Are you too focused on the finish line? - Michelle Gibbings

It’s the start of a project, a new idea, or a big challenge that you’ve been wanting to do for a while. You’re excited and ready to go, and already thinking about what it will feel like and be like once it’s finished.

This enthusiasm makes you feel energised and motivated, but then something gets in your way and you don’t get as far ahead as you thought you would.

Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said: “It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”

While his comment was made in a completely different context, his commentary has applicability for this type of situation. It can be dangerous to look too far ahead.

When we imagine the finish line we can overlook the challenges that will invariably happen when the work begins.

Kicking off can be easy. It’s sustaining the momentum and making progress where the real challenge begins.

We get swept up in the initial enthusiasm for our idea and are often overly optimistic about how little effort, energy and resources are required to finish it. We think we will get it done far faster and more easily than what happens in reality.

As the work starts, challenges will inevitably be encountered. Obstacles and roadblocks that weren’t expected will arise, making progress slower and more difficult than planned. What looked easy in the beginning, seems much harder in the middle.

Harvard Professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, talks about the trap of failing in the middle. She says: “Everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings; it is just the middles that involve hard work”.

As the roadblocks get bigger and heavier you can become anxious and uncertain as you see momentum waning and deadlines passing by. You may start to question your ability to deliver, and you may look for someone to blame for the lack of progress.

It is at this point that your idea is in the danger zone of stalling, being de-scoped, or just stopping altogether.

This is the time when you need to dig in. You have two options: lose your nerve and give up or confront the challenges head on.

Whilst it is hard battling through the ‘middle’ courage, perseverance and tenacity pay off.

To help you through the ‘middles’ and to see your way to the finish line here’s a few things to consider:

  1. Be clear on your goal – why it matters to you and what you need to do to get there. Don’t get side-tracked by interesting, but irrelevant matters
  2. Break your work into bite sized chunks, so you can make progress in a meaningful and relevant timeframe
  3. Celebrate your progress because it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate your efforts
  4. Know where your effort will produce the most effective results. This is the old 80/20 rule. Know what you need to do, what you can delegate and what you can outsource to other people
  5. Continuously challenge yourself and be open about what is working and what isn’t working, and how you need to refine and adapt your approach as you progress

And most importantly, be open to the fact that the finish line keeps moving. You may well find that you never quite reach the end, and that’s ok because your goals will keep growing and your need to keep learning never stops.

It’s time to ponder the words of Bill Gates who said: “If I’d had some set idea of a finish line, don’t you think I would have crossed it years ago?

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact [email protected].


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