On the Final Lap

For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.

Michelle Obama

Tomorrow marks the start of the last couple of weeks to complete the work we did over the summer. Though we had conceived from nothing a very elegant solution to a critical problem, there is some fine tuning to be done. We are preparing to transition to the next phase, and there is a time where we will deem our process “good enough.” Like most engineers, we are pragmatic in the amount of gain from our efforts, and the law of diminishing returns says that we will soon hit the finish line. So the end is in sight, at least for one facet of what is a sprawling beast we seek to tame and do our bidding through clever tools and innovative designs.

When I was much younger, endings used to be difficult for me. I’d put so much effort into my work that it became a part of me. When it would end, as all things must, I would find it hard to let go, to stop continuing to iterate on my solution, to make things “perfect.” I would live and breathe the task at hand, and dig so deep into the weeds that putting my head up to see where I was going was something I rarely did. So when the end came, I’d feel lost and not sure where to go next. I felt like I was giving up a part of myself. Like a sailboat adrift on the ocean with no wind, I was left without a direction or motivation to continue on. Many times I’d sink into what could be termed mild depression, having difficulty getting out of bed and not able to enjoy other facets of my life.

As I aged, and experienced more, I realized that it wasn’t so much the task at hand but the process I should focus on. That feeling of challenge when first presented with a problem, the immersion into the details of the system in an effort to understand it, the glimmers of satisfaction as solutions became clearer, the ups and downs through the end, the completion and reflection of a job well done or the disappointment in a failure. In all cases, I’d look for some wisdom from the experience, some nugget I would take with me. Because instead of seeing the end as giving up a part of me, I instead began to see it as growing myself. Changing and refining skills, learning to be better than the day before. I wasn’t becoming less at each juncture, I was becoming more.

Now when I’m faced with a challenge, be it in my personal or professional life, I feel like I’m waxing up my surfboard and getting ready to ride the next waves. I look forward as I assess what’s ahead of me, thinking back to the waves I’ve traveled over before, and prepare myself in anticipation of the next ride. I know when this one is done, I’ll have grown just a bit more on the journey that is my life. And that knowing is enough to give me the drive, strength, and courage to get back on the board, no matter how big the waves out there.