Checkpoints and Finish Lines

Bill Gates once said that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten years. In the same way, I am starting to notice that one of the grandest challenges of pursuing a meaningful life is mistaking the checkpoints for finish lines.

Two years ago, one of my deep dreams was accomplished: I became a published author. As someone who loves words and finds deep joy in constructing sentences, to be published was the highest pinnacle. Everything after was supposed to be victory laps.

But life went on after publication. It continued to be hard. The world’s spinning continued to make me dizzy. Don’t get me wrong, being published changed my life. It brought a lot of validation and purpose and encouragement into my world. It was indeed a checkpoint. But it wasn’t the end.

Even if you shrink my entire life to the microcosm of authorship, publication wasn’t the end. It is exceedingly hard to sell a book. The dominoes to the bestseller list, fame, and fortune are neither aligned nor spaced properly.

This experience is not unique to the writing industry, nor even to the particularly eccentric world of artists. The same can be said for becoming a CEO, making the first million dollars, or climbing Mount Everest.

We tend to pin our determined value on checkpoints rather than finish lines. Another word for ‘checkpoints’ is ‘milestones’. We often find ourselves in the trap of pursuing milestones rather than finish lines. Because we overestimate the value of what we can do and underestimate the value of who we are.

The problem is not that we actually value checkpoints more than finish lines. The problem is that we have an inaccurate perspective of what a finish line actually means.

For me, the ‘finish line’ as an author is writing every day. This is the thing I was created to do. The thing that brings me life. When my mind and soul are unhealthy, I believe the lie that I need other people to validate and approve my writing. I believe I need to make money from it, to be applauded for it. Jim Carey once said, “I wish everyone could be famous so everyone could see it isn’t the answer.”

There are two conflicting desires within us. One is the deep desire for an end, for the struggle to be over. It is easy for us to think this will come with just one more accomplishment, just one more task performed – but this is a false peace. The other desire is a longing for transcendence, a peace that does not fade, a joy that settles into the heart of us. Transcendence, by its very definition, cannot be done. It cannot end.

True peace is not the end of suffering. True peace is the proper framing of suffering into the deep purpose of identity. The finish line is not when the difficulty ends but when the difficulty becomes a part of the journey.

We find ourselves lost and confused when we bow at the altar of milestones. Because when it ends, we don’t know what to do, we don’t know who to be. We really thought this was the end. That’s why we overestimate what we can do in a year; we think it’ll all be over in that time, determined for better or worse.

Life is a journey. It doesn’t end until it…well…ends. We will never be satisfied, no matter how many checkpoints we cross. We are made for transcendence.

If we can discover a transcendent purpose for our lives, something that travels with us through all relationships, accomplishments, failings, and seasons, we will be on our way to living with deep purpose and knowing the ‘peace that passes understanding’. The finish line is the race itself. In the New Testament, Paul doesn’t tell us how to collect the spoils, he tells us to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Competition is fun. But the real joy is in being a runner, a writer, a plumber, whatever you are. If we are who we are only for what we might get out of it, we are missing the complicated and beautiful journey of identity.