There’s a common reference among marathon runners: The Wall. It’s the point, supposedly 18-20 miles in, when the body starts straining beyond endurance and the runner seriously begins to despair of ever making it to the end. She’s come such a long way – but, oh, there’s still such a long way to go and she’s so bloody tired. It would hurt to give up, but for the first time in the race she feels it would hurt more to go on. Why did she ever start this? If she stopped now, no one would mind. And the relief would be tremendous.
The Wall reference applies across many walks of life, but is particularly relevant to the management of any large, long-term project. You’ve put so much into it, but you just feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. Would it, would it really matter so much if you just called the whole thing off?
As you’ll have guessed, I hit The Wall today.
It’s reasonable to surmise that in order to become an expert in one’s field, one must extend oneself beyond the reach of one’s natural ability. That’s how you get better at things. That’s why I’m learning Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata when I can barely play the black-note scales (I’m learning it slowly, of course). But getting better doesn’t just involve doing the same thing over and over again – it means reaching out into new territory. And, at some point, you’re going to find yourself (insert new metaphor) out in open water, with the rapids screaming around you, and only a thin paddle and your wits to stop you from drowning.
And that’s when you think: why am I here? What on earth made me think I could take this on? Can I call out to someone to come and take this thing over from me? I’m shit at this. I’m really shit at it. I’m a beginner, and I’m on the black slope (sorry, changed metaphor again).
If I was someone else looking at me from outside, I’d be saying, “you’re not shit. You’ve made it this far. What you’ve done is amazing, and what you’re going to do is even more amazing. You’re going to cross the finishing line [this works for all three metaphors] and everyone’s going to cheer you, and you’re going to look back at how far you’ve come, and you’re going to think, my God, I did that?
“And in a few years’ time, you’ll be laughing, and wondering what on earth you were ever worried about. Because at that point you’ll have hit The Wall on an even bigger project which makes this one look like a child did it. And you’ll go through the same process again. But this time you’ll know: it can be done.”
I’m hitting The Wall. Cheer me on.