I’ve learned to play three sports since turning 40 years old. It’s not that I was playing these sports for the first time. It’s that I was actually putting effort into learning the sport, it’s demands on the body, and the skill sets required to actually play the sport to some level of competency. I probably couldn’t have picked better sports for making me look absolutely foolish.
Hockey was the first venture. Let me tell you what it’s like to have an 8 year old skate circles around you. Humbling to say the least. It surely made me question my athletic ability. But I worked hard at it, hitting up to three morning skates a week before work.
After months of consistent effort, the smirking glances that came my way all but went away. Will you see me posting about my beer league glory on social media anytime soon? Probably not. But that wasn’t the goal so I’m cool with it.
Tennis was the next sport I figured I’d learn. At least with hockey I could rationalize the fact that I was learning to skate and that is what made me look so silly most of the time. Tennis left me no such excuse. I wasn’t learning to change direction for the first time. Swinging an object at a ball to hit a target wasn’t so new either.
But let me tell you something about tennis in case you’ve never gave it a real shot; if you don’t “know the game” then you are going to spend a lot of time getting turned around or eaten up by shots. I sure did. I actually had a decent serve which I attribute to my years of being a pitcher in baseball and knowing how to throw a football.
You’re not going to see me hoisting any league trophies over my head. Probably not ever. But that wasn’t the goal so I’m cool with it.
Late last summer I had the opportunity to play a lot of golf. It was nice to get outside and enjoy an activity with friends. A couple rounds lead to a deeper and deeper interest in learning to actually learn the sport. To that point, I was a 2-or-3-rounds-a-year player. My strategy in playing never rose above “grip it and rip it”.
Over the last 6 months I’ve learned how to swing a club. My shots are much more consistent. My misses are more predictable. Overall, I’m having a completely different experience playing than I ever had before and have managed to shave a bunch of strokes off my rounds.
With golf, I actually am going to put my hat in the ring for some competitive play. But, I’d say the chances of me hoisting any trophies this summer are slim to none. Even though that is the goal here, if I don’t I’m cool with it.
I was always hyper-competitive. I always wanted to win no matter what. So what makes all this “mediocrity” cool with me? I mean, being easy on myself was never a strong point so what gives?
It’s real easy to fall into the trap of setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.
Psychologists will tell us that we are full of ourselves way more than we would ever care to admit. And they’re right. It’s hard to accept not being fully competent with something we pour our hearts into no matter how unrealistic that expectations may be.
If you’ve ever played golf, you’ve probably seen some one lose their shit on the course. It’s a common scene; guy who plays maybe 10 times a year shanks a drive into the woods and then curses himself to the high heavens for sucking so bad.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods at his peak performance was missing over 50% of the fairways he was aiming for.
What if I asked you to perform a task 10 times. If you failed miserably at that task 6 or more times out of 10 you would probably consider yourself to be not so good at said task, yeah?
Ty Cobb had the best lifetime batting average in the history of baseball at .366. The best ever came in with a success rate of less than 4 times out of 10. Say what?!
Until I was 40 I put a lot of pressure on myself when it came to just about everything. When I opened my business I wanted it to be the biggest, most successful business IN THE WORLD. When I played golf, I wanted every shot to be perfect and anything less was a complete and utter failure.
A lot of that stemmed from the fact that I attached who I was to what I was doing. Each individual effort toward a goal was a direct reflection of whether or not I was worthy of walking this earth. I applied zero context to anything.
Here’s a truth; things are hard. Like really, really hard. Skating is hard. Being good at tennis is hard. Being good at golf is next to impossible if you know what needs to happen to be successful. Being a business owner is hard. But I never thought about those things much because I was too focused on me.
It’s difficult to improve on things when you’re always telling yourself that you’re not doing well. And that’s what we are doing when we compare ourselves to unrealistic expectations. We waste a whole ton of time focusing on how we let ourselves fall short at times when even the best in the world have their fair share of “failures”.
So what’s the difference? What makes the successful keep moving forward while the rest of the pack stays frustratingly spinning their wheels?
There’s a lot of ways you can make an effort to manage expectations. Here are two that I’m working on:
Viewing Everything Through Context
I heard this yesterday on a podcast and it worked for me so I thought I’d share.
My ideal cheeseburger is probably going to be a little messy to eat. I’m a fan of the double patty, plenty of condiments, all held together by a good bun. Steak houses usually have great burgers.
For me to get a great burger, I need time and ideal eating conditions or I’ll surely be wearing a good amount of that burger when all is said and done.
But what if I need a burger (you’ve all been there) and I don’t have time or ideal conditions? Is a steakhouse burger the best I can do?
There’s only one burger that will do when conditions are less than ideal and that’s none other than two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame bun. That’s right, McDonalds rules when you are short on time and absolutely have to have a cheeseburger (don’t lie, we’ve all been there).
And that’s the thing. More often than not conditions are less than ideal. So rather than wasting time thinking about what could or should have been, realize that for what is presented to you less-than-perfect is often the only productive option.
In the immortal words of Ted Lasso, “be a goldfish”. Accept your emotions, learn what you can, and then forget it ever happened. Move on!
We see the professional athletes we admire so much make “mistakes” all the time. They miss fairways, free throws, and extra points. So why do we allow ourselves to have full meltdowns when we make a misstep?
Reading Simon Sinek’s Infinite Game really helped me with this. If you haven’t read it, here’s the gist. There is no winning or losing in business. You’re either playing the game or your not and as long as you’re playing the game you have a chance at greatness. Foul ups are inevitable but they certainly don’t reflect on who you are or whether or not you’re successful. The only way to lose is to stop playing the game.
This isn’t a cry for participation trophies. I’m not giving you license to put anything less than your best effort into what you do. I just want you to not curse yourself to oblivion the next time you mess something up. Doing that doesn’t protect your image with others, it just keeps you from the ultimate “win” which is making the best of a situation and moving on.