Ever bite off more than you can chew and wonder how in the world you’re going to manage finishing strong and keeping your sanity?

Whether we’re talking about finishing a critical project at work or crossing the finish line at an athletic event, the strategy for reaching beyond what you ever thought possible is the same.

Four weeks before a sprint triathlon (IronGirl) held in Columbia, Maryland, it occurred to me that I hadn’t run or biked in months. Training for a five-mile open water swim had completely consumed my attention and I felt significantly under prepared for the IronGirl.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I was ready for the 1000-meter swim portion.

With just three bike rides and four runs under my belt in the two weeks leading up to the event, I was nervous. The bike I was using was also heavier than my previous one, and I wasn’t sure what those hills were going to feel like.

At your office, this feels like having a new project getting dumped on your desk, with fewer resources, more expectations, little-to-no training, and sometimes, unfamiliar employees.

“Have you got your body markings yet?” a fellow IronGirl and teammate asked as I made my way from the transition area over to the starting line.

“Oops. No,” I said, and walked back up the hill to get my number written in black marker on my arms and legs.

Staring out at the swim course just before start time, I heard myself make a decision—“I’m going to put everything I’ve got into this event.”

You know that moment—when you finally get past your initial overwhelm and make the decision to give a project every thing you’ve got, with or without the proper training.

Such decisions help tremendously… that is, until we come face-to-face with the first major roadblock—lack of clear communication, lazy employees, lack of resources, etc.

That’s exactly where I found myself when I hit the second cliff. Okay, it wasn’t a cliff, but it certainly felt like one considering the steep incline of the hill! Then, it was more like, “Really, Misti, what were you thinking?”

Clearly, I hadn’t thought much! Sometimes, you don’t have much time to think. And, thank God, because if you did, you’d probably run the other direction when great (and perhaps a little scary) opportunities land on your desk.

With my legs and lungs burning, and nothing but hills in front of me, I had to do something to distract myself. So, I started singing to the hills—outloud, with gusto!

“You are sooo beautiful… I looooveee you, great hill of mine… yooouuu make me shine, shine shine.”

Yes, I sang to those ruthless hills. And I cheered… relentlessly.

“Looking great,” I said to the few I managed to pass, and “Get it girl!” to every one who passed me. With just two miles to go, I yelled out, “Almost there… Finish strong, ladies,” as I put my legs into overdrive, rushed through transition and started pulling the one-ton sled waiting for me at the start of the run.

OK—maybe a one-ton sled is a slight exaggeration, but that’s exactly what my legs felt like to my upper body.

“One foot in front of the other,” I begged myself, convinced someone had stuck twenty-pound weights into my shoes.

“There’s no way you’re going to be able to keep this pace,” I heard myself thinking when I came up on two fellow IronGirls, suffering together.

“Come on ladies, we’ve got this,” I started cheering, “There’s a wicked hill coming up here. Stay focused and steady.”

Okay—time for some brutal honesty—that was less than a quarter of the way into the run. By the time we hit the first big hill, I wanted mercifully to slow down and catch my breath. Problem was—those two girls, plus another one were running less than a foot behind me.

It was clear—they were counting on me to set the pace, much the same as your colleagues and employees are following your lead.

“Leave everything you’ve got out here on this course,” I said, hoping to convince myself I had another burst of energy to get me through the final half mile.

No such magical energy surfaced, but we did finish. And when we did, the most interesting and inspiring thing happened.

Those three women wrapped their arms around me and thanked me for encouraging them. I thought, if they only knew… if it wasn’t for them, there’s little chance I would have been able to keep that pace.

Hugging them back, I realized just what’s possible when you take the focus off your fears and focus instead on cheering for others as you head toward your finish line.

The energy I put out in cheering and supporting them paled in comparison to what I received.

The next time you find yourself nervous or even terrified about a project that seems too daunting, consider asking yourself, “How can I cheer for and support the people around me today?” In the process, you’ll find the energy and courage you need to finish strong.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister