Are you playing Against the Weight of Your Expectations?

In today’s papers it was reported that Serena Williams will not play tennis again this year after her loss at the US open. In the middle of the article, amongst the mountain of text was the phrase ‘she was playing against the weight of her own expectations’ and this made me wonder.

As a sporting legend it is essential to have high expectations, after all you are there to win. But what about the rest of us, is this what we need to navigate the territory of everyday challenges and become a ‘winner’? I am not so sure.

Authenticity is about knowing yourself from the inside out, it is about being aware enough to know what makes you effective and what hinders you. Setting expectations is no bad thing but expecting things to work out exactly as you have planned can become a sophisticated prison which sets you up to fail and leaves you miserable. When we expect something we become attached to it and when it doesn’t materialise we can feel anything from mild disappointment to extreme outrage.

As leaders we must set standards and expect ourselves and our people to meet and even to exceed those standards on occasion, but when we hold onto that expectation tightly it becomes weighty and unwieldy and robs us of joy.

The trick is to hold expectations lightly. This means relaxing about what happens and letting go of the need to control everything so tightly that the joy is sucked out of life. It is about accepting that there are some things we can control and many things we cannot. It is about letting go.

Self-awareness is vital to enable this because we need to understand the mechanisms that keep us locked into the cycle of setting unrealistic or excessive expectations and liberate ourselves from their grip. This is not an easy process but one that has immense payoffs psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.

I understand Serena has to have high expectations, she is a sporting legend, but I cannot help wonder how much joy is lost by making her expectations so heavy she is constantly fighting against them.

The self-awareness raising question this week is ‘How are you playing against the weight of your expectations?’

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