Finish (Part 2)
I got some really interesting responses to Part One of this writing. One of them pointed me to Theseus’s Paradox, a ship that had every single piece replaced with something new over time. Was it still the same ship or was it a replica? Another comment pointed to the end use of the model, if it was something a person was actually going to fly, then it would have required greater attention to detail in order to be “complete”. As a toy, it was perfectly suited to its task. Finally, someone mentioned the instructions. If the instructions were incomplete, then you can’t blame the builder for not executing the final touches without direction.
All of these have been swirling around in my head for the past few weeks, a good swirl of, “What does it mean to finish?”
Today, I think I was overwhelmed by the breadth of responses and it left me feeling like there was no simple or single answer. Inherently, finishing something can only be relatively defined, it’s a much looser concept than I had anticipated. Actually, I had thought that what I would come to was some kind of poignant conclusion like, “Finishing something is when the changes you make to it are functionally or visually unnoticeable due to the overall appearance of completeness.” Something Webster would have been proud to publish. But that’s just not the case.
Really, what looking at the finish line has done is effectively remind me of the tortoise and the hare. The way the race is run seems to make all the difference in the outcome or completeness of something.
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work through this over the past several weeks on a variety of projects. One was based on feedback I needed to give, others on feedback I needed to receive. What has been interesting is that the outcomes are scattered. Some good work has come out of conflict, some bad work; even some shockingly great work has come out of an absolutely painful feedback loop. It’s surprising. And each time, with each of these, when I think we have come to some kind of conclusion, there is something else that enters and prevents completion. In most cases, completion is defined as the moment when I get to send an invoice…
But that’s not the real deal, I think that very few things are ever complete, they are only, “Good for now.” So many things that I consider to be finished to an expert degree can be revisited in a year with room for improvement. There is a natural flow of iteration in all things throughout life, so maybe the pressure to finish something is inorganic and foreign to our life experience. To the nature of the way things are. I believe that maybe there is only one real “It is Finished” moment in our life, and the rest of it just keeps cycling on. Further up and further in.
Returning to my model airplane. The models I completed at age 10 were not the last ones to be built. I kept buying, assembling, learning, improving. At a point in time I was able to slow my anticipation down enough to carefully paint them and apply the decals. I would cut up the box to make stencils or find a book that showed other paint-jobs that could be done. Sometimes I opted for simpler patterns, knowing that it was important to have a challenge that wasn’t so frustrating. I opted to dial back to paint by numbers rather than taking a brush and shooting for an exact Van Gogh reproduction. Practice was then a delight.
Finishing is a worthy goal, but a mystifying destination.
Maybe that’s the point of it. To be something good to reach for but never lapsing into self aggrandizing satisfaction. A goal that keeps us growing, needing, learning.
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