Finish Lines

Be careful where you draw your finish lines. By that I mean, be sure that what you think is done is really done. President Bush drew a finish line for the war in Iraq a few years back. “Mission Accomplished!” I’m sure he has regretted that banner on more than one occasion.

Some other people have drawn some notorious finish lines. Following are actual quotes about famous personalities you know.

  • “He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation.” (Vince Lombardi)
  • “He lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” (Walt Disney)
  • “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” (Fred Astaire)
  • “Why don’t you stop wasting peoples’ time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?” (Sidney Poitier)
  • “Try another profession.” (Lucile Ball)
  • “You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.” (Marilyn Monroe)
  • “You ain’t got it, kid. You ain’t got it. Now get out of here.” (Harrison Ford)
  • “You will be a laborer all your life.” (Michael Caine)
  • “Least Likely to Succeed” (Robin Williams)
  • “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.” (The Beatles)
  • “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” (Elvis Presley)
  • “Hopeless as a composer” (Beethoven)
  • “Unable and unwilling to learn” (Leo Tolstoy)
  • “Mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams” (Albert Einstein)
  • “Too stupid to learn anything” and “non-productive” (Thomas Edison)

These people went on to show that they weren’t done running yet. They drew their finish lines much further back.

The problem with drawing premature finish lines (for others or for yourself) is that there still may be race yet to run. When you draw the finish line, you relax; you let down your guard; you stop running or you take your eyes off the race. Mentally and emotionally, you start the cool-down period. If you are correct that the race is over, terrific! If you’re not, you’re in for a surprise.

We draw finish lines in smaller ways, too. I’ve been drawing premature finish lines when I travel. Even though I know better, I do it almost every time. My finish line is “home.” While I’m out in the impersonal, apathetic, “not-my-problem”-lack-of-service world, I keep it together by telling myself, “Just a few more hours and you’ll be home. Just a few more hours. You can put up with this for a few more hours.” No matter what the inconvenience; no matter how difficult the frustration… I keep a smile on my face and lower my expectations.

But “home” as a finish line is too early, because when I get home, kids will want to spend time with me, and my wife will need to decompress from her week alone. I can’t go straight into relax mode or selfish city, because others have been waiting for me to return. They’ve got a week’s worth of stories, frustrations and information to download, and I’m the only one left who hasn’t heard it all already.

Inevitably, this brings us into conflict. I’ve already stopped running the race, but they are ready to pass me the baton for the second leg of the relay. When they find me unprepared to do any more running, they are disappointed, frustrated and sometimes angry. “Didn’t you save anything for us?… Did you use all your words and your energy with people on the trip?… Aren’t we more important to you than they are?”

And the truth is, yes, they are, but it wasn’t a matter of prioritization. It was a matter of expectation. I drew my finish line too early, and I already had my running shoes off by the time I came out of the baggage claim area. Once the shoes are off, it takes three times the energy and willpower to get them on again. Had I drawn the lines a little further back, I would have saved some of my energy for the final few laps.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with where to draw their finish lines. Running the race with me are husbands who use all their words at the office and just want to get home for a little peace and quiet… wives who give everything they have to work and the kids and come to bed wanting nothing but sleep… couples who spend everything they make, not realizing they are about to have to put the car in the shop for an overhaul… employees who turn in work that is far less than what their boss was expecting… and anyone who thinks this life is all there is.

You may think you have nothing left to give, but you will be surprised. When your brain knows how much race is left to run, it shows remarkable endurance. The problem is much less about energy and emotional resources than it is about expectations. Draw your finish lines further back, and you’ll find that you can go the distance.


1 Comment

Filed under family, Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, Relationships

One response to “Finish Lines

  1. Papaw Mike

    Brilliant – reminds me so much of the days when I was out of town Mon-Fri & my finish line was even short of home. It was when I got on the airplane to get home.

    After reading this I now understand why some weeks the wife & kids were sometimes glad to see me head out the door on Monday again. Not all Monday’s but some. My finish line was short of home.

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