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?”