Weeks or months of training have led you to this moment.  You’ve done the work, you’ve tapered and built your energy reserves.  Your big day is at hand, and you are ready!  Cruising to the finish, you’ve done it!  You broke a personal record, won your age group, or accomplished something you never really thought you could.  You celebrate, a well-earned release of energy as you glow in what you have achieved.  And then… What??

On a drizzly Saturday in September, three of my favorite people in the world joined me at the start (and finish) lines in central Indiana as we completed our Spartan trifecta for the second year in a row.  On the way to the race, I felt different than I had for my five previous Spartans.  I couldn’t put my finger on it – I wasn’t scared of entering a totally new space like my first race in Chicago 2017; I wasn’t slightly terrified like the West Virginia Beast last fall.  It was a lingering “uh-oh” that I just wasn’t sure about.  The race was great; we did well and finished strong, then drove back to Chicago.  At that point, well, we did what we do almost as well as setting and beating big hairy goals: we celebrated.

I woke up Sunday morning proud of our accomplishment, but there was still that “uh-oh”.  On the plane home, I finally pinned it down: I had no “next big thing” lined up.  I have a couple races and some things I’ve kicked around, but no big hairy goal to work towards.  That hasn’t been the case for some time now, and it was a strange feeling!

So, uh, What Now?

When you achieve a goal, there’s a natural exhale that follows.  If you don’t have another target behind it, though, you can drift into a bad space.  Without a clear target to shoot for, any project is doomed.  This is true at work, when doing home projects, and throughout our lives.  No clear goal means no clear markers to reach among the way.  No clear markers leads to a lack of focus, and can lead to falling off the path.  Having that next goal, that next target, keeps you moving forward.

So I Should Just Keep Making and Chasing New Goals?

Well, yeah – that’s how life works.  You can float for a while, but that can turn into drifting and a loss of direction.  To be clear, real goals have attainable objective markers.  “I want to win the lottery” is not a real goal.  First off, goals are to be worked for.  To “strive” for a lottery win, you must buy the ticket and …hope.  There are no steps along the way; you have no control over the process.  If your goal is to run a 5k without stopping, or get a new job, or start a business, there are things you can do and control to make that happen.  You may not reach your aim, but you can take steps and track that progress.  You know you don’t control every aspect, but you can use your resources to beat the odds.

As we move forward, there are always steps and progress.  Big jobs get broken into smaller projects; I set out to complete the trifecta again this year, but that means I had to plan, train for, and complete the three individual races.  I used each of those “projects” to develop and focus on what I needed to do better in the next race.  All along, though, there was that big goal at the end – in this case, completing the trifecta.  I’ve spent the last couple years going from one big goal to another, and it’s kept me focused forward – which is a good thing!

OK, But Where is the Finish Line?

Hey, come here.  Lean in.  It’s okay, I’ve got to tell you something: life has one big finish line.  We don’t know exactly where or when it will come, but once it’s here it is quite literally “game over, man!”  There are a bunch of little finish lines and start corrals in our lives, but most of the time we don’t realize we reached one until later.  The game changes and we change with it.  A week, a month, or even years later we think back and it seems obvious, but living day to day it just feels like a phone call we answered (or didn’t take); a person we met (or avoided).

Since we don’t know where the finish is, we need to take advantage of the time we have.  The biggest thing I’ve learned the last couple years is to go do things, take chances, and see what happens.  If you wait til “the perfect time” to go back to school, get a new job, work on your health – it will never happen.

Alright, So What Should I Do Next?

There’s no one answer here.  If your goal was to run a 5k, you may decide to do more, move on to a 10k, a marathon – or you may decide you hate running and have no interest in taking that next “obvious” step.  If you started a business, you can build to hire employees, grow the business to hand it down to your children, or sell it for a profit.  Maybe your next goal is something completely different.  That can be a good thing – variety is the spice and all that.  Keep challenging yourself, looking for new ideas, new interests.

With all this said, also remember that it is perfectly okay to take a breath.  Some people thrive on continuous activity, but everyone needs a pause and reset from time to time.  That’s not quitting or giving up, it’s preparing for your next push.  As long as the next push doesn’t get delayed too long, take a break for yourself!  Often that time can help you find that next big thing.

You okay, man?

Yes, I’m good – just catching my breath.  The trifecta was a year in the works, really since we finished the first one.  My three cohorts were all doing another big race (Ragnar Adirondacks) two weeks after the Beast, but I wasn’t able to join them.  With family obligations, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do a Trifecta again next year – or to be honest, if I feel that fire.  I’ve got plenty on my plate with family, the Foundation, work, continuing ed classes…  I certainly would never say that it’s easy or passe; the trifecta is tough!  We have, however, done it twice now.  Perhaps my next big hairy goal will be completely different.

My new intermediate challenge is this little ditty – working on core strength and upper body.  Having come from 0 pullups in March, this could be a tough one for me.  Overall, though, I feel like I need to find a new challenge, something that pushes me but keeps me closer to home in 2019.  What will that be?  Well, you’ll just have to wait and find out!

What is your next big thing?  Let me know in the comments, and remember – writing it down makes it real.  Now go do it!