Since I’ve spent the last 4 days cheering and screaming at the Rio 2016 coverage (and I can only assume that you have too), I felt it appropriate to write this week’s post about the Olympic excitement that graces our TVs and our hearts every two years. During these days, one cannot avoid thinking about expectations, success, failure, and disappointment, as these are the emotions that we see strewn across the faces of young athletes worldwide for days on end… not to mention on our own.
In the spirit of Rio 2016, I wanted to take some time to write about these complicated emotions that are intricately linked to our mental health. A lot of the experiences that we see throughout the Olympic games, I believe, can boil down to the idea of expectations: what they truly are, how they manifest themselves, and how they impact our ability to succeed.
A few things come to mind when I think about expectations. I believe that we live our lives in a continuous state of evaluating whether or not we are meeting others’ expectations and if those around us are meeting ours. Which, at face value, is not a bad thing… it’s human nature. We are wired to please and we are programmed to evaluate ourselves and others against some sort of standard – some sort of bar that has been set. Where we often miss the mark, though, is the point where we are being measured against a bar that we either 1) did not set, 2) did not agree to, or 3) did not know existed.
Let’s dive into this a little deeper. Have you ever had a loved one who is upset with you? Of course. Have you ever had this occur when you had no idea why? Duh. When you asked your loved one what you did to upset them, have they ever said, “I can’t believe you don’t know what you did!” YEP. Just as an Olympic High-Jumper wouldn’t know if they had succeeded or failed if there were no bar to jump over, we cannot know how we have done if we don’t know what the expectation was at the outset. I’ve had countless conversations with teams where I hear this over and over: that someone disappointed another team member because they didn’t meet an expectation. When I dig into the issue, 9 times out of 10 it’s because the person who “failed” didn’t even know there was a bar that they needed to clear.
What’s happening here, at its core, is miscommunication. Think about doubles tennis – If I don’t know when my partner expects me to play up at the net or take a ball down the middle, I can’t help my team succeed. Similarly, in life, I cannot know what others need from me to help us succeed unless it has been expressed. And yes, of course, life would be much easier if everyone could anticipate what others needed from them, but that is nearly impossible to do 100% of the time. In order to build successful teams, partnerships, relationships, etc., we must know where the bar is so that we can do our best to jump over it every time. With the bar in sight, we can clearly understand when we haven’t soared to success and approach the failure proactively and productively.
Growing up as an athlete, I’ve always believed that sports are a microcosm of life. A neatly packaged, black and white depiction of human nature and how we interact with our world. In the world of sports, we see the finish line, we know the score, we know exactly what needs to be done to win. In life, unfortunately, it’s never that straightforward. What we can do, though, to make life a little more Olympic, is to help those around us by showing them where we’ve set the bar and what they can do to be a success rather than a disappointment. Furthermore, when they do miss the mark, we can do what we all do when an athlete doesn’t succeed: support, console and help get them back on their feet and keep moving forward.
Our mental health is often directly related to our impressions of how we are meeting, exceeding or falling short of expectations in every aspect of our lives. In the spirit of coming together and supporting our athletes across the world, let’s take a step back and look at how we are setting expectations and supporting those around us, in an effort to help everyone feel golden.
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.