More than two years after the beginning of the pandemic, thinking about masks, reaching for the hand sanitizer, getting vaccines and boosters has become our new normal, but we want it to be over. The reality, which we already know, is that it never will be over. And on the horizon are the next changes and new challenges. Life is truly a marathon, long and winding. All of it requiring our energy and attention. How well we do in this race depends on our mindset and willingness to learn so we are ready as we can be for what comes next.

In The 18th Mile: It’s Not the Finish Line Leaders Should Focus On, RapidStart Leadership further develops the familiar life-as-a-marathon example. When the pandemic started, we dug down to do what was necessary. But it lasted so much longer. And we are tired. We are now at what RapidStart calls the 18th mile, the true test of a marathoner. The beginning excitement (or, in our case, the willingness to take on the challenge) has faded, and we are faced with miles to go before the finish line. This is the true test of our resolve and our leadership.

Directed to the business world, RapidStart offers the following 7 steps – along with my tweaks and comments they are:

  1. Expect it – Anything long term hits this point. When you are a leader, you often are involved in complex, sometimes multi-year, projects. It’s around here where things start to go wrong and it’s harder to find the energy to invest. What strategies do you have in place to deal with this point? How about a mini celebration of the distance you have travelled?
  2. Put in the miles – Doing the work means continuing to learn what you need to do the new and old tasks. It also means once you’ve gone this far in the past, you can go further in the future. And as you go further, remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Look to the other “runners” for support. Make use of your PLN.
  3. Recognize when it comes – If you expect the stress and stumbling blocks, you will be better at recognizing it. Notice changes to your mindset and focus. When you are ready to call it a day before the day has begun, you know you have reached that point. Put your strategies into play.
  4. Pace wisely – Enthusiasm is great, but it can burn out quickly in the enormity of what you are facing. Likewise, starting out too fast can mean you have nothing in reserve. A fast start is fine, but don’t keep that pace. And when you’re flagging, what keeps your reserves up? Time for family and friends and time for yourself are musts. You can’t keep drawing water from the same well without it running dry at some point. Brain, body, and spirit all need to be refreshed regularly.
  5. Watch for the “reveal” – The 18th mile is where you see what you are made of — your commitment to your Mission and Vision. Your perseverance. The longer the project, the more likely the shine is going to come off and you’ll get to see the truth of this work and its impact. Who is still with you? Who’s dropped off? Assess how things are going. Where are there weaknesses that can use some extra support? Whether it’s a pandemic or a project, you are in this together.
  6. Go mental – The power of the brain over your attitude has long been noted. RapidStart says where runners count steps or sing songs, we should look to our why. When fatigue and doubt arise, revisit your vision for and the purpose of the project. There is more to come, but you can do it. You know it because you have already done so much. Review the many accomplishments and milestones you have achieved.
  7. Enjoy the journey – Or as RightStart says, “embrace the suck.” Not every part of the journey will be filled with joy, but these important projects are worth the time and effort. Going through this process, especially with collaborators, brings you all closer together, even (especially?) when it’s challenging.  Find ways to make time for fun and laugh when the situation gets tough, knowing it’s just one more step closer to the goal.

No matter what a project — or life — throws at you, don’t be stopped by the 18th mile. Keep the end (and your Vision) in sight, work with your team, and look forward to reaching that distant and important goal. Maybe we’ll even get a T-shirt at the end!

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