Dealing With Expectations

When you start a project, a business or even kick off a new promotion, you inevitably set some expectations for yourself.  When you’re just starting out this can be really tough because we almost always are overly optimistic about the possibilities.  In truth, that optimism is often times what keeps us going during the hard work beforehand.

Not achieving those goals is hard, but you really should shrug it off for the most part because really, those projected outcomes were probably not based on anything beyond wishful thinking.  You just need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back into doing the work.

But what about when you embark on something with a pre-existing body of work behind you?  What happens when you come up short then?

The Olympics got me thinking about that today.

Cate Campbell is the fastest woman in the world in the 100m women’s freestyle swimming – and truthfully, in a tight sport like that, it’s not even close.  Campbell is the world record holder in the event and during the heats and semi-finals, she broke the Olympic Record both times she swam.  This is her pet event, the event she’s best in the world at and she was in great form leading into the final.

Then something unthinkable happened, she lost.

Worse than that, she didn’t even medal.

A barely 16-year-old girl from Canada and the first African American woman to win a gold medal in swimming for the US tied in a dead heat to take out the win.

Campbell flinched on her start and gave the field a break.  Then she powered through to lead at the turn.  Down the back straight, the other women just mowed her down.  Campbell finished fourth and was devastated.

I personally watched the race and chose to celebrate the winners.  Penny Oleksiak from Canada turned 16 not even two months before the Olympics and has picked up four medals so far.  The only thing I knew about her before the Olympics was that her brother played professional ice hockey for the Dallas Stars in the NHL.  Now, she’s won more Summer Olympic medals than any other individual Canadian athlete ever… In under a week.

She starts Grade 11 in September back in Toronto.

The American woman, Simone Manuel picked up her second medal of the Olympics (she had a silver in the relay).  At a time in America where there’s so much divisiveness around issues of race, you’d like to think in some small way this young lady’s impressive efforts would inspire young African-American girls to take up swimming and help bring more people together in a positive way.

Like I said, for me, the story of that race was the unlikely dead heat by these two fine young ladies, each with their own unique story.

Here in Australia, there was a bit of bewilderment as to why this keeps happening to top swimmers.  It’s kind of become a “thing” in the last six years for Australia to produce the fastest swimmers in the world and then at the Olympics they just implode.

Campbell’s coach pretty much called it straight away, she choked.  The pressure of the big moment caused her to flinch.  The lofty expectations she’d set for herself, the pressure placed on her by those around her came to a crushing head as she sat in the warm-up room with her tracksuit on, got out to poolside and stepped on the blocks.  She had already lost before she’d even dove into the water.

That’s a tough thing for anyone to have to deal with, but she’s now 24 and the likelihood that she’s going to be able to push on for another four years to have another crack in the Olympics at that level is pretty unlikely.

She has the 50m freestyle coming up and I personally hope she gets herself a gold medal to get the monkey off her back.  Swimming is a tough sport, it’s isolated and lonely – you’re swimming hundreds of laps by yourself every single day for hours.  To come so close and fall short would have a lasting impact on you for a lifetime.

Now let’s turn that to business.  When you put in the effort to achieve a result, you’ve done the hard yards and you’ve had success before, failing can be hard to swallow.  Your expectations are rightfully high and the results just don’t meet them.

I’ve seen this more times than I care to count with people launching new products in their online business.  The person has a history of successful launches and they are gearing up for their next major release.  They dust off their trusty plan, they talk to their best partners, they line up webinars and they start seeding the launch with their customer list.

Everything worked before, they have a track record of success and then it is “go time”.

And it bombs.

Or worse in an instance like this, it’s decidedly unspectacular and by no measure would you call it a success.

Watching people go through that in their online business is seriously one of the hardest things you can ever experience.

It’s like watching stages of grief:

– They’re confused because things that should work aren’t working;
– Panic sets in as they start trying to fix “the problem” on the fly without really knowing the root cause of the issue;
– They then get angry that their hard work is not paying off and sometimes blame their affiliates and even their customers;
– At some point they start going through a wishful thinking phase where it will all come good soon enough when some event happens (someone emails or the cart close approaches);
– Eventually, this all leads to sadness because they know it’s not working out; and,
– Finally, there’s a state of acceptance when they realise it’s not what they had hoped for.

The trick though is what happens next?  Are you going to be like Cate Campbell and get ready for your next event to try and redeem yourself or are you going to wallow in self-pity and doubt?

Many years ago someone once told me that the difference between winners and losers is that winners win.  At the time I didn’t quite understand what they meant, it seemed obvious enough, but there was a subtlety to it that only dawned on me later as an adult.  Winners don’t necessarily win all the time, but they make winning their thing.  They win when it matters, they win consistently and even when they lose, they find a way to come back and win next time around – that’s because they are winners.

That’s why I’m looking forward to watching Cate Campbell swim the 50m freestyle – she’s a winner and while she’s had a devastating failure, her history suggests that she’ll get back in the water tomorrow with a purpose and be the winner that she is.

And that’s how you have to deal with setbacks and failures in business especially when your results fall well below expectations.  You shake it off, learn the lesson and go back out there with a focus on winning.

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