Allistair Eating with a Dirty Face
Allistair Eating with a Dirty Face

When You’re Finished Eating, Clean Your Bowl

A Zen story goes something like this:

A student was having a meal with his Master. When they were finished eating, the student asked his Master, “What should I do now?”

The Master replied, “Clean your bowl.”

At that moment the student was enlightened.

This story illustrates one of the most important ideas that we all should take to heart: whatever we start, we must complete. Leaving a task undone, unfinished, or incomplete is the surest path to failure. Success in life can be summarized in a sentence:

Show up and complete the job.

It’s amazing how few people fail to do those two seemingly simple things. That is what separates the winners from the losers.

In Week Four of The Master Key System, Charles F. Haanel held no punches when he wrote:

12. Unless you do this, you had better not start at all, because modern Psychology tells us that when we start something and do not complete it, or make a resolution and do not keep it, we are forming the habit of failure – absolute, ignominious failure. If you do not intend to do a thing, do not start. If you do start, see it through even if the heavens fall; if you make up your mind to do something, do it; let nothing, no one interfere; the “I” in you has determined, the thing is settled; the die is cast, there is no longer any argument.

As Haanel stated, not completing something forms within a person the habit of failure. Once a person begins to quit the things he endeavors to do, he finds that it becomes easier and easier to quit the task at hand rather than complete it. In the end, then, what does he have? Nothing.

If man had stopped at the launch pad rather than launching and landing on the Moon, would we have that amazing accomplishment to inspire us?

If Jonas Salk never completed his investigations into disease, we would still be suffering with polio (and probably other illnesses) to this day.

When the going gets tough, we are often told, then the tough get going. They don’t “get going” the other way, though; they go toward the trouble and get the job done.

A good analogy to illustrate these points is to think of your life as having a checking account. Every time you set yourself to do something and you attain your goal, then you deposit money into your account. You become richer. You’re life becomes fuller. You have bettered yourself. When you leave something incomplete, when you quit before you’ve attained your goal, then money is removed from your account. You are a little less than you were before you started. You’ve attained nothing, but lost the time you put into whatever little efforts you made.

A friend of mine made it his goal to become a master parachutist. (Please excuse me, but I do not know the proper term for someone who completes one hundred parachute jumps. “Master parachutist” will serve the purpose for this illustration, though.) He went through months of training and finally went on his first jump. After the jump, someone asked him how he liked it. My friend said that it was “the worst thing he ever did” and that he “couldn’t wait until it was all over.” He was then asked why he would keep on jumping if he hated it so much. He answered that he had to complete what he set his mind to.

Once he made his one hundredth jump, he quit jumping and has never done it since. He had attained his goal and in the process set himself up for future success. (He currently owns his own company and is very successful.)

Life, when all is said and done, is about the things we’ve done and the things we’ve accomplished and attained. Even something as little as buying something, if left incomplete, would leave us lacking in some way or other. Imagine needing a television, but never leaving the house to buy one or never committing to a particular model. You’d be inconvenienced for a very long while.

Complete your tasks; complete your goals; attain all that you can. Life might be a race, but it is a race of endurance, not speed. It matters not how we finish something nor how quickly. The fact that we finish is all that a person needs to be on the path to success.