We came home from our anniversary weekend in Las Vegas, only to discover that our mailbox had been knocked over. There was mail in it, readily accessible to anyone who might walk by, since the lock was broken. There was no note and nobody out on the street. This is one of those annoyances that rates about a 3 out of 10: just interesting enough for a brief anecdote, but not worth throwing a fit. All we had to do was call the property manager and hope the mailbox could be replaced before the next mail delivery.
Maybe half an hour later, a knock sounded at the door. This turned out to be our new neighbor two doors down. He apologized for breaking the mailbox with their moving van, although he made sure to let us know his dad was the one driving. He looked tense, clearly bracing himself for a negative reaction. On the contrary, I was pleased. All I wanted to do was introduce myself and welcome him to the neighborhood. Here is my new neighbor, taking accountability in person and assuring us he will replace the mailbox. I’ve just found out that there is a finisher in the neighborhood. If a crisis ever comes down, we’re on his team. In any area prone to natural disasters (earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, flash floods, riots), this is a big deal.
The new neighbor showed up the following day with a matching mailbox, as promised. (We priced them at about $200). He installed it himself and carried away the broken one. He asked for the keys, because his dad wanted to try to repair it. Over the next six months, the two men redid the stucco of their house, redid the landscaping, and apparently remodeled much of the interior. As far as an outsider can tell, they are indeed both finishers. The initial character assessment I formed after a five-minute first impression has held up.
Finishers are a sort of elite secret society. We recognize each other within minutes. We are willing to recruit and train anyone who wants to join, while recognizing that at least 50% of the population will never make the cut. Our slogans include: “I’m on it,” “It’s taken care of,” and “I got this.”
What are the qualifications of a finisher?
· Takes responsibility for self, dependents, possessions, etc. If we spill on you, if our dog attacks your dog, if we back into your car, if we break your chair, if our kid is rude, we do what it takes to make it right.
· Says ‘yes’ only when able to make a full commitment. Our word is our bond. If we say we’re going to be there, we’ll elbow-crawl if we have to. If something unavoidable happens to prevent it, we’ll make sure you are kept informed.
· Takes on projects only when they can realistically be carried out to completion in the near future or on a predictable timeline.
· Most finishers believe ‘on time’ is late, whether for appointments or deadlines.
· Pulls own weight and pays own way.
· Cleans up after self. Generally leaves an area or object in better shape than it started.
· Delivers what was expected, and goes above and beyond whenever possible.
· Plans ahead and shows up fully prepared.
· Takes as many steps as necessary, makes the calls, goes to the appointments, asks the questions, fills out the paperwork, relentlessly plugs away until total resolution has been attained.
· Detests the feeling of an unmet obligation.
· Feels intense satisfaction at resolving problems, repairing things, and completing projects.
What I want to tell you about finishers is that I didn’t even know they existed until I was nearly 30. I was temperamentally unreliable up to that point. I was chronically disorganized, virtually always late, destitute, couldn’t drive, and had a number of health issues that constantly left me a burden on other people. It never ceases to amaze me how many people were patiently willing to give me rides, feed me, pay me for odd jobs, or let me sleep on their couches. When I finally began to understand that everything about my lifestyle was a lifestyle, not just a very long series of unanticipated, unpreventable crises that rained on me out of a clear sky, I realized there were a lot of changes I could make. Needed to make.
The first thing I had to do was to make sure I never again became financially dependent on another person. I was going to get the best job I could, and I was going to excel at it, even if the only things I did were work, commute, and sleep. I was going to start being the person to pick up the check. I was going to learn to drive. (This took months of lessons, and failing the driving test twice, but I did it). Then I was going to be the person to offer rides and help people move. I also paid off all my consumer and personal debts.
The next thing I was going to do was to finish all the projects I had started that were piled up in my closet. This has not yet wound to a close, and it’s taken ten years. I’m still learning how far in advance I tend to commit myself to projects, books, articles, movies, etc., most of which I should realize will require more time than I have to give. In particular, I had to stop promising to make things for people, recognizing that I rarely followed through. Handmade gifts are not scrip for repaying social debts.
The toughest thing for me has been to stay in touch with people. I had a fifteen-year track record of unread email and unreturned voicemail. I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years because of this. It is really sad because I still think of these people and wish I hadn’t failed them. I didn’t understand that I was letting people down, and that they couldn’t read my mind (or heart) and figure out on their own that I cared about them. Where was the evidence?
Honestly, I’m still only an apprentice finisher. I’m lucky to know several who are great role models in this regard. It’s like getting a tour of the back rooms of a place like an air traffic control tower, where unseen hands make millions of urgently important decisions with serious consequences. These are the people who run the world. The rest of us couldn’t handle it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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