what those things are in addition to hanging in with the things that are worth chipping away at.
Love this article. I think this is excellent advice particularly for college students. We go and live in an atmosphere that cultivates so much of this mentality to finish things but to also finish them exceptionally well. Instead, I think college is about growing yourself-academically, spiritually and socially; it’s about picking aspects of yourself you wish to grow within your community. I was feeling worried this year in college about finishing things like my major, research, job applications, etc., but instead I should be thinking about how to grow through my activities.
You are right, Younis. College can load you down with serious expectations but can also be such an unprecedented and wonderful place/season to explore and grow yourself in so many dimensions. Blessings on growing yourself as you grow your experiences, your connections and your expertise!
This is a breath of fresh air-air infused with wisdom! Thank you Kim, for your honesty in sharing a personal flaw. We all have flaws but when we surrender those flaws to God he makes it all beautiful!
Thanks for sharing…
Thanks for reading, Naomi!
Once again, your words resonate, Kim! My morning prayers were to just “finish” some long-overdue projects and clear out the clutter. Maybe just plugging away will be good enough to find the balance in life for people and projects. Thank you for sharing!
I hope you can grow some of your projects and grow the order! Thanks for reading and commenting, Joni.
Brilliant, Kim. I, too, am married to a person with 200 things on their list, 195 of which will get done by lunch. If I make a list I am likely to hide it in a box or under a book or in a drawer – anywhere so that I don’t have to look at it because apparently a list of to-dos may as well be a dragon breathing fire at me. But you are SO RIGHT – I can grow. Not plants (good lord I can’t grow plants) but I can take what I wrote yesterday and play with it today. I can grow friendships and family relationships without needing them to look complete. And then tomorrow I will look at what I’ve done and nurture it some more – which will bring me joy. I’m wondering if, as we work on continually growing rather than finishing, the losses in our lives will begin to feel less fatal, too. Thank you for this….
Interesting thought, Michelle, on losses. Let me know what you discover. I’ll watch that, too.
Brilliant, Kim. I, too, am married to a person with 200 things on their list, 195 of which will get done by lunch. If I make a list I am likely to hide it in a box or under a book or in a drawer – anywhere so that I don’t have to look at it because apparently a list of to-dos may as well be a dragon breathing fire at me. But you are SO RIGHT – I can grow. Not plants (good lord I can’t grow plants) but I can take what I wrote yesterday and play with it today. I can grow friendships and family relationships without needing them to look complete. And then tomorrow I will look at what I’ve done and nurture it some more – which will bring me joy. I’m wondering if, as we work on continually growing rather than finishing, the losses in our lives will begin to feel less fatal. Thank you for this….