Don’t confuse a starting line with a finish line

One thing I like to keep in mind in the context of “good enough decision-making” is “don’t confuse a starting line with a finish line.”

What does that mean?

I’m so glad you asked.

The first time I became conscious of this was after my first baby was born. I had been myopically focused on the challenge of becoming a parent that I knew: giving birth. I was obsessed with having a healthy pregnancy and successful home birth. I devoured books about birth, pregnancy, healthy diet and exercise for pregnant moms, and more. I thought the finish line was giving birth.

I was wrong.

Birth was a starting line. Pregnancy was a new experience, a transition. In many ways, as my daughter was growing in my belly, I was also growing. Growing into a mom. But her birth was just the beginning. All of a sudden I realized that I didn’t know how to change a diaper, how much she needed to eat, how to get her to sleep. It was a huge (and exhausting) learning curve, and it was made harder because in the weeks leading up to my labor, I was acting like I was racing towards a finish line instead of getting ready to begin the marathon of being a parent.

I confused the starting line with a finish line.

I think we do this all the time because in reality, most of life’s starting lines are, in fact, finish lines. Graduating high school (or other level of degree), starting a business, buying a house, retirement. These are huge milestones, and we should pause and celebrate them. But…your college application essay isn’t supposed to be the greatest piece of writing you ever produce. Your SAT score is not your crowning academic achievement. And I suspect that a capstone project like a Masters or PhD thesis isn’t supposed to be the end of your studies and contribution to your field of study. Buying a house is the beginning of a new life in a new place. Opening a business is a huge deal, but then you have to run it. Retirement is amazing, but now you have a new life to begin.

It’s supposed to be the beginning. The beginning of your study, the beginning of your writing, the beginning of your career, the beginning of your life after a career.

I’ll be honest, I think that this takes some of the pressure off.

You didn’t have a perfect labor and delivery experience?

That’s okay. Because tomorrow you get to start again as a new parent.

You didn’t sum up all of your wisdom, knowledge, and experience in your thesis?

That’s okay. You can write more later.

Your grand opening didn’t go as planned?

You can go to work tomorrow and try again.

With a lot of experiences it’s tempting to wait until we feel like we’re ready to even begin (okay, labor’s probably going to happen whether you’re ready or not), but the catch is – you’re never going to be ready.

Not as ready as you think you need to be because there are some things that you can’t really learn until you’re there. For all my reading about pregnancy and birth, when I went into labor, it was totally different from what I had imagined. I think my preparation helped because I knew what was going on, and when I did end up going to the hospital after my home birth, I wasn’t panicked and was able to advocate for myself at the hospital. The preparation mattered, but at some point, you just have to trust your body and have a baby.

At some point, you have to trust your business plan and know you’ll have to adapt and grow as you go.

At some point, you have sign the paper and know that your house is good enough.

You can change later when you know more — when you know better. But until then, you have to use the knowledge you have to make the best choice possible about your starting line and know that it isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.



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