Filling the Gap After a Big Project Ends
Photo courtesy of Abhishek Maji.

Filling the Gap After a Big Project Ends

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Goals

Usually I stay away from writing directly about myself, but today I want to share a little of what’s happening in my life. Right now, I’m getting close to the end of a big project: my second book (and first novel) is nearly complete! (In case you’re curious, it’s a fantastical, humorous adventure set in the pre-life—like the afterlife, but before we’re born—all about what makes us uniquely human.)

During the lengthy process of writing this book, I forbade myself from even thinking about what might be next. I’m not usually in favor of banning thinking—if anything, the world needs more, not less of it. But I’ve learned that, without a strict rule, I constantly derail myself by speculating about other possible goals I could be pursuing instead:

Sure, I could finish this novel, but maybe I ought to [take on more programming projects] / [write a full-length comedy show] / [learn a new skill entirely] / [get a job] / [join the circus]…

Now, though, I’m approaching a good moment to begin the process of considering what’s next. It’s not yet an urgent decision—I have a couple of months of work and polishing on the novel, along with some other, smaller, projects—but the vacuum in my time is becoming visible as the end of the novel comes into sight.

I know I’m far from alone in wondering “what’s next?” when a big project ends, whether for work, or a leisure project like a community play. So, I thought it might be useful to share some of my initial thinking here, out loud.

1. Take a Break

This is the most obvious idea, and probably the most attractive. My brain has been conjuring images of plane flights, landing me directly into a beach-side hammock surrounded by cocktail bars and coconuts. This is no doubt a hint from my subconscious!

Allowing ourselves time to breathe is important. I can’t even remember the last time I took a holiday without intending to work, write, or plan for at least a portion of the time. So here’s one easy conclusion, at least: I ought to take my own advice about self-care and plan (a little) time to recharge.

2. Do More of the Same

It would be simple to continue on my current path. Isn’t that often the case?

I have plenty of ideas for more books, lots of speaking invitations, and occasional technical freelancing to keep me busy. I could easily fill the upcoming gap in my life by simply starting another book. (The thought of this course of action fills me with both excitement and panic, though I suspect I’ll feel differently after taking my own advice about needing a break!)

However, I don’t want to continue simply for the sake of continuing; it’s important to me that I actively choose to stay on (or stray from) the path I’m on.

Because we have so many passions and big dreams, intentionality is one key to designing a multipotentialite life. And that means I have to consider other options. Like…

3. Start a Totally Different Project

Maybe it’s time to change direction again and pick up something new. For example, I’ve played at making computer games for virtually my entire life. What if I started taking it seriously enough that somebody, somewhere, might someday buy something I’ve made?

What would that look like? It would be a huge change in direction. While I have some of the necessary skills (and it would be really fun to improve the skills I currently lack), it’s daunting to set out to create something worthwhile enough to justify shuffling my life around that much. So, perhaps the sensible step would be to choose a smaller game design project and work my way up. If I end up deciding to pursue this at all. :)

But I have less drastic options for new large projects, too: I already do plenty of standup comedy and public speaking. Perhaps, without the distraction of book-writing, I could prioritize developing this area of my life? Stepping up one area from a medium-commitment to a bigger-commitment seems like a more sensible change in direction than jumping headlong into a whole new area.

Then again, while I’m exploring crazy options…

4. Change the Entire Direction of My Life

The end of a big project seems like the ideal time to assess my life in general, since I’m already doing lots of reflecting on the project itself.

How happy am I with all the things I’m spending my time and energy on? Do I want to rip everything up and start again? Or are things mostly looking good? Does it just need a bit of tinkering around the edges?

And, to take the next step, if I did make a wild change of direction, what would it be? Go back to traditional employment? Or how about getting a qualification, which would open up new opportunities entirely? As I type them, none of these options feel right to me, but these are the kind of questions I need to begin exploring before my current project ends.

I find it useful to look at everything on different scales. The spectrum of  “What’s next?” runs from continue exactly as I am to rip up my whole life and rewrite it. By exploring all the different places along that spectrum I can see which one feels right, for now.

So, That Settles It!

Haha. Of course, I didn’t expect to sort my entire life out in the time it takes to write one short blog post. These are big questions, and they keep asking themselves over and over. This is just me starting the process of transition by opening up questions to mull over as I wrap up my current project.

If you’re in the process of a big change right now, I hope that this glimpse into my early, messy process has been useful and maybe even helped you to consider all the possibilities for your own plan-making!

Your Turn.

What do you do when you finish a big project? How do you take stock and reassess your options? Share with the community in the comments!

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

24 Comments

  1. Iris says:

    I personally feel exhausted, especially if the project was time demanding and on a dead-line. Sometimes I even get sick as a result of the stress.
    Most of the times I feel empty after the project is done and having a lot of trouble getting back to things, I thought it’s just me but now I understand that it’s natural.
    I prefer to take a break just because I find it hard to find a new muse again (i’m an artist) but if I could, and the muse was there – I guess I’d be back to business just not to feel that emptiness.
    thank you!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks Iris! Agreed with the need for recharging – depending on the project, recharging may very well be the highest priority :)

  2. Xixi says:

    I have been wondering about the same thing, too. I took a big break two years ago to meditate for 5 months in Korea. Since I came back to the US, I tried doing the same thing as I had before. It didn’t feel right. Now I am back home living with my parents and being a “burden” and nobody. I am wondering what on earth I am doing with my time. I want to pursue my art despite the amount of disapproval and humiliation I have to deal with from my family.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Sorry to hear this, Xixi. It sounds very difficult. I hope you find the next step soon, and that both you and your family are pleased with it.

  3. J'aime says:

    It’s fun to “eavesdrop” on someone who thinks like you, Neil… all options on the table from “keep doing more of the same” to “total and complete change of direction” and everything in between.

    I don’t think many people consider such a wide range of choices, but it’s more exciting that way, isn’t it? :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ha, I’m pleased to hear this – I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be to put my current thought process out there! The wide range of options definitely keeps life exciting, which – for me – is a big part of what multipotentiality is all about :)

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post because it appears in my life at the exact right moment! My month of August is crazy loaded with project, 3 big and 1 small. I’m really glad it happened just before my vacation in September. It wasn’t plan in advance, the timing just happened to be perfect. So no question for me I’m definitely going to fill the gap with a whole month of holiday.
    In October I’ve decide to begin a course to build a new company that will help me to work remotely. I choose to change completely my job and my lifestyle, nothing less…
    I’m the kind d of person who get bored easily. I always need new projects in my life to keep me stimulate. I think there is nothing wrong to jump from project to project if you know your limits.

    I’m happy to be part of this community and look forward to read other comments :)

  5. PowerMechGuy says:

    This really makes starting and stopping easier. I’m on the morecsimultaneous side of multipotentiality, so I stop and start all the type. But I do find lots of gaps where I actually do feel “lost.” However, this checklist and the ideas herein make each transition a bit easier. And I think that’s to keep to managing it all: mastering the “smooth” transition. Thanks for the awesome post!

  6. Simon Cumming says:

    This is a very difficult question for me to answer at the moment “What do you do when you finish a big project?”

    I am currently steering towards a Comptia Network + exam and I am doing everything I can to avoid the exam day. I have read the course and done the tutorials several times. I am YouTubing segments of the course and doing numerous tests and above all I am procrastinating continually to delay the exam day.

    When the course finishes? Whoa, I am starting a University Degree on Computing with Security and Forensics in September and hopefully the Network + course will be behind me. Hey ho we shall see … :-)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Sounds like you’ve got the next step sorted… hope the end of the current step goes well, without TOO much procrastination ;)

  7. KaZ Akers says:

    Thanks for a terrific post. As a meditation master and Qigong teacher who runs a non-profit I find it really important to take a break after a project ends. Or a teaching session. Especially if it was particularly intense, as my work happens to be most of the time. I know there are possibilities or projects waiting for me when I return but I resist the urge to jump right into them while I am on a break. I might do some minor organizing but nothing too intense. I need to refill MY cup. I have learned this after years and years and years of trying to do things one after the other or many concurrently that I will tend to overextend myself and get really drained. I still do a lot of different things but not all at the same time or all at once.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks KaZ :) yes! it’s so important to recharge, and I love your visual metaphor of physically refilling a cup to describe it.

  8. Maryske says:

    Quote: “It’s fun to “eavesdrop” on someone who thinks like you, Neil…”

    LOL My thoughts exactly!

    As it is, I have these gaps quite regularly. One teaching job ends (usually in June/July), and it usually means getting into serious job searching asap, for I don’t have the energy to do much of that when I’m teaching. Although I do usually allow myself to take something of a break: doing pretty much nothing at all besides one or two days a week of job searching. And feeling frustrated at squandering all that time in which I could do everything I didn’t have the energy for during the academic year, but I’m simply too tired to get into much else save for reading.

    Okay, so maybe they aren’t really ‘gaps’… But numbers 2, 3 and 4 do come up literally every time I find myself without a job again. The ideas however seem to be too scattered to really throw myself into one thing – I simply get one great idea one day, research it and sleep on it as I was advised during a coaching session. And even though it’s still a great idea, the next great idea tends to come too quickly (like two days later) to really pursue the first. And then the next, and the next, and the next… With the result that I never really pursue one idea far enough to actually get a job in it, so nothing ever changes… Sigh. Aargh! I simply want to do too many different things! :-D

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, thanks Maryske :) And that sounds like quite a cycle you’ve identified in your life. I wonder how it could be overcome – are there no ideas you desire to pursue right the way through to the end? (Or, at least, a few steps further?)

      That said, there’s nothing wrong with multiple small ideas every few days, if that’s how you naturally prefer to work!

  9. I appreciate the forum to work through “the gap”! And I appreciate Neil’s articulation of what that looks like in his head. I can surely relate to that.

    I just finished an interstate move and I’m leaving tomorrow for a month on a dream vacation to Italy. And yet, all week, my brain has been attacking me with what projects I should be launching next/right now!

    The advice I am working on giving myself, and will do so via this forum, is to learn how to be still in the gap. We do not need to fill the empty space, we can trust that this will organically happen. Pausing is better than okay – its healthy. Staying still is regenerative.

    My current existential work, as a busybee multipod, is to cultivate my patience for staying still in the gap.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I think many multipods struggle with standing still – sounds like you’re on the right track for how to do it your way :)

  10. Nate says:

    I find myself listening quietly. Mornings are best. I get a lot of clarity then. At times the next opportunity knocks lightly for me. Sometimes the idea happenes in a passing conversation, and other times the direction comes “if it feels right.” It may not seem logical at the time, however I try to trust and it tends to make sense later…You never know :) Cheers!

  11. Linda says:

    I always take a break. It takes me about a month to come down and I give myself permission to do whatever takes my fancy during this time – even if that is reading until 5am then sleeping for most of the day. Google becomes my best friend as I investigate the new things. I catch up on all the things that have been neglected … well, some of them! Then, suddenly one day I wake up and my new direction is obvious.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      This sounds like me, too! I do struggle with giving myself permission like that, but it sounds very familiar. Thank you for sharing :)

  12. Tania Gerard says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience, I can relate to the feeling. I’ve noticed that, as I approach the end of a project, I suddenly have more loads of laundry and home repair to-do lists! It honestly feels like my life loses purpose for a moment.

    So I talk myself into finishing with the promise of a nice reward, such as a movie or a fiction book. When I finish the project I take a few days of journaling about my learnings, telling my people about the project, and celebrating (the extrovert talking here).

    I go to my “next projects” card box and choose the one that feels right -with time I’ve noticed these projects tend to be creative because they take only a few weeks and let me reconnect my brain to discover what it needs next.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Oh wow, Tania, this sounds so organised! I think a few days of recharging (and, yes, chores!) is necessary for the brain. I love the idea of keeping a ‘next projects’ box. Currently I have a (very messy) list, but this makes it sound so organised :D

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