“Well begun is half done.” – Aristotle
Throughout my life, I’ve found that I begin new tasks with great gusto. This is a good thing, and I have learned to take advantage of my enthusiasm to create momentum that will help carry me through the eventual letdown. The particulars vary from project to project, but it’s usually the result of higher-than-expected costs, missing parts, or delays. When the slog hits, it’s critically important to have built in some incentives to help keep your motivation and to keep you on track.
Wisdom from the ancient world
I’ve always liked the quotation above from Aristotle. For most of my existence, I’ve taken it to mean that a strong start is a great advantage. This is just one of the axioms I refer to to help me overcome procrastination — to begin now — especially on those difficult or unpleasant chores. But there’s another way to interpret it: a strong beginning is only half the battle. You and I are bound to run into what is known as the “muddle in the middle.”
This is true of books, blog posts, product launches — and it’s also true of life.
Enter King Solomon
Let’s look at King Solomon to illustrate what I mean. Frequent readers will know that I refer often to the biblical book of Proverbs — written primarily by Solomon, the son of King David, who succeeded his father on the throne of ancient Israel. As king, Solomon was unparalleled. He was wise and wealthy because God had blessed him from the beginning of his reign.
In addition to these gifts, God chose Solomon to build the temple in Jerusalem — the center of worship for God’s chosen people. And his body of work also included three books of the Bible — part of the Bible’s wisdom literature — Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Clearly Solomon had an enviable collection of skills and used them to accomplish many good and enduring things.
It didn’t end well
However, as he grew comfortable in his achievements, apparently, Solomon became complacent. In the following passage from 1 Kings, Chapter 11, we see that Solomon squandered something essential:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.
The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
What went wrong?
Notice the telltale signs. Like his father before him, Solomon got his head turned because of his sexual appetite. Despite God’s direct instruction to the contrary, he amassed a harem of 1,000 women — most from the idol-worshiping folk Solomon’s ancestors had conquered to inhabit the land of promise.
As I wrote in an earlier two-part post titled, “When You Marry a Mountain Girl, You Marry the Mountain,” you’re going to adopt the ways of the people you spend time with — this is especially true of one’s spouse. This is another reason it’s better to marry someone with similar beliefs and values. Failure to do this results in what the Bible calls “being unequally yoked.” In agricultural terms unequally yoked animals couldn’t plow straight, as the stronger animal would always pull the weaker in its direction. In Solomon’s case, his wandering eye resulted in a wandering heart that worshiped inert idols in place of the living God. This ultimately led to the destruction of the temple Solomon built, but also to the captivity of God’s people.
How to avoid foolishness and failure
The objective here is to be a faithful steward of the gift that is your life. This means you don’t want to peak in high school, and it also means you don’t want to put it in neutral once you hit 50, 60, 70, whatever. To finish your life strong and satisfied, here’s what I recommend:
Begin with the end in mind – The late Stephen Covey coined this phrase in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Having a mission — a purpose with a desired outcome — in front of you is paramount. It’s a challenge to remain as motivated at the end of your shift as you are when you clock in, but having a mission makes it easier. Notice that Solomon’s resolve weakened as he got older.
Count the cost – The funniest and yet saddest episodes of the TV show “American Idol” are the ones featuring the deluded contestants who swear they can sing — the judges just aren’t being fair. If you want to be a professional musician, you have to put in the time in solitary practice. The 10,000-hour rule is no joke — and you can only spend those hours on one thing, not multiple things. This is the definition of opportunity cost. What are you willing to do without to achieve at your peak? It’s your life, so do be honest with yourself.
Stay connected to your power source – To be the best possible version of yourself you need to be working at the intersection of your Passion, Purpose, and Potential. This is a quest, and it is easier for some than for others, but the effort is worth it. God made you and He knows His plans for you. Get out your spiritual shovel and dig with your eyes open. Don’t get discouraged if you have to do some living before it snaps into focus. It’s all training if you’re legitimately seeking. And when you find it, you’ll have to pray, study and reflect — alone and with others — to stay on track.
Stay fresh – I know I’ve said it before: You’re either green and growing or you’re ripe and rotting. Are you an expert? A virtuoso? Not yet? You still have those challenges in front of you. If you are an expert or a virtuoso, consider the challenge of teaching what you’ve learned to other people. There’s always more to learn, more to do — and if you’re not dead, you’re not done.
Get some rest – Take care of your body by exercising, eating right, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep.
Get your mind right – The body goes where the head goes. Competitive divers learn this to enter the water with that minimal splash the judges reward. It’s the same in life. And we’ve talked about it before: thoughts lead to feelings; feelings lead to behaviors. If you’re not impaired, you can choose what to think about — good or bad.
But sometimes you’re vulnerable. Then what? As Dr. Charles Stanley advises, use the H.A.L.T. method to avoid giving in to the temptation to foolishness — whatever form that takes for you. Don’t do anything when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Whether you’re tempted by an unlocked door, an unwholesome relationship, a bottle, a smoke, or a plate of fries, it’s much easier to resist when you recognize when and where your defenses are at their lowest, and you can see the larger goal beyond the moment.
Is it hopeless if I’ve wrecked it?
Not at all. If you live to tell the tale, you can still finish well. If you need a refresher on Grace and forgiveness or if the whole idea is new to you, you can read about it here. Your Father in Heaven made you, and He — with all His faithful ones — is cheering you on. You can be clean. You can be His. You can be faithful in fulfilling your mission and finish strong.
So how about you? What steps are you taking now to finish well. Encourage your brothers by declaring it below.