What to Do When You Get to Done

There’s no feeling in the world quite like the mixture of triumph and sadness that comes after finishing a project you’ve been working on for months or even years. On one hand, you’re done and can finally release your finished product, whatever it is, into the world. On the other hand, though, completing a big goal leaves a little emptiness in your life, like sending your kids off to college — one of the major driving forces in your life is gone.

Since you likely have a little more time on your hands now that you’re not working on your big project anymore, take a moment or two to to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, how to build on your success, and how to avoid the mistakes that you’ve made on the way to your achievement. The end goal is to weave the finished project into the overarching fabric of your life — your mission, your vision, your raison d’être — and to capture the energy and momentum of one success and roll it into your next.

Debriefing

What you need to do is debrief. Like a soldier returned from a successful mission, you need to ask — and answer — a few questions about what went wrong and what went right. Consider sitting down someplace quiet with a notebook and ask yourself these questions:

  • What was the outcome of this project?
  • What is good about the outcome of this project?
  • How do I feel about my performance?
  • What mistakes did I make that slowed or otherwise negatively affected the completion of this project?
  • How could I avoid making those mistakes in the future?
  • What was the best part of the project? What was the worst?
  • What strengths did I discover in the completion of this project?
  • What new abilities or knowledge have I learned from doing this project?
  • What do I wish I had known when I started this project?
  • In one or two sentences, what were the lessons of this project?

Building on your success

Once you have a good idea of what you’ve learned, it’s time to consider how to put that learning to good use. This might not be something you sit down and figure out in one sitting; finding your next steps is a process that might take a little while. Still, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to get the ball rolling.

  • Is this kind of project something I enjoy?
  • How can I capitalize on the success of this project?
  • What personal connections did I make in the execution of this project that I can draw on in the future?
  • What sort of project would best complement the one I’ve just completed?
  • What questions were left unanswered, or new questions were raised, in the project I’ve just completed?
  • What is the audience I’ve cultivated with my last project, and how can I appeal to and satisfy that audience again?
  • What have I put on the back burner so I could focus on my completed project?

Looking at the big picture

After pouring our heart and soul into something over a long period of time, we often find that we’ve changed — that what once interested us no longer does, and that we’ve developed new interests in their place. After completing a big project, it’s time to consider those changes and revise our goals and our vision of ourself.

  • Sit down and write a mission statement. If you’ve written one before, take it out and ask yourself what’s changed?
  • Revise your resume or CV. How does your new perspective affect the way you describe what was important about your previous experiences?
  • Who are you now? Does your old job title still fit? What will you tell people who ask “What do you do?”
  • How has your social position changed, if at all, as a result of your project? Are you financially more secure, do you enjoy new respect among your colleagues, are you famous? How will your life have to change to accommodate these new elements?

It’s totally natural to experience a bit of “hang time” after completing something big in your life. You need a few moments to reflect on and savor your success and to figure out what to do next, before your feet hit the floor again.

It’s natural, too, to feel sad, disappointed, even depressed at the end of a big project, even one that’s a resounding success. The things we do define us as people, and the biggest things we do are the biggest part of us; losing them, even by choice and design, is hard. I think this is why so many people seem to experience a fear of success that’s as paralyzing, if not more so, as the fear of failure: they are not prepared for the changes in their life that success would bring.

The important thing, though, is to embrace all the mixed feelings that come after a project, understand where they come from, and use them to propel ourselves forward. Use the end of one project as the beginning of the next and keep working to fulfill your life’s purpose and vision.

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