We Don’t Finish Anything Anym …

This article was aired on National Public Radio, and published in The Photo Journalist – By Linton Weeks

Speaking recently about a state proposal to abandon the Common Core standards in North Carolina public schools, Vance County, N.C., district Superintendent Ronald Gregory opined in the Henderson Daily Dispatch, “I don’t know what’s wrong with these people. … To me, it’s like we never finish anything we start.”

True that. We don’t finish:

Meals. Despite world hunger, American diners leave about 17 percent of their meals unfinished,according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Students toss out 60 percent of the vegetables and 40 percent of the fruit on their plates, the Harvard School of Public Health reports. So much food is left on plates, groups such as Halfsies and the Food Recovery Network have sprung up to redirect food from the haves to the have-nots, and as NPR has reported, a couple of University of Michigan alumni have even developed the Leftover Swap app to help table scraps find a new home.

Houses. In 2010, the U.S. census reported that 43 percent of new homes for sale were being sold unfinished, according to the Seattle Times.

School. More than 1 million high-schoolers drop out every year. Fewer than 6 of every 10 full-time, first-time college students complete the work for their degrees in less than six years, and about 400,000 college students drop out annually, Education Sector reports.

Messages. Meetings are missed, directions misread, feelings misinterpreted because people don’t always read beyond the subject line or the first screen of an email, social media or smartphone message.

Video games. A high percentage of gamers do not play to the end of the games, CNN reported in 2011.

Nor do we always finish marathons or marriages or movies. Or musings. Sure, we have good intentions, but, you know, well …

Finishing School I

Traditionally, finishing has been essential to human endeavor.

“Genius begins great works, labor alone finishes them,” philosopher Joseph Joubert said centuries ago.

Business and marketing whiz Chin-Ning Chu wrote in The Art of War for Women: “To succeed in business, you need to have the will to finish the job.”

Even Van Halen admonishes, “Finish What Ya Started.”

Laurel Dukehart knows the value of completion when it comes to a high school education. Laurel is president of Gateway to College National Network in Portland, Ore., a nonprofit that helps young people get a high school diploma.

“Finishing high school is critical for all students,” she says. ” Without a diploma or a GED, many opportunities are closed to young people, including eligibility for financial aid for college, service in the military and most family-wage jobs.”

Statistically speaking, high school dropouts, Laurel points out, will make an average of $260,000 less in the course of their lifetimes than those who graduate. Dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to become incarcerated, she says, and they face much higher rates of unemployment.

“Failing to finish high school isn’t just a problem for young people,” Laurel says. “It leads to significant challenges for their communities. Public obligations such as welfare are accessed disproportionately by people who never completed high school.”

On the bright side, “finishing school means more resources for everyone,” Laurel adds. “Each high school graduate saves the public health system an average of $40,500, and they pay more in taxes, too. Based on a study done in 2006, each high school graduate yields a public benefit of $209,000 in higher government revenues and lower government spending.”

Finishing School II

For Deborah King, the idea of finishing has a slightly different meaning. She runs Texas-based Final Touch Finishing School. Her job is to help people be as polished as possible to succeed in everyday life. To her, finishing is a process.

“Most people learned social skills from their family as they were growing up,” Deborah says. “While some may have enjoyed the benefit of parents who were well-skilled in this area, most have not.”

Deborah says, “Mastering social skills — like any skill — requires repetition to develop mastery.”

Social graces, she says, help someone gain a competitive advantage. “All things being equal, the person who possesses the strongest social skills will enjoy greater opportunities personally and professionally,” Deborah believes. “And, when technical skills may be lacking, a person with the strongest social skills will often surpass those with stronger technical skills and weak social skills.”

The goal of social skills, she adds, “is to cultivate trust with others. Without trust, relationships never flourish personally or professionally.”

That, to Deborah, is what finishing is all about.

But are we ever really finished? “The truth is that we are never finished learning and polishing social skills until …” Deborah says, until “we have decided not to engage in life any longer.”

Still some try. Some nonfinishers, such as Bill Gates — who famously left Harvard University before graduation — find other pursuits in which to excel. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given millions of dollars to the Gateway to College National Network, for instance.

So maybe we never really finish anything. Even when we finish. Maybe in this supercomplex world, we need a new definition of finishing. Maybe the finish line is just another signpost along the way.

And if, as Leonard Woolf advised, the journey not the arrival matters, maybe there is no arrival anymore. No finish line.

But why finish writing this story when —-