Thoughts on finishing what you start

Gouging someone for nearfall with black dyed hair, OH, 152...160 lbs? 2001? 2002? Photo: Mom

I grew up a wrestler in a wrestling state. Wrestling generally pits two opponents against one another in a match within a circle of a known area and with a finite time limit. The match may end due to a pin, a a technical fall (think little league sports mercy rule) or as time expires. As a kid who starts wrestling in elementary school, you quickly learn that the most important thing that you can do is finish what you start, either ending the match by fall/tech fall or by scoring far more points than your opponent. Even though I was only ten years old, I recall ramping down my pace during a tournament match somewhere in Lake County, Ohio. I found that just because I'd ceased activity, it did not mean that my opponent had. A little relaxation on my part ended in a nasty wrist and half, and my big lead was reduced to me walking away as my opponent's arm was raised. I wasn't sure what had happened, but I hadn't won, and I definitely smelled like somebody else's armpit.

Inside control - practiced since the 16th century (University of Chicago archives)
As I grew older, the importance of disciplined training to build the skill, endurance, and strength that allow a wrestler to go through not only one six or seven minute match, but several matches a day for a few days at a time grew. It didn't matter whether you could start one match strong and score points for the first minute. You had to start...and finish...each and every match strong just to ensure that you had more points on the board than the individual standing across from you. And it all over after day. Finish strong...finish strong...finish strong. It didn't matter where you started as long as you saw the effort through until the end.

Finishing what you start (University of Chicago archives)
While this was a lesson learned as a youth in predominantly trivial sporting contests, the lesson itself holds up over time, minus the competitive hooey that accompanies amateur wrestling culture. In short, be prepared to finish what you start. It won't be easy, it may not always be fun, but in the end, what matters is having the tenacity to grind through a race, a match, a college degree, a day on the job, or a research project. Now that I've effectively become a part of the academic research culture, which some days feels like being a part of some esoteric secret society, finishing what I start is of greater importance than ever.

This one definitely finished early - blood round for a state tournament birth, 160 lbs, Mentor District, OH, 2002.
Photo: Mom
Twenty years after that fateful day at a youth wrestling tournament, and the importance of finishing what I start continues to grow. While being locked into a tight wrist and half is pretty low on my list of day-to-day worries, I now have to finish proposals, data collection, data analysis, writing, and grant and project reporting. The consequence of not finishing is delays in manuscripts and receiving less funding, without which I have a lower probability of completing my main objective: doing transformative research that informs the science and practice of stream, wetland, and riparian ecosystem restoration.

If I can't do what I set out to do with my current USU ET-AL and past UW colleagues, then I compromise my own ability to continue to professionally study and restore ecosystems. Simply put, if I don't finish my past projects and finish them well, then that time spent in the scientific process was not ultimately as effective as it could have been. Since my work is mission-driven, delays or partial completions are not conducive to informing ecosystem restoration and management. And, most researchers want to hire other researchers who can, well, finish things.

This photo has nothing to do with finishing things or wrestling, but it's pretty. Wood Camp, UT.
Science is already a system that slowly and incrementally pushes along information. This is without the inevitable delays of leading a balanced life (read: not just working). So when I do manage to finish something relatively efficiently, I get pretty excited. These last few months I broke off a few new projects, plodded along on some incomplete projects, and closed out a few things that were submitted last year. The most exciting part was, of course, seeing finished products roll out.

In addition to the previously blogged paper in RRA, I managed to close down two projects that date back to my time as an M.S. student at the University of Washington. The first of which was a chapter from my greenhouse work on the functional traits of two sedges, Carex stipata and Carex obnupta. This was the first project that I ever undertook on my own, identifying how sedge species responded to different levels of soil resources and environmental stress. It marks the first time I took an idea from fruition to completion, largely on my own.

Hanging in Washington State's finest Carex obnupta, 2009
Additionally, I helped my friend and former UW colleague, Rodney Pond, finish up a restoration project assessment that he started several years ago. We looked at how soil amendment influenced Douglas fir, red alder, and black cottonwood survival and growth at a highly disturbed former gravel mine. In short, if you're a planted seedling, improving soil resources may help you grow...but it might also kill you. These findings ran in Ecological Restoration this month. Here's the ET-AL write-up that I put up a few weeks back.
Goodell 2011. We'll be back shortly...
While finishing one paper on the project was great, we're headed back to Goodell Creek, the last undammed tributary to the Skagit River later this month to grab another round of data and complete a twelve-year sequence of project analysis. Sometimes the work never really is finished...but at least I'm trying.

Rodney and the river, et al.