I trudge up the hill toward the house, my hands caked with dirt from pulling weeds in the garden, and I want nothing more than to shed my sweaty gardening clothes and get into the shower, but I have to pause halfway up the slope and look back down the hill. There it is—the row of squash I just finished weeding. When I’m bent over the weeds, surrounded by masses of dirt and vegetation, the garden feels unruly, chaotic, but from above I see the orderly rows, some cleared of weeds and some still calling for help. I need this moment and the new perspective it provides: visible proof that my hard work has accomplished something. That row is done! The others can wait.
This need for completion motivates but also haunts me as I consider the calendar—halfway through summer break! Taking the long view, I see one project nearly done, one barely started, and many in various in-between stages. I've cut 500 words from my long article but I probably ought to cut 500 more, and I’m still dithering over where to send it; meanwhile, I’ve ordered a bunch of books for my next research project but haven’t started reading. I’ve fiddled with syllabi, dipped into new textbooks, pondered the eternal problem of freshman composition, but none of these things are close to complete.
All this unfinished business makes me a little nervous. I keep thinking back to my new faculty orientation, with a wise colleague offered the best piece of academic advice I’ve ever received: “Finish things.” So right! My wise colleague died a few years back, but toward the end I hope she had a chance to pause and look back over the years to see evidence of all the impressive things she’d finished. Today when I find myself in the middle of a bunch of unfinished projects, I’m tempted to call together my current colleagues for a little motivational talk: let’s help each other attend to all those niggling little details that prevent us from completing our projects. In honor of our late colleague, we can call our group Jackie D’s Finishing School. Tuition is free but the homework is outrageous.
Let’s finish things! And then step away, pause, and look back to see evidence of what we’ve accomplished before we continue trudging up the hill.