Friday, November 4, 2011

Where's the Finish Line?

As a long distance runner, I used to have trouble staying focused on very long runs and races. I'd do great at the beginning, and I had a fabulous finishing kick. But the middle was always a struggle and quite often...well...I just sucked at that part of the race. By college, I think I figured out the problem: I was always focused on the finish line instead of staying "in the moment" of running.

It's great to be a winner, but do you need a finish line for that?

This is a common problem for many people in many disciplines, whether it's running, working, or even writing. Every so often, I'll find myself wondering, "Where's the finish line?" And that's the wrong way to look at any long-term or life pursuit.

Sure, there's something good and satisfying about finishing a project (and a race), but I've found that I run faster and write better when I'm not focused on the finish line. I perform better at work when I stay in the moment and don't focus on the end goal. Heck, doing that with the Market Books has overwhelmed better editors than me in the past.

When should you focus on the finish line?
For me, it makes the most sense not to focus on the finish line unless you are working on a small project (think 100 meter dash small) or can see the finish line from where you are on a big project (and you're doing that final sprint to the finish). Otherwise, try to stay in the moment of things.

That said, always know where the finish line is--if there is one--because the only way to make meaningful progress toward the finish line is if you know where you're headed.

What if there is no finish line?
There are many pursuits in our lives that really have no finish line, but we treat them as if they do. Our relationships and life's work should not have a finish line attached to them. These are the important things that make life worth living, and they aren't races so much as long runs. As a result, we're better off treating them different than the projects that do have finish lines.

If you're building a career as a writer, you don't have a finish line. If you're in a relationship, you don't have a finish line (or at least you should hope there's not one). If you're alive, you don't want a finish line. All of these pursuits aren't races, they're processes. So what do you do?

You relax and enjoy the process. You show up and do your best. You run.


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Andrea (Andee) Beltran said...

Inspiring post, Robert. Thanks for the perspective. Staying focused on the process.

Happy Friday!

Unknown said...

I like this...written beautifully. Helps bring a new perspective on things and me to "enjoy the moment" :). Thank you.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks for the comments!

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, and very relieving advice!

Jess said...

I often ask myself, when I am exhausted from balancing a day of teaching with trying to write/edit my work and build my platform questions like these: will I know if it's time to stop; is there a time to stop; am I being ridiculous and cowardly to think about stopping when I love what I do--even if I don't like the scheduling of it. This idea of not having a finish line is an apt metaphor, one I think will help me not ask those questions as often. But, here is my question: if there is no finish line, what's you're advice on pacing yourself, feeling good and strong about it. I saw a hyperlink a few moments ago about setting goals. Let me see if that will help...