Where Is The Finish Line?

Sports analogies are a popular public speaking tool. Everyone from preachers to teachers to motivators use them. One sports analogy I hear quite commonly is one about “running the race.” This is a useful image for discussing the challenges of training, ferocity of competition and need for cultivating tenacity. Since most of us have either run or watched a marathon or other big race, we can easily identify with these themes. However, when it comes to personal and professional projects, I think many people fail to accurately define where the “finish line” actually is, and therefore fall short of their desired goal.

Let me explain.

When you watch a big race on television, you will likely see:

  • Background information about the key competitors
  • Stories about the struggles the favorites have faced and conquered
  • Information about the racecourse, weather conditions, etc.
  • Coverage of the race at various intervals
  • Video clips of celebration as the winners cross the finish line
  • Interviews with participants, breathless but victorious, at the end

In other words, the finish line is portrayed as “The End.” Racers run across the finish line, and there is no more.

In most of life, there is often more to do once the finish line has been crossed. Admittedly, the rest is probably not television worthy. Nonetheless, the experience of completing a major race experience extends beyond what the cameras record. For example, you probably will not see:

  • Footage of racers gathering up their belongings
  • Video of the clean up crew picking up trash and debris
  • Clips of racers waiting in TSA lines to get their flights home
  • Images of cleaning, caring for and perhaps buying new racing gear
  • Coverage of the athletes catching up at work and home for the time spent preparing for and participating in the race

Truly finishing a project entails not only completing the project itself, but also managing the aftermath. A few more examples:

=> If you build a piece of furniture, but then leave sawdust on the floor, tools all over the garage and paintbrushes caked with paint sitting in a can, you really haven’t finished.

=> If you write the paper, but then don’t properly edit it, fail to complete the bibliography or don’t turn it in on time, you haven’t successfully finished.

=> If you host the dinner party, but then don’t clean the dishes and put the leftover food away and wash the tablecloth, you haven’t really finished.

=> If you decorate the room, but then fail to regularly put the room’s contents away, the room never looks the way you envisioned, and hence isn’t ever finished.

When working toward a goal, it is admittedly important to summon extra energy and focus until you achieve success. However, it is equally critical to stay strong after the pinnacle moment in order to reset your belongings, schedule and priorities. Otherwise, remnant supplies scattered about and procrastinated daily tasks tend to chip away at the “glow” of the recent success. In addition, failing to get your ducks in a row makes it more difficult to hit the ground running the next time.

There are many wonderful, motivating and empowering quotes about crossing the finish line, but this quote by Ralph Boston (the first person to break the 27 feet barrier in the long jump) is my favorite:

“Being the first to cross the finish line

makes you a winner in only one phase of life.

It’s what you do after you cross the line that really counts.”

Ralph Boston

*     *     *     *     *

Do you have trouble finishing projects? How do you define “finished?”

28 thoughts on “Where Is The Finish Line?”

  1. Excellent post, Seana! I love the quote you picked. “Being the first to cross the finish line makes you a winner in only one phase of life. It’s what you do after you cross the line that counts.” I find that reaching a goal, just creates a stepping stone for the next goal. Looking at goals this way, makes me realize that life is all about learning and growing to achieve a more successful well-rounded life.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Take Care Of Yourself ChallengeMy Profile

    1. Agreed, Sabrina. I actually find the period after a victory can be a vulnerable period, perhaps a time when we let details slide, which can be a mistake. Staying strong until you are read to face the next race is one way to think about a true win!

  2. I use the ‘finish line’ phrase when I talk about laundry systems with my clients. Many in the past have had issues with their laundry spaces and their closets. I remind them that they haven’t crossed the ‘finish line’ when the dryer buzzes. They’ve crossed the laundry finish line when all of the clothes have been put away and the hampers are back in their ‘homes.’ That gets them ready for the next ‘laundry race.’ Insightful post.

    1. I love this practical application, and it is exactly what I am talking about. Clean laundry that is becoming wrinkly inside the dryer is not finished. I love that you use this phrase to connote this idea – great minds think alike, right Stacey?

    1. Maintenance is definitely a part of the process. How often do we set up systems that look “finished,” but then are not maintained. I just think it is important to be running the right race, or you might think you’ve won when you really haven’t.

    1. I call that being ‘in the mood.’ At the same time, I try and finish something once I’ve started it. There are projects that get set aside periodically, but if I do that, I still clean up the supplies and put them into a “holding home” until I come back to them.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! Why bother to attend the conference and invest the money and time and then never follow through. I always try to prioritize 2 things I will act on as a result of my investment. Excellent thought, Janet!

      1. Well, I suppose some people go mainly for the opportunity to network and socialize with their colleagues… I love your intention to prioritize two things you will act on. Maybe part of the problem is coming away with so many ideas that one doesn’t know which to tackle first, and as a result, nothing gets done. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I attend a conference!
        Janet Barclay recently posted…Organizing a Virtual Team to Build a Better BlogMy Profile

    1. I love that idea of “full circle thinking.” Laundry came up in another comment, and I think it is an example so many of us can relate to. I often work with people who have half-finished projects, or even the supplies from a completed project, lying around in their space. Putting away and cleaning up aren’t necessarily thrilling, but they sure do make life easier!

  3. Your first example about truly finishing a project when you cite building a piece of furniture reminds me of my husband. As you know, he build things, and I’m often pointing out those last 50 meters he needs to do to truly complete the project (i.e., sanding, urethaning, clean up, etc). He gets a little annoyed needless to say, but I remind him he doesn’t do this in his professional life when building structures, so why do it when it’s things you do for yourself?

    1. Funny how we often do less for ourselves than we do for others. We have a tendency to do this to family members as well, because we know they will love us anyway. I certainly have no luck encouraging my husband to finish projects or clean up when he is finished. I will say that living with someone who is pretty focused on being organized has begun to rub off a bit, for which I am thankful!

  4. Fabulous analogy to compare when we are really done. It’s true that we often fall short of the finish line in finishing up. It’s easy to lose energy at that time. That’s when it’s most important to rally. I am definitely going to use this analogy and credit you!

    1. So kind of you, Ellen. How many times do we work with clients who have “half finished” projects lying about? Or, the supplies for a project that was finished, but then never put back in place? Push through until everything has been reset for the next time, then relax and enjoy that wonderful feeling of closure!

  5. My husband needs to read this post. He has a shed that he cleans out frequently and swears he will maintain it so that it never gets cluttered again……well, let’s just say that every two months, he has to spend an entire day cleaning it out….again. And again.

    1. So funny you should say that. I have had this conversation with many people. Those who “don’t have the time” to maintain a space end up spending way more time cleaning up/getting organized than those who restore order on a regular basis. Once you let things go, it takes much longer to figure out where everything goes than if you just put it back in the proper location in the moment.

  6. I like this post, I have to coach myself on this continually. I am a distance runner, and I run several marathons and many smaller races throughout the year. I have to do a lot of planning to run my marathons, because unlike the shorter distances, they require a certain diet and training plan for me to achieve the result that I want.

    The very first time I ran one, I thought that the finish line would be the end, and I know that most other runners will attest to this. You have an inner monologue during the marathon and right about mile 22, most of us get tired and decide that it is ridiculous and a waste of time, and we won’t finish with the time we hoped for, and we might as well quit and walk the rest of the way in to the finish. A funny thing always happens the second that you cross that finish line. You have a moment of elation and then the realization that your long journey is complete and all of the training has culminated in this moment, and you think… hey, I bet I could beat my time, no, I KNOW I can beat my time. I lost 30 seconds on that one bad water stop, and I could have picked up a full minute if I had run the tangents a little tighter, and I know these shoes are the wrong ones for this course. I start to immediately run a mental checklist of all of the ways I could have done better and what it will take for me to do it the next time. I have realized that every race becomes an experiment and a way for me to test myself, but also a way to try to improve for the next time around. I’m a slow runner, but I have gradually improved over the years. I makes detailed notes about my training process and then I look back at my previous plans and make adjustments the next time around. The real finish of each race becomes the post race self evaluation and improvement plan.

    Projects are always like that too. You have to stop as soon as you complete the primary goal or task and take stock of what you’ve done. Do an after action report, make notes about what worked well, and what you shouldn’t do again. And make notes about some of the constraints you had, because you may not have those next time around. Things like budget, time, materials, or help. Pictures help too, before and after shots, they are easy to do these days and can really help if you have to to this project again.

    It reminds me of a cross stitch my grandmother had on her wall when I was a little boy, those things stick with you, it said:

    Once a task has been begun,
    Never leave it ’til it’s done,
    Be the labor Great or small,
    do it well,
    or not at all.
    Bob Ruckle recently posted…Where Is The Finish Line?My Profile

    1. I like this “post mortem” you are describing. That is a wonderful process to go through at the end of any project, as it sets you up for more success next time around. I also love the idea of taking “before” and “after” photos because they are concrete motivation. I congratulate you on completing multiple marathons – quite an accomplishment!!

  7. It’s a perfect analogy! With anything, I always think of the aftermath of “the event” – whatever it may be. Real marathons, work marathons, even my wedding! It wasn’t about the wedding – it was about the marriage!
    Even when I achieve a physical goal, I always think, “Ok, what now???”
    Tamara recently posted…I’m Going To Disney World, Part 3My Profile

    1. Love your point about the wedding vs. the marriage. That is such a great example! I imagine this is also quite true for photography… it isn’t taking the pictures that is the finish line, it is all the work afterwards to download and edit and then print.

  8. This is a great point, and I think that many of us have idea or projects that don’t really have a defined end point. This is one of our struggles as travel bloggers, as each year we want to grow our brands and business, but we often don’t set firm goals on what growth we want to reach and if there are multiple goals, did we meet it if we only met some of the goals? Of course, this is something that has no finish line 😉
    Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats recently posted…Comprehensive Guide to the Top Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh ScotlandMy Profile

    1. In the world of travel blogging, there is always more to see – which is what makes it so fun! But even just getting back, getting the post written, edited and uploaded, with photographs… the effort doesn’t end with the visit. I suppose you could even add unpack and do laundry! Boundaries do help us know when we can “turn off” and relax.

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