If you feel you are wildly successful, then you probably don’t need to read this. However, if you are only moderately successful, you probably spend a lot of time wondering what the people who are wildly successful are doing differently than you. There is one huge difference between successful and unsuccessful people. That difference is their ability to finish. Yes, luck, connections, family, training and a number of other factors influence success, but none of those things really matter if you can’t finish.
Things of Value
Success is a matter of producing things of value. That doesn’t mean everything you create and finish will be a huge success, but if you don’t finish it, you’ll never get to the point that it could be a success in the first place. We often see the value of our work based on how much time we’ve put into something. How long you spend doing something is meaningless if you don’t finish. Which is more valuable–A great book that has never been printed or a good book that has been printed and is available for sale? It doesn’t matter if the great book took 10 years worth of effort. If it isn’t finished, its value is insignificant compared to the book that is only good, but is done.
In the job market, which is more valuable–A degree that you haven’t finished from a really great school or a degree that you’ve finished from a good school? Most employers are going to be more interested in an applicant with a completed degree regardless of the prestige of the school where you haven’t graduated.
The reason employers look for people with a degree is because it shows you are capable of finishing something. If you’ve managed to get a degree from any college, you’ve had to finish a number of assignments, classes, projects, etc. Employers see this as valuable. They know they need employees who can actually finish things. Many are less interested in what you studied as long as they can tell you know how to finish things that you start.
One of the biggest barriers to finishing is perfection. Yes, you can always spend more time on a project to make it better. If you are writing a book, you can always spend more time to tweak it and perhaps make it a little bit better. The skill of being able to finish projects is understanding when you reach the point of diminishing returns. If an extra 5 hours invested in a project make it 100% better, it is probably worth continuing to refine. If an extra 100 hours only make it 2% better, you are probably at the point where you need to finish it and move on to something else.
Not everything you try is going to be a huge success. Make sure you understand when something is “good enough” so you can move on to your next project.
I used to manage some graphic designers working for a non-profit. One of the most difficult things to explain to a graphic designer was the fact that producing 50 good pieces for the organization in a year was a whole lot more valuable than producing one piece that was perfect.
The balance between being efficient and perfect is difficult to learn. It is often one of the defining traits of someone who is mature in their field, yet it is something that gets very little attention in training and is often not even talked about.
Sometimes the best way to finish is to break your project up into smaller pieces and finish the pieces. Software is a good example of this. Many projects fail because their scope is to big to successfully finish. Many more projects would succeed if engineers were able to focus on creating software that solves a subset of the problems, get it deployed and then start a new project to bite off more of the issues. This type of iteration can be very valuable in getting things finished.
Don’t focus on writing an entire encyclopedia. Write a single article, get it complete, do something with it and then write the next. You will never finish if you try to write all 10,000 articles at the same time.
Successful authors finish books. Successful composers finish pieces of music.There is no prize or recognition for having an idea that you weren’t able to execute. There is no Nobel prize for the people who almost came up with something brilliant but didn’t ever get around to writing it down or creating a paper about it.
The ability to actually complete things is what puts you in the running for wild success. The better you become at actually completing things on a regular basis, the more likely you are to achieve great things. The ability to finish is simply the price of admission, but it represents a significant barrier for most people.