There Is No Finish Line

There Is No Finish Line 1080 565 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, my daughter ran her first cross country race. For those who aren’t familiar with cross country, at her age, it’s a mile and a half run in the “country” (i.e., on grass, through the trees, up and down hills, etc.).

She’s new to running and had never run any kind of race in the past, so this was all new territory for her. To help her prepare, we talked a little about strategy.

Most of our conversation focused on where she was in the race relative to the finish line. For example, one of the ideas that resonated with her was to remember that it is “only a mile and a half.”

She knew she could definitely run the length of the race, so the idea was to remember that the finish line was never too far away. She could push through the pain and struggle in the middle of the race because she knew for certain that it would soon be over.

I remember having that same thought when I ran half-marathons in the past.

“It will be over soon. Just keep running.”

Whether in a race, at work, or elsewhere in life, we crave the comfort and motivation that a finish line provides. We can endure anything for a short period of time, as long as we know when it will be over.

My Orangetheory trainers have a phrase they like to say just before asking you to do something difficult, “You can do anything for thirty seconds.”

Finish lines are powerful.

Why We Are Struggling

Last week, I listened to Brené Brown’s conversation with Amy Cuddy on her Dare to Lead podcast. They were talking about an article that Amy co-wrote for the Washington Post in August titled, “Why This Stage of the Pandemic Makes Us So Anxious.”

In this article, she and her co-author outline something called “pandemic flux syndrome” that they attribute as the reason so many of us are really having a tough time right now with where things are in the world, particularly related to the pandemic.

According to Cuddy, if you are feeling amped-up anxiety or depression right now, there’s a good reason for it. Listening to this discussion helped me sort out why the past few months have felt so challenging for me personally.

I suspect the same might be true for you.

The more I’ve reflected on what I learned, the more I’m convinced that our struggle with the pandemic has everything to do with our fixation on finish lines.

We desperately want there to be a finish line—a point when this is all over and we can return to some semblance of a normal and a predictable existence. The belief that there is a finish line can help many of us to get through the most challenging times in our lives.

Earlier this summer, we thought we were very near the pandemic’s finish line in the U.S. The July 4th holiday was supposed to be a declaration of our independence from COVID’s grip on our lives. We were ready to move on.

But that finish line turned out to be an illusion with no end in sight.

Ever since, we’ve been searching for the real finish line, desperate for anyone to tell us where it is. Our craving and belief in a finish line may be a big part of what’s dragging us down right now.

The Reality We Must Face

The pandemic isn’t a race.

There is no finish line. Not really, and not in the way we want there to be one.

There won’t be a day when we will wake up, open a browser, and see a news story declaring that today is the day it’s over.

Anyone who tells you that the finish line exists is probably just trying to give you something to fuel your hope and bolster your motivation to push through the ongoing challenges.

“Just keep running. You’re almost there.”

It seems that we keep running towards a finish line that doesn’t exist. No wonder so many of us feel so tired.

I think about my daughter’s cross country race.

What would have happened if they kept moving the finish line? What if the kids were left to just keep running in circles with no immediate end in sight? After working through their initial confusion, I’m betting it wouldn’t be long before many of them just gave up and quit running as they got progressively more tired.

Does that sound familiar?

People everywhere are quitting their jobs, moving to new places, making relationship changes, and more. These are all different ways of quitting the race. We are tired of running towards a finish line that never appears. So, we are trying to create our own.

Running towards a finish line that doesn’t exist is breaking us.

This Isn’t a Race (There Is No Finish Line)

It’s time for a mindset shift. I know I’m working on mine.

The pandemic isn’t a race. Things are shifting daily, and even when it looks like it might be nearing the end, another variant or another virus could emerge and erase all the progress we’ve made.

There is no finish line.

Figuring out the “return to office” and future of work isn’t a race. There is no singular right answer because even if you create the perfect plan and get it rolled out, something will change and disrupt the balance again.

There is no finish line.

We must learn to embrace the reality that we aren’t in a race; we are on a journey. Along this journey, everything is constantly changing.

Rather than try to “endure it” as we would the pain of a race, we must instead adapt and respond to it in a way that helps us find success and happiness.

What Is Helpful Now?

The idea of a finish line also implies that there’s a “new normal” on the other side of it. This leads us to believe that things will settle down and be somehow better when we get there.

It’s a mirage.

When we let go of the illusion of the finish line, we can stop waiting for it. Instead, we can start asking different questions and focusing on what we can do today to make things better.

Admittedly, this is no easy task. Whether you are trying to tackle this personally or figure it out for your organization, there are few easy and clear answers.

Here are a few things to consider as you chart a new path forward on this journey.

We need to take better care of ourselves and each other.

Living with constant change and uncertainty is hard. It’s okay to admit that this is challenging. And it’s frustrating that we can’t control what’s going to happen to us or around us.

The thing we do have some control over is how well we care for our well-being and that of those around us. Our well-being fuels our ability to show up and thrive regardless of the circumstances.

We don’t know how long this leg of the journey will be. We must take care of ourselves, to rest when we need it. No matter what lies ahead, if we are broken down and burned out, we will not be in any shape to meet it.

Focus on what is helpful right now.

A lot of plans made for this fall were built on an assumption that we’d be in the “post-pandemic” phase (i.e., we would be across the finish line). But that’s not what happened. And yet, I see many organizations (and people) trying to stay the course even when the finish line never appeared.

Instead of making plans for what happens “after the race,” we need to start embracing the reality that we have no idea when things will change again. So, let’s start asking a different question.

What would be most helpful right now?

This is a particularly helpful question when it comes to sorting out questions about where and when and how people should be allowed to work as we move forward. Debating if your organization is going to be an in-person or hybrid or remote workplace in the future may feel really important right now. But there’s a much more pressing question that should come first.

What do our people need right now to be able to do their best work in a way that supports their well-being?

If you focus on answering continually this question, you won’t need to worry as much about the future workplace question because you’ll answer it along the way. You’ll create whatever you need to support your people’s needs.

What Do You Think?

Are you feeling the drain of chasing a finish line that never seems to appear?

If so, how are you adapting? What are you finding helpful?

The journey is long and the road is winding. It’s not the end of the journey that should command our attention.

It’s traveling well.

We can do that together.

 

P.S. For those who are wondering, my daughter did great in her race. She ran better than she expected and learned a lot. She’s looking forward to her next race today. 🙂

5 comments
  • Traci Maddox

    As a person who has always been more about the journey than the destination, I have also found myself struggling with our current situation–now more than ever. Thanks for sharing the idea of the moving finish line, because even if you’re like me and really relish the journey, knowing where the finish line is is super important!

  • Stephanie Meyers

    Jason, an excellent post and very timely for me today. I consistently find that I’m fixated on just “holding on until…”(“this project is over…” “the pandemic is over”… “this position is filled…”, “this acquisition is complete…”etc.) and there is just an awful lot of stress built around all that “holding on until”. And, as you put it so well, the finish line is a mirage because there is always something else that demands our attention. Thanks for your excellent suggestions of focusing on what we can do now (and help our employees do now) to affect how we meet today’s portion of the journey. I am going to strive toward a mindset shift in seeing how it feels to truly be present in my journey! Thanks, Jason! (Please extend my congrats to your daughter!)

    Travel well, friends!!!

  • Ron Skiba

    Very good analogy with this post Jason. As much as we are hoping for an end to this situation, I think we all need to come to the realization that COVID is here to stay and all we can do is deal with it as best as we can but continue to live our lives. I’m an HR department of one for my association’s 56 person staff and had many conversations with various staff members over these past 18+ months about hanging in there and doing what’s best for them and their family. As I have been with my association for almost 31 years, I have hired all but 2 staff members that have been here as long as me, so for me, each staff member’s issues are very personal because I know them all. I have shared with many of them one of my philosophies that life itself its a risk and we should try to live it as best we can. One example I have shared is that there is no absolute guarantee that I will come home safely when I drive to the grocery store. I have a reasonable expectation that I will come home safely and that little uncertainty will not stop me from getting groceries for my family. My hope is that we have all persevered through tough situations before and while it may take longer than we like, we’ll get through this too.

  • Adriana

    This article got me thinking about the saying that life is a marathon, not a sprint, for some reason. That always resonates with me. I always try to take one day at a time, or I get totally overwhelmed. Very good article. Well written. But I would not expect anything less from you:)

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