I am a great believer in optimism and positive thinking. I include it in both my personal and professional life. Sometimes even to the extreme. And I’m guilty myself of having used those same expressions, especially with my friends. However, there’s a fine line to it. There is a lot of pressure nowadays to ‘be happy’ and to ‘be the best’. Lots of expressions initially designed to serve as an incentive, a motivation, are turning into unrealistic expectations and making people feel worse about themselves.
A world full of ‘the best’
Nobody – believe me – nobody (!) can be the best at all times, or even some of the time. We are all, generally, good at some things, not so good at others and, dare I say, terrible at many others. Not everybody was born to be a leader. Leadership is similar to personality: partly nature, partly nurture. A combination of genetics and opportunities. Some people are naturally more confident and upfront, some others feel much better in the background and with less exposure.
Contrary to general belief, real leadership is a very subtle, rare and complex skill. A job title doesn’t instantly give you that. And I’m yet to be convinced if you can even ‘train’ to become a leader. However, I see all sorts of people who feel they ‘must’ do better, stand out from the crowd, become a leader, be the best. How would we all possibly do that? And why? How would the world look like if all of us were ‘leaders’?
Companies are not made of CEOs. Ironically, lots of employees spend most of their career wishing to get to the top. The consequences can be catastrophic: feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and insecurity; feelings of letting others down and a sense that ‘you are not good enough’. Worse still is to think that what is going on in your career reflects and defines who you are. Because you are still not the boss, it must mean that you haven’t done well enough. This is too much pressure to bear.
The fragility of happiness
You only need to open any of your social media pages to read articles, quotes, posts begging you to be happy, whatever you are going through. ‘Oh just read this and you’ll be magically transformed’. Not only this creates unrealistic expectations, but a deep feeling of inadequacy. ‘Why am I the only one who is not happy?’ Well, the answer is simple: No, you are certainly not the only one.
Happiness isn’t that magic solution for everything. It is as light and temporary as that cloud you suddenly notice in the sky. It comes and goes, like any of other feelings we experience every day. Sometimes you realise you are in that state of happiness, you savour it, you want to hold on to it, but it goes. And many people fall into a loop: ‘I should be happy, and I’m sad because I am not feeling happy, so I’ll get even more unhappy about it’. If you don’t’ become aware of it, it can turn into a downhill spiral.
‘You can do it’. Can you really?
And the pressure goes on. I have liked the expression ‘You can do it’ for a long time. It gives a sense of power and strength, an idea that everything is possible if you go for it. I have used it myself in sports challenges or other issues I experienced in my life. But then what happens if you actually can’t? Will you run back into that cave of inadequacy and inferiority? Yes, lots of people do.
I hear tales about that frustration most days, at work and socially. People feel down because they failed at something others expect them to be able to do, to achieve, to be good at. Instead of accepting their individual limitations and capacities, giving themselves a tap on the back, lots of people end up losing confidence on their own abilities and never try again. Another downhill loop they risk getting into.
So what if you can’t do that? Will you be a lesser person for it? Will you be a total failure and will it be the end of the world?
How to deal with the pressure? How not to fall in those expectations traps?
Here are some reflections:
1- Focus on who you are. Who you truly are. Not on what is expected of you.
2- Ask yourself: Is this what ‘I’ really want? Or something I think others want from me?
3- Happiness is not somewhere far away, at the end of a very long road. Nor it is a constant in our lives. It’s ok not to be happy all the time.
4- Accept your limitations and capabilities. You’ll be brilliant at some things. And terrible at others. Fact.
5- Stop believing in all the perfection and successes you see in social media. It takes only 1 second to take a photo and a few minutes to write a post. You don’t know how the other person’s 24 hours are really like.
6- When you feel inadequate about something you think you should be doing, take a moment, pause. Look at yourself. Check if it’s something really yours, your own needs. Or if it’s something to please others.
7- Remember there’s no way to measure or compare happiness or how well you are doing. What is ‘the best’ after all? Who are the ‘real leaders’ around us anyway? How do you know the other person is ‘happier’ than you? Impossible.
8- Finally, and most importantly, it is possible to have a rich, meaningful and fulfilling life without being the leader, the boss, the best. Try it.