Posted by: projectsinpractice | March 5, 2012

You’ve Lost That Fleeting Feeling

Teresa here:

Mountain rangeI remember receiving the advance copy of my first book one Saturday in 1987. My husband, Craig, and I were doing house-y things when the delivery came.

With trembling hands, I ripped open the package and then squealed with joy when I saw the actual book. As the magnitude of what I had done settled in, I must have been in tears — the kind of tears when you first see Stonehenge or The Coliseum. It was amazing to finally hold the book in my hands, the result of months of work more difficult than I had imagined and weeks of little to no sleep. I had realized a dream — I had actually written and published a real book!

I was somebody. I was giddy.

About 15 minutes later, Craig came into the house and said, “What are you doing?”

“What?” I had continued with my Saturday chores, and my mind was far away.

“Did you mean to leave the book on the washing machine?”

“Oh.” I laughed. “I forgot!”

So there it was — the seminal moment in my career. In my own mind, a grand achievement. And, in less than an hour, I had forgotten about it and returned to my regularly scheduled life.

I’ve learned since then that that’s a typical pattern. A dream comes true and it changes your life, but the novelty wears off quickly and it becomes the new normal. An achievement you’ve been working on, a pinnacle you’ve been climbing toward for years, finally comes to fruition. Indeed, it feels wonderful for a while, and then you just think, ah, well, anybody could have done that. Now what’s next?

So it was when Bonnie and I each received the author copies of our latest book, Your Project Management Coach. We had started it last May, planning, wrangling, writing, and editing furiously until all was finished in January. At that point we were so relieved to just have it over with and to finally be able to catch up with our respective lives.

I had just returned from a walk with my dog, when I saw the box had arrived. “Cool,” I said to Draco. “I’ve been waiting for these.” In the kitchen, I opened the box and pulled out a book. It was beautiful! I thumbed through the pages, read snippets here and there. “Hey, this book has some good stuff.” Draco sat patiently for his post-walk biscuit. “I think people are going to like it.”

I called my husband and exulted. I posted an announcement on Facebook and Twitter. My friends and family congratulated me. I basked in the glow of success.

But other deadlines were pressing. Back in my office, I kept a copy of the book at my elbow, so I could glance at it and smile happily.

The next morning, I still felt ten feet tall, although I wasn’t quite so giddy. I hurried to a client meeting, taking a copy to sign and give away. But after the meeting, I received some disappointing news about another project…so disheartening that I felt I had been delivered a right hook to the solar plexus. At that moment, the wonderful feeling of accomplishment officially evaporated. The mood had lasted about 18 hours, and almost half that time was spent sleeping.

With that, the triumph had come and gone. Now it’s on to the next rush, the next deadline, the ever-rolling task list progressing ever onward to the next accomplishment, climbing toward the next pinnacle.

It’s true that we can’t rest on our laurels. I guess the challenge is to enjoy those fleeting moments of satisfaction while they last, to properly commemorate and celebrate a worthy accomplishment, a milestone in our career, before moving on to the next.

We talk about doing the necessary administrative tasks to properly close a project, gathering and recording lessons learned, and wrapping everything up nice and neat. But a big part of this is taking a moment to acknowledge, “You know, ya done good. Congratulations, whiz kid.”

Although you’re typically not given such a moment, insist on taking it, ideally with your team. Savor it. This is what you do. You’ve managed and completed a successful project. You’ve created and contributed something of value. Acknowledge it. Own it.

Then, and only then, go on to what’s next. Work on your encore…the new project that was breathing down your neck as you were finishing the old project. With renewed vigor, start the climb to your next pinnacle.

Read more about closing the project in Your Project Management Coach. Chapter 20 is “Obtaining Acceptance and Other Wrap-Up Tasks.” Chapter 21 is “Documenting a Project for Posterity.” Chapter 22 is “Don’t Forget Lessons Learned.”

Talk back: What do you do to celebrate the end of a project or other significant accomplishments?

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