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Finishing Strong Part 1: Run a Victory Lap
It's not just about you - it's also for the people who've been with you along the way
Whether it’s a tough project, a tough race, or a tough year, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of taking a victory lap and crossing the finish line. It’s an exhilarating rush of ecstasy, relief, surprise, and pride. You have to lose yourself in the project only to find you’re a different person on the other side — for as we create, we’re creating ourselves.
And just like I talk about in Chapter 10 of Start Finishing, it’s important to take a pause at the end of something significant: to celebrate your wins, to get some rest, to clean up the mess a bit, and to codify and capture what you learned. All of these steps are important to fully embracing your accomplishments, and continuing to develop your “finishing” skills. And we’ll touch on each one during this Finishing Strong series.
Today’s Start Finishing excerpt talks about how to bask in the success you’ve created.
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Near the end of our convoy missions, we’d cross out of Iraq and back into Kuwait. About twenty minutes after crossing the border, there was a collective, palpable sense of relief, pride, and gratitude among our soldiers. Jokes would start, inane radio chatter would need to be squelched, and parts you didn’t know could clench would loosen up. We weren’t done, but we at least could do it by the numbers. It was then that I knew that I wouldn’t be writing any letters to family members or be a chew toy for the brass back at base.
One of the reasons I remember that feeling so vividly is that we actually had some transition time between the constant threat of ambush or mishap and being back at base, which, as a line leader, sometimes felt like a different kind of ambush zone. As a team, we had enough time to celebrate together in the ways that soldiers do — in short, we had time for a team victory lap before the busywork of base consumed our time and attention.
Victory laps are a regular feature of sports and other high-pressure events, but many of us don’t realize how analogs show up elsewhere in our lives. Wedding receptions, showing new babies to friends, graduation walks, and taking friends on rides in the new car are all versions of victory laps. When we make or achieve something significant, we want to show it. But just as important, we want to be seen for making or achieving it.
Yet when it comes to our best work, we often feel differently. It seems braggy, self-centered, or juvenile to celebrate the completion of our one project when our heroes have done so much more and better work.
That the outcomes of our best work are unlikely to be as clear-cut as other types of work also make it hard to run a victory lap. In my story above, it was clear what success looked like: we delivered whatever we were ordered to, on time, and every soldier that we left with came back with us unharmed. We either accomplished the objectives or we didn’t. It’s the same with most of the other examples above.
But it always feels as if we could do more or do better than we did with our best-work projects. Given our negativity biases, even when we do share that we’ve finished something, we need to make sure to tell people how it could have been better or what it’s missing. If we meet our goals, we comment that we didn’t do a good job of setting the right goals. Rather than running the victory lap, we add a few more missed rungs to the Jacob’s ladder we’re adept at building.
Chapter 4 of Start Finishing focused on setting goals from the start to help compensate for the tendency to have post-commencement goal creep. But the other important piece is sharing that original goal with your success pack, for when it’s time to run your victory lap, they can rightly nudge you to celebrate and witness your victory. Sometimes the most important job of your success pack isn’t to help you get to the finish line but rather to help you reflect on and amplify your successful finish.
What we so often forget, though, is that the victory lap isn’t just about the victor but also the community.
Your success pack has been on the field or on the sidelines with you. Families and friends have missed you and pitched in for you in different ways. Your community has supported you and cheered you on the whole time. It’s likely that someone has been inspired by what you’re doing, and they’re making your victory an example of what they can do. Not running your victory lap deprives your community of the chance to celebrate the victory they’ve been instrumental in accomplishing.
I’ve made the case for the victory lap so strong here because many people dismiss it as optional. It’s no more optional than saying thank you or showing your appreciation for the big and small ways people have shown up for you. It deserves to be on your post-finish checklist just as much as anything else does.
Here are some ideas for how to run your victory lap:
Let your success pack know when you’ve finished your project. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or long — it can be a text that reads “Done!” — but they need to know, especially as they may have rallied to help you get through the red zone.
When appropriate, make it a staple response to “What’s going on?” or “How’s it been?” Sure, the cashier at the grocery store may not want to be engaged, but coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family probably do. The barista that’s made coffee for you and seen you typing away during your lunch break for six months might also be excited to know that they’ve been a part of the project too. Per the usual, it’s probably wise to avoid mentioning it to naysayers, and be cautious with derailers who may kneecap you.
Create a milestone moment. It might be a celebration dinner with your family. It could be a vacation, if your means allow for it. It could be a concert or a community party. As a general rule, the more intangible your best work is, the more likely that you’re going to need to make it tangible and visible; the physicality of new spaces, stuff in the world, or performances often prompt the reflection in ways that intangible work doesn’t.1
Whatever your victory lap looks like, make sure to run it. You and the people around you deserve it.
Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact is a great read for creating milestone moments.