A note I found on my desk a few years ago...
A note I found on my desk a few years ago…

I know lots of people, myself included, who like being able to check things off lists.

It’s not surprising that we like to get things done. Getting things done, reaching the finish line, brings a sense of satisfaction, closure, and completion. It also allows us to move on to new projects and to clear up space in our lives for new stuff.

But while it may be possible to cross something off our list, there’s a deeper truth that I think all of us recognize on some level or another– few things in life are actually ever really, truly, conclusively, and definitely “done.” Instead, things reach varying levels of completion.

It’s not our lack of ability to close the deal that leaves so many things in our lives unfinished. It’s something deeper– the nature of existence. How so?

We are here to work. We are here to create. We are here to sojourn, to become, to strive, to pursue, to self-transcend. So much of what stimulates and provokes us in life exists in the form of potential. Potential is the “not yet” the “could be” the “I wonder” the “one day” that resides in everything that we do.

I’ll use music as an example. Twenty or so years ago I heard a song. It was a Bob Dylan tune. But I was sure it wasn’t Bob Dylan that was singing it because it was totally different than the tune I was familiar with. Turns out it was Dylan. Live Dylan. Bob Dylan rarely played a song the same way twice. In that sense his songs were never “done.” They continued to evolve and explore their potential. To take the Dylan example further, he once said something along the lines of, “Jerry Garcia plays my tunes with more integrity than I do.” Dylan’s music didn’t even end with him. It continues through thousands of musicians and millions of generations. Dylan’s music will never be done.

Juxtapose this beautiful awareness with the idea that a Dylan tune was done the moment it was pressed to record. How limited a view that would be. So too with most things in our lives.

The challenge with this idea is that people have very different feelings about bringing things to closure. Some of us relish the idea of dwelling amidst endless potential. We’re comfortable with lack of resolution, with ambiguity, and the other baggage that comes with embracing the idea that the finish line so many of us see is really only imaginary. Others are terrified by this notion. The idea that nothing around us is fully formed, stable, definitive, or immune to future growth and transformation can be really upsetting to people who thrive on certainty, on clear parameters, and on bounded tasks.

I’m with Dylan on this one.

The Imaginary Finish Line