I spent 59 months encompassing 2800 labor hours building my own airplane. I learned a lot about myself, my character strengths and flaws and more importantly what it takes to finish a job--a task that by today's standards is quite complex and difficult. It seems there are very few people who will stick to a task that doesn't deliver immediate results. We are a society seeking immediate success in everything we do, patience is not commonplace. A five year journey is not something many people are willing to sign up for. Count me as one, who, if I had known what I was getting into may have chosen differently. In the end, I'm glad I didn't, the rewards are immeasurable. I emerged from the journey, a forever changed person. I have a new found confidence in exactly what I am capable of, what I can accomplish when I push through discomfort. This journey was, for me, from start to finish, outside of my comfort zone. If you are willing to spend five years of your life being uncomfortable, constantly learning and pushing yourself to new levels of competence, you will inevitably evolve along the way. As you can imagine, I learned a lot along the way. I was asked to give a motivational speech about this topic and I condensed it down to the following five bullet points.
Persistence - "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time" (Thomas Edison). I think you would agree, if you attempt a difficult task, you have to start with this one. Without persistence, you really have no foundation to reach the finish line. Websters dictionary defines it as, firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. Quite honestly, the definition says it all, this mindset is a must and is number one on this list for a reason. Bull dogged determination will see you through, quitting is not an option.
Balance - "Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance" (Epicurus). If you embark on a long journey like this, be very aware of maintaining balance in your life. I do not believe we function well as human beings being obsessed with one thing, burnout is very likely, before you ever see the finish line. Its a marathon, not a sprint is a key concept to remember. I was sure to make time for hobbies like snowboarding and hiking, maintained my diet and exercise, and took vacations. This helps keep you sane, which is key.
Celebrate - "The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and that alone" (Martina Navratilova). Enjoy the process, and don't focus so much on the product. Take time to celebrate the small victories along the way. For every sub-assembly that I completed, I was sure to celebrate in some way. Typically for me that was some good scotch and a cigar, it may be quite different for you, but you get the point. No victory is too small. These celebrations are the coal for the fire, the fuel to keep your furnace burning hot.
Small Bites - "When eating an elephant take one bite at a time” (Creighton Abrams). If you look at the journey in its entirety, you will most likely be overwhelmed and intimidated. You must break it down into manageable tasks. I remember the first time I climbed a 14,000 foot mountain here in Colorado. As I first gained sight of the summit, my excitement level soared, I was almost there! I soon learned, that the hardest part was yet to come. The air was thin, my lungs were burning as I gasped for air with each slow step. I kept staring at the summit and it didn't seem to be be getting any closer as the time passed. It was then that I decided to focus on one step at a time, and not even look up at the summit. I wasn't sure I could make the summit, but I knew I could do one more step. When I changed my focus to manageable tasks like one step, my perception of difficulty changed. Celebrate each step, if you must.
Resources - "The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot" (Michael Altshuler). Time and money are scarce, that is a fact we must live with. We all have different talents, intelligence and skills in life, but there is one thing we all have in common. One thing that is equal among us all. We all have 24 hours in a day. Use your time wisely and that doesn't necessarily mean working 20 hours a day, just be smart. To reach the finish line, always making progress in the journey must be a priority, even if its slow progress.
In the end, when people say, the first step is the hardest, I say that’s a fallacy and here’s why. The last step, not the first, is truly the most difficult. I can vouch for the fact it is not easy. But if it was easy, everyone would be doing it and that wouldn’t be any fun. The magic happens when you cross that finish line and achieve your goal. The more difficult the journey, the more rewarding the finish. Name someone who ever did anything significant by starting, and not finishing? Success in life is not a participation game…unlike many youth sports leagues in America, in life we are keeping score and don’t hand out awards for giving it a good try, results count.
We should all aspire to be great, not merely average. Everyone who ever did anything disruptive in the history of mankind was a finisher. It quite simply is the most important prerequisite for success. If you want to change your life…if you want to make a significant impact, or as Steve Jobs phrased it, “if you want to make a dent in the universe” …my advice to you is start with finishing.