Forty-two wins. No losses. Three straight state championships. Three championship game MVPs. Gatorade Player of the Year. Possibly the best athlete ever produced by the state of Texas. Do you know who I’m talking about? If you said “Kyler Murray,” you are correct! Are there any higher expectations of an athlete? Maybe. But here’s a more important question: how do you go about preventing expectations from producing failure?
And that question matters more than you might realize because the answer matters not just in sports, but in life. I really wanted to title this episode “So You Know How To Win But Do You Know How To Lose?” This isn’t pedantical – it’s a legitimate question that should cause you to pause.
It’s crazy how prolific Kyler has been. Not since Bo Jackson more than 30 years ago has there been a player like Kyler. If you don’t recall, Bo Jackson was the only player EVER to be named an All-Star in both the NFL and MLB. He played two professional sports at the same time for four years. From 1987-1990 he played for both the Los Angeles Raiders and the Kansas City Royals. Some consider him to be the best athlete who ever played professional sports.
I mean really, how’s this going to work for Kyler? He was drafted by the Phoenix Cardinals, a team that finished last season with a record of three wins and 13 losses. Do you think there are any expectations with this draft pick?
No matter what team he plays for, whether a dynasty of winning or an agonizing string of losing seasons, whoever brings Kyler in is going to think something like this: “We just paid you a whole lot of money and now you need to give a return on the investment.”
What started my contemplation of this episode is wondering how someone who has only known winning could possibly handle the very real probability of losing? And I’m not just talking about cliche or being a good sport.
The stronger your performance, the longer your win streaks, the more dominant you are, the higher the expectations. And no matter how hard some might try to adjust expectations, they seem to take on their own momentum and build over time. It’s as if they generate their own inertia.
It’s not always a bad thing. If you recognize it, then you can manage it. You may even be able to use it to motivate. For instance, think about the current U.S. Women’s National Team in soccer. Regardless of what happens, most of the world has come to expect them to be the FIFA World Cup champions once the dust settles in France. That pressure starts to build as the expectations heighten long before the players enter the pitch.
So what do they do to stay focused? Focus on the coming game. Work on their training. Concentrate on personal improvement, study, and preparation. They aren’t reading the papers to see what the odds are or trying to dive into the drama of the past. No. They are consumed by the present preparations.
The stakes are high. Failed expectations can lead to severe outcomes. I doubt anybody has unreasonable expectations about a bridge. You should reasonably expect that the bridge is constructed to adhere to the exacting engineering standards that are required to support the intended traffic. Failing to meet the expectation can be the difference between life and death.
Initially, you may think it extremely unlikely that you are participating in anything remotely as dangerous as building such critical infrastructure. But that would be overlooking the death machine you operate daily. It’s a reasonable expectation that others have of you that you don’t operate your vehicle while impaired or text while driving. It’s not beyond the skill level of any driver, regardless of how long they have been driving, to refuse to get behind the wheel after drinking or to leave the phone inaccessible while driving.
Some other expectations are a bit less reasonable. A soccer player being shot and killed for scoring an “own goal” in the 1994 Olympics is an example. Or how about a politician serving a mixed constituency where someone is always going to be unhappy with your performance? At times, we create unreasonable expectations by making promises we can never keep.
One Thing You Can’t Control
One thing is sure: while you may attempt to set or adjust expectations, you have no control over what someone else expects of you – reasonable or otherwise. So I want to share with you what Steve Berglas says in an article he wrote for Forbes back in 2012. He says that there are three ways high expectations can produce failure. More importantly, I will share his tips on how you can prevent it. Are you ready?
Paying Too Much Attention To Your Performance
First, get out from under the microscope. Can you relax your way to success? That is definitely as ridiculous as it sounds. There are however limits to the level of scrutiny that you should apply to your performance. If you aren’t cautious, your ridiculously close examination will actually hurt your performance.
Mr. Berglas gives the example of what happened to Michelle Kwan in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Leading up to the events that year, she was all but given the gold medal as expectations loomed large in the build up. This is a woman who won every competition she entered…except the Olympics. And it actually happened to her twice! The first time was in 1998.
Everyone thought Michelle would win gold that year and Tara Lipinski came out of seemingly nowhere to upset her. In 2002, the hype was there again and it seemed very likely this would be Michelle’s year for gold. But as an antidote to over-examining performance, a woman who wasn’t even expected to medal had the night of her life. That woman was Sarah Hughes.
How did she win, you might ask? Especially when you consider the level of talent in an Olympic game. Not just how did she outperform Michelle, but all of the other great competitors on the ice that night. Her answer was pretty simple “I skated for pure enjoyment… That’s how I wanted my Olympic moment to be.”
Now you might not have a pending appointment with a cadre of Olympic judges, but I believe her simple advice will ring true for you as well. Do what you are doing with pure enjoyment. Every moment for the love of what you are doing…even when you don’t love it. You impact when you throw yourself at your task as if the outcome is your moment to shine.
Steve offers this little bit of wisdom that you must apply to your life: “Trust yourself. Prepare assiduously, then let go of the urge to control how well you deliver; just deliver.”
Wanting To Win Too Much
Next, be cautious of wanting to win too much. So, here again, obsessing about the win can actually cause you to lose. Think about the instances where you absolutely could not afford to lose. Those moments when the win was vital to your future. There are a few people who would say that focusing on the potential negative outcomes that could result from a loss motivated them to make sure they didn’t.
Generally, that doesn’t work very well. You will produce your best effort when confident that you will go on living your life regardless of the outcome of the circumstance you face. The shackles are removed when you understand that you have inherent worth that is not the result of an outcome.
Think of it this way. Imagine a negotiation. Many people approach negotiation as a zero sum game. In other words, there is a winner and a loser. That happens sometimes. But if your approach to a negotiation is “win at all costs” then a failed outcome is intolerable. Do you see the danger? Are there limits to the extent you might go to win?
How many people do you know who “won” but because of their newfound reputation failed? Not uncommon. Wanting to win too much is not nearly as effective as recognizing that there is joy in the journey.
There are limits you will go to and choose not to exceed. If a negotiation doesn’t produce an outcome that satisfies both parties, then don’t do the deal. Your disinterest in conducting business at any cost can be extremely helpful in your negotiation. It’s an attractive quality to the other party and can introduce trust.
The Craving To Control Applause
This probably sounds funny if you work in a corporate environment, so let me state it another way: you crave being acknowledged. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a manager who takes credit for your work or effort. If you have any length of experience, you’ve been there and know the feeling.
Why does it bother us? Partly because your work matters. Therefore, you care and work hard to produce results. Sometimes the people that need to know about your work aren’t hearing about it. Listen in to Episode 40 and Episode 41 Brag, Swag, or Sway for some really good reasons about why (and how!) you must talk about yourself.
But there is a risk. If you live for the accolade or the recognition, it’s a bit like expectation. You can’t control it. There’s no way to guarantee that you will get the recognition from the audience that you believe you deserve. And that can be damaging to you. Dale Carnegie said it best: “The person who seeks all their applause from outside has their happiness in another’s keeping.”
If you are a poor performer, then the attention you will draw is different! It’s not like I’m saying not to work hard or produce results. Imagine if you decided that you were never going to deliver on another objective because your boss was going to get all of the credit. Shortly, you will have another boss because you will lose that job.
Do your best, but don’t think for a moment that you control how the audience responds or reacts to your performance. There are times when an audience simply doesn’t recognize your talent and ability. It will happen. If you spend your effort focusing on whether they will like you, Steve says you will simply create a situation where you generate performance killing anxiety.
Be satisfied that you have done your best and recognize how little control you have in how others will respond. Fanfare or angry mob! When you’ve done your best you can be satisfied with the knowledge that doing it differently wasn’t an option.
I’m Not All That
So, the best piece of advice that Steve Berglas offered was at the end of the article. He said sometimes you just have to remind people that you aren’t a savior. Remember, it’s a team sport and we are in this together. And beware, because I’m likely to disappoint you at some stage. I’ll do my best and you can be certain of that.
Make sure to listen in next week when I will share some thoughts about why success and winning are not the same thing.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
Steve Berglas’ article on Forbes The Three Major Ways High Expectations Cause Failure and How To Prevent Them
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