There’s a good chance over the past 10 months you’ve heard the following more than once: “Is this over yet?”

And if you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard “when can we (insert germy activity here, e.g., have a party with my friends, go to the playzone, swim, see grandma and grandpa, lick doorknobs) again?” enough to make your ears bleed.

For humans, knowing when the discomfort will end is the most common way we digest situations that are hard for us to handle.

Last year was the ultimate test in being uncomfortable. If you can remember back to March—I know it feels like a million years ago and yesterday all at the same time—the panic that came after the school and store closures was palpable. It was a situation we’d never been in before, and we had no idea when it was going to end. Many of us stayed calm because we only expected the whole world to close for a few weeks. (Oh, we were so young and naive back then…)

However, this time around, though we’re in the same situation in many parts of Canada and the U.S., we’ve become pros at dealing with this pandemic. The lines at the grocery stores are shorter, there’s more toilet paper on the shelves, we’re less concerned about the extra screen time, and thanks to the vaccine rollout, we’re all looking toward the possibility of a finish line.

Finish lines are one of the most interesting concepts that come up regularly when I’m working with clients to find their work-life wisdom. (If you’re new here, you can read more about this idea in my book, Too Busy to Be Happy.) And it’s become even more prevalent as we work through this second wave of COVID-19 and what’s hopefully, the last stretch of the pandemic. 

The reality is that it’s so challenging to stay motivated and engaged in something when you have no idea when it’s going to end. By nature, we shore up patience by focusing on the end game.

Finish lines give us a sense of calm and the motivation to go on and push through. Whether it’s a run (everyone counts down the minutes and the miles, amiright?) or a project or a horrible job, knowing there’s an endpoint helps you get through the discomfort.

But the key takeaway is that finish lines can be completely made up. For some challenges, the finish line is set in stone (think marathons, spin classes, professional courses, mammograms, MRIs, etc.). For others, we can create a finish line to help us cope with being uncomfortable.

How Self-Set Finish Lines Can Help Professionally

One of the most common places we feel uncomfortable is in our jobs. Sometimes, our jobs are incredibly fulfilling. And other times, they’re just not. Either they never were or we’ve been at the same role for so long that the joy’s been lost.

And I’ve found that creating a finish line can help with that.

If you’re feeling extremely frustrated with your current role, find your finish line. Decide on a certain date, and make a promise to yourself that—no matter what—you won’t be in the same position, you will be finished with this position as it stands today.

Figure out your options. For example, you might make a commitment to yourself that on May 1, one of these four things will happen:

  1. You’ll make a lateral move within your organization.
  2. You’ll find a new job outside your organization.
  3. Your manager or role will change, and you’ll feel better about your position.
  4. You’ll give yourself permission to quit to give you some space to find your next role, even if it comes with some lost wages.

Now that you’ve decided on your finish line, you know how much time you have to make a move, and you can start building a strategy and setting up incremental goals. It’s helpful to segment the path to the finish line so you can rally some energy to achieve each one.

What I’ve found is that once someone can picture the finish line (e.g., May 1 in this example), they spend less emotional real estate on the current discomfort and how miserable they are. They focus their attention on how to navigate making a change that will improve their life on a given timeline.

How Finish Lines Can Help Personally

You may not be struggling professionally, but maybe you’re facing some challenges personally. (Thanks, COVID-19.)

For me, winters are long and challenging and this year, there will be no flights to the sun-soaked South to help me make it to spring. This means I need a strategy to stay strong and happy when my inner voice will be begging me to stay in bed all day.

To help manage the stress of lockdown and the never-ending public health measures, I’ve decided to picture August as my finish line. It may happen sooner (or possibly, later) but in my mind, that’s my focus. Mentally I’ve decided that in August, I’ll be able to see my family that lives internationally, meet friends for a cocktail on a patio, and go back to working outside my home.

My countdown has started—and it’s made approaching these winter months in lockdown a little easier to swallow. It’s all about keeping your “ eye on the prize,” as they say.

Knowing we’re just eight months away, I’ve created some incremental goals that will help me get there.

My first goal is to complete 80 workouts by May 1. This is a goal I can see and influence when so many other things are beyond my control. May is less than four months away. I know when I regularly exercise and feel fit, I’m a better coach, mom and partner. It will help me manage my energy through the winter and maintain my mental health as we inch towards August. (I’ve already racked up 18 workouts this month. Not too shabby!)

So as we work our way through a long winter close to home, I encourage you to create a finish line (even if you have to move it) and bite-sized goals to help you get there. Each one will help you focus your emotional real estate and add value to your life right now.

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