Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Irresolution: You can’t win if you don’t finish

[Check out the other posts in this series: IndecisionInactionImpatience, Isolation]

My father speaks in proverbs. His one-liners were conversational currency in my family. One of his favorite phrases was “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

While this might sound harsh to our “always-look-on-the-bright-side” culture, he has a point.

You can’t win a race you don’t finish. 

Photo by Paul-W (Creative Commons)

Photo by Paul-W (Creative Commons)

Imagine this scenario:

It’s the Boston Marathon and the best runners in the world are at the starting line. Of course the Kenyans are there. A light breeze ruffles the corners of their specially designed red, black and green running shorts. Their elbows are bent and fists clinched. Their long, lean, muscular legs are taut and ready for the gun.

As you scan the faces of the fastest runners in the world, each is set with determination. Until you come to mine.

There I am at the starting line just a few feet from the Kenyans. I’m wearing basketball shorts, an old college t-shirt, and worn Nikes. I look up and down the starting line as I try to rub the sleep from my eyes.

The gun sounds and we are off.

In an amazing feat of athletic prowess, I fly from the starting line, stride for stride with the leaders. After 50 yards, I pull to the front of the pack and my face exudes pure joy. I am winning the Boston Marathon! At 75 yards my chest is heaving and my smile transforms into a grimace. But I press on, legs pumping with full power.

Then, after the length of a football field, I stop. I hold my hands in the air in celebration. I have won the first 100 yards. I run over to the spectators and hug a few strangers. I kiss a baby. I grab an American flag, drape it over my shoulder, and take a victory lap up and down the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, the race continues without me.

This is ridiculous, right? Why?

The prize is not awarded after 100 yards or even at the midway point. Winners are crowned at the finish line.

Deciding what you want out of life is difficult. Starting is even harder. But finishing is perhaps the most challenging of all. To finish, we need to stay focused on a project until the end. We need to defeat resistance and gravity. We need to have the grit and determination to overcome obstacles.

When we moved to Bosnia, we spent the first year in language school. Bosnian is one of the more difficult languages in the world. As the joke goes, “What language do they speak in heaven? Bosnian, because it takes an eternity to learn.”

I am not a natural language-learner. By the time we moved to Sarajevo, I had already failed to learn German and Spanish. But I was determined to speak Bosnian. Here was my strategy—don’t give up. I knew that if I could keep trying and not quit, I would eventual learn the language.

Now, four years into our life in Bosnia, I can speak Bosnian. Not as well as I want to, but I’m getting better each year.

This is the advantage to placing the emphasis on finishing. We can all finish. You don’t have to be talented or special or unique or a genius to finish. You just need to not quit.

Some writers quit mid-story because the work “just isn’t good enough”. Well, what sounds better:
“I finished writing a mediocre book,”
Or,
“I wrote half a mediocre book.”?

Tolstoy rewrote War and Peace at least seven times. (His wife had to write out his notes by hand each time). He thought it wasn’t good enough.

But, he finished. And today his book is a classic.

The momentum of finishing will carry you into your next project. A better book. A more successful event. A more powerful talk.

I have heard there is a vault in Nashville with unpublished demo tracks from famous songwriters. It is a vault of crap. But finished crap. Crap that gave way to Grammy award-winning gold.

Don’t quit. Don’t guarantee failure. Don’t cheat the world of your finished product. It may be crap or it may be gold. But we won’t know unless you finish.

Step one: Set a goal.
Step two: Get to work.
Step three: Don’t quit.
Step four: Celebrate at the finish line.

When we were first married, my wife and I wanted to pick up a hobby together. She said she always wanted to run a 10k. Once she had decided to train, but someone talked her out of it. They said she couldn’t do it.

A fire arose in my rookie-husband chest. “No way! No one tells my wife what she can’t do. We are going to run a 10k and then wear the t-shirt over to their house!”

We started training that week. Taylor had never run more than 5 minutes straight so we started there. 5 minute run and 30 minute walk. We trained through the hot Georgia summer. We trained until our pants were falling off. We trained through tears.

But when we crossed the finish line months later and picked up our t-shirt, none of that mattered.

Was our time good? Not really.
Did we win the race? Little children passed us.
But it didn’t matter.

We finished.
We stomped in the face of the doubts and doubters.
We crushed the voice of insecurity.
We yelled to our soul, “neither heat, nor pain, nor sweat, nor tears, nor cramps, nor excuses will keep us from finishing.”

And we have the t-shirt to prove it.

How about you? What t-shirt do you want to wear?

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  • troy mc laughlin

    Love this post Josh…it cries perseverance.

  • Excellent….EXCELLENT post! Fuel for the tank for sure!

  • Love it! Just finished trail race yesterday and shared some similar thoughts on my blog. We don’t have to run our race perfectly…we just need to choose not to quit!