”We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, “here and now” without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank.” ~ José Ortega y Gasset

Being complete (as opposed to finished) is a term of art referring to the state of being empty in the moment—free—with peace of mind to handle whatever we need to handle in the present. Being complete allows us to work on the now part of life.

And here in my world at the end of the year, there seems to be less now than usual. Holiday shopping, year-end financial tasks, social events, and the Christmas letter I haven’t written yet for people I love from afar and never see: When is all that going to happen? And I haven’t even mentioned gingerbread boys.

People dealing with supply-chain or personnel or climate issues rather than gingerbread have exactly the same problem. All of our nows get squeezed by the past’s pressure on the future. I have two years’ worth of Christmas letters I never sent (past) and maybe my friends will think I’m dead if I don’t send one this year (future). I could send a card with one line: “Happy holidays. I’m not dead. Love, Nancy.” (This is the first time I have considered that as a possible action.)

All of us (in business, education, science, etc.) are afraid we can’t fulfill on promises in the future because of past expectations. Perhaps completion—being free from the past—requires, among other things, intellectual effort (not to be confused with “smarts”). It’s the effort to appreciate what’s so, not what we wish were so, what we imagine to be so, or what used to be so or what would be so if only Fred would do his damn job or days had 36 hours instead of their puny 24.

It’s definitely not ignoring what’s so.

What’s so is I have X amount of time. It takes a lot to stop and look—“What’s the best use of my time nowand what can I schedule later, and what doesn’t need doing by me (or need to be done at all)?”—instead of leaping into action. Not “finished,” and still complete in the moment. In my calendar and out of my head.

Intellectual effort involves resisting hope as a strategy and double-booking as a planning device. Intellectual effort involves taking a deep breath and having conversations to manage expectations and honor relationships (even with Fred) in a handshake with reality. Some things will not get done. Now what?

Speaking of Fred (incidentally, I don’t actually know anyone named Fred, so if your name is Fred, it’s not about you), I can’t be complete until I deal with my thoughts about Fred, which are also what’s so. Bringing some intellectual effort to the Fred question, I can admit that all my thoughts about Fred (good, bad or indifferent) have nothing to do with the actual Fred and what’s so in his world. For all I know, he may be trying to balance care for a special-needs child with his work schedule or getting an infusion for cancer every Friday.

Imagination may be great for brainstorming solutions. It is worse than useless for divining others’ motivations. Take the case that in the realm of “what’s so” with Fred—or with anyone—we have no idea. To be complete with people and quit wasting brain time inventing stories about them, we could have a conversation with them—a conversation in which, incidentally, listening functions as the more valuable half.

Being complete also has a place when something you’ve worked on ends. Even if it’s finished, you may remain faintly unsettled. This can be especially true if a project has been abandoned. Take a moment to acknowledge what you (individually or as a team) accomplished, what opportunities opened up, and what you learned. You can ask “What did I/we learn?” whether you succeeded, failed or didn’t try. Then you can declare it, as a pure act of will, complete.

And you’re ready for another now.