Unfinished Business

An essay about preventing perfection from being the enemy of progress in running and life.

By on June 18, 2021 | 2 comments

I sit in my bus. The sounds of Tom Rosenthal play softly from my phone while a gentle rain patters on the roof. I haven’t officially started life in the bus yet, but I can tell already that rainy nights will likely be a favorite. There is just something about that sound that gets me every time.

I am slated to begin living in my short bus very soon. Hopefully by the time you read this essay, I will no longer be talking about it and actually doing it. I say hopefully because I have blown right by every departure goal that I have set. Perhaps I am just really bad at estimating a timeline, but it seems as though every project takes 10 times longer than expected, and when it’s done, another one always appears. At this point if feels like I just need to rip the Band-Aid off and leave. Otherwise I will forever find myself in the driveway trying to finish up “one more project.”

It makes me think of the house in which I grew up. The brick Cape Cod-style house with blue shutters and a long stone driveway that my sisters and I were raised in stood for 30 or so years with an unfinished fireplace. My dad and grandfather built the house, and they did an excellent job, but for some reason there was one corner of the brick hearth that was left unfinished. It may have had something to do with my mom going into labor and my dad needing to drop what he was doing and head to the hospital. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until about 32 years after the house had been erected that Dad finally got around to laying the final brick.

As I look ahead to launching my bus, there is a part of me that wants to wait until it is completely finished. At the same time, there is another part of me that is anxious to get going, a side that says I can leave an unfinished corner or two and finish as I go. The perfectionist in me says that’s a dangerous game, that I could easily end up years down the road with an unfinished hearth.

Running can sometimes feel the same way. How many times have you committed to running a race only to find yourself wanting to back out because you didn’t feel ready? Or maybe you felt ready, but conditions didn’t seem ideal. At times these hesitations are valid and should be heeded. Other times, however, they are a stumbling block.

It’s like the fireplace. How silly would it have been for my parents to have delayed moving into their new home just because the fireplace was missing a brick or two? Sure, it may have been unfinished, but the house was still a home, and in the midst of the imperfection, my parents raised a family. My memories of growing up are not tainted by missing pieces. If anything, they are enhanced by them. The unfinished corner was a running joke in the family, a constant source of laughter for all those who knew the story.

We are now roughly halfway through 2021, and many of you may feel as though you have come out of the past year with a lot of scattered pieces. Perhaps your fitness is not where you want it to be and your goals feel unclear. Or maybe your fitness is great, but the thought of toeing a start line feels foreign and scary. Whatever it may be, remember that the way forward is rarely perfect. None of us runs a perfect trail.

There will almost always be a niggle, a rock, or a root, something that gives us reason to pause. In my years of racing, if I had bowed out every time I felt intimidated or uncertain, I would have sat out of a lot of races and missed a lot of opportunities. In fact, some of my best races have been the ones for which I wasn’t sure I was ready. It’s crazy to think about what I would have missed out on had I kept the bus parked in the driveway.

Looking ahead, I am excited about all that awaits. There are so many places to explore and people to see. Some places are familiar, as they are home to friends, mountains, and trails that I know well. Others are more foreign, places I’ve been to only briefly or not at all. As I journey into what is to come, it is important to remember that some of life’s greatest moments occur amidst imperfection.

As we explore, run, and maybe even race this summer, let’s not let the need to be perfect rob us of what we love to do. We don’t need a finished hearth. Life and running are just about laying some bricks.

Call for Comments

  • Do you ever find that perfection or the desire to complete something get in the way of even starting?
  • Can you think of an unfinished object or experience that enhanced your life anyway?
Zach Miller's bus

All photos: Zach Miller

Zach Miller's bus

Zach Miller - river scenery

Zach Miller
Zach Miller lives in a school bus he outfitted himself. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.