Ready for the Big Stage or Too Freaked Out? | Handling Pressure

A some point you’ll likely ask yourself: “Do I have what it takes to be really successful at what I do?”

Role models provide clues to the answer. Look hard at what they’ve achieve and you’ll see they were willing to put themselves “out there.”

Now ask yourself, “Can I handle it when all eyes are on me?” Your answer either makes your blood run cold or excites you. In either case, it’s time to get prepared.

Understanding the big stage                                                                                        

Many of us go merrily along in our careers as part of a work group or team. We do our part but always in the context of others.

If we want our careers to grow, we need to demonstrate our unique talents and leadership to a broader audience.

You know you’re on the big stage when you look around and realize, at that moment, you’re alone with all the responsibility to perform exceptionally. There’s no one to lean on, save the day, or absorb the consequences.

It’s up to you alone to deliver your best and deal with the outcome.

Examples of big stage performers are everywhere:

  • Singles tennis players facing an opponent across the net in front of 10,000 spectators, many of whom are not rooting for them; they’re on their own–no coach, no trainer, no teammate
  • Live TV news anchors who carry their programs, changing gears seamlessly as updates are communicated through their ear pieces; there’s no stopping to catch their breaths, no one to bail them out.
  • Keynote speakers who need show up and then hold the attention of diverse audiences while delivering a meaningful message; there’s no one to step in when it’s not going well
  • Surgeons who literally have the lives and/or future well-being of patients in their hands, while other medical professionals watch; all accountability for the outcome is on them

There’s a big stage in every profession whether you’re a teacher/trainer, attorney, dancer, project manager, business owner, sales executive, or community leader.

It can be a lonely place or an exhilarating one. If you want to rise, you need to be able to take the stage when called upon and handle the inevitable heat.

Preparing for your role

Only a fool willingly steps onto the big stage before s/he’s ready.

When it’s our turn for the spotlight, we need to be equipped to handle the pressure. Advanced preparation is essential. We need to hone our skills, make a plan, practice, and visualize what success looks like.

We also need to be ready for the unexpected.

So, take a readiness assessment by asking yourself, “While all eyes are on me, will be I able to:”

  • Deliver the goods
  • Switch gears when I need to
  • Deal with or ignore distractions
  • Be mentally tough enough to stay on track
  • Use humor to defuse or deflect a misstep or issue
  • Trust what I know and my ability to execute my skills
  • Take advantage of opportunities to hit a home run
  • Draw on the energy of the moment to maintain motivation

Then work on things that need strengthening.

It’s easy to get freaked out about the big stage. We let ourselves get paralyzed by the pressure and the irrational belief that we might fail in such a big way that our careers will be ruined.

Don’t let that be you. Winners avoid beating themselves.

Pressure is your friend.

It wakes up your brain and gives it something exciting to process.

If you don’t believe that think of all the people who have failed at one business only to succeed at another, lost one election and won a bigger one, finished out of the money in numerous golf tournaments and then won a championship.

If you don’t work to get on the big stage and take your place when it’s offered, you’ll have no chance of grabbing your brass ring. You must play to win.

Succumbing to the fear of failure invites failure. Learning how to contend with pressure on the big stage is the path to career success and a special pride in yourself. Let the show go on!

Photo from loop_oh via Flickr

Can You Handle the Heat? A Mental Toughness Test

Pressure tests our self-confidence and mental discipline.

Life is good on the job when predictable conditions give us a clear path for showcasing our talents. That’s when we’re convinced we have what it takes for our next step.

Unfortunately, the unpredictable is also predicable. Are you ready for it? Do you know how you’ll handle the heat?

Rings of fire 

No job is immune from surprises that test you. On any day and at any time, things can go up in smoke and your job will be to find your way through the flames.

Disruption emerges from:

  • Your boss and coworkers
  • Customers, clients, and vendors
  • Performance reports and financials
  • Software glitches and system failures
  • Policy and procedure errors
  • Communications breakdowns and stymied negotiations
  • New regulation and legal decisions
  • Marketplace competition and under-performing products

We can either crumble or rise to the occasion when things go wrong. In either case, everyone will be watching.

Gut it out 

Great models for developing mental toughness are athletes in individual sports, like golf and tennis. It’s always the player against the opponent and the conditions. To succeed, one will contend with adversity better than the other.

These athletes live by routines which become a kind of rhythm of play. It’s how they tap into muscle memory and keep their visualization patterns humming.

Golfers and tennis players are frequently disrupted by:

  • Weather delays, causing them to stop, wait, and restart
  • Crowd noise during play or reactions unsupportive of them
  • Persistent or sudden injuries
  • Excessive heat, cold, wind, or rain
  • Disrespect or gamesmanship from their opponents

There are hundreds of examples where certain athletes blow leads, implode, or even retire from play because disruptions overcome them.

Our mind can either weaken or strengthen us during adversity. We just need to know which one we want it to be when it’s our time to be challenged.

Assess your mental toughness 

When the heat’s on, how do you react? If you answer “yes” to any of the following, consider taking the next steps in parens.

  1. “I get stressed out and lose concentration when I’m told my project is due by noon instead of the end of the workday.” (Clear out all other distractions, defer other tasks, avoid interruptions, and focus only on the project.)
  2. “When my boss gives me negative feedback, I lose motivation.” (Think about the contributing factors in the feedback; develop and implement a plan to change what you’ve been doing.)
  3. “When I’m accountable for a team result, I micro-manage to avoid things going wrong.” (Stay away from the details, refocus on the big picture, provide support and cheerlead.)
  4. “In a conflict situation, I usually back off.” (Ask questions to understand the issue; request time to think about what you’ve heard; come to terms with your position; and set a time to meet again to resolve.)
  5. “If I make a mistake, I’m reluctant to try again.” (Learn from each mistake and commit to trying again as soon as possible. Ask for feedback. Work at the fix until you’ve mastered it.)
  6. “When a problem arises, I wait for a coworker or my boss to take the lead.” (Commit to taking the reins, especially when you have the expertise.)
  7. “If I get a poor rating on a performance factor, it takes me weeks to get over it.” (Reset your performance goal for that factor to meet expectations. Commit to immediate actions to turn the rating around.) 

Action is the marker 

Mental toughness is the outgrowth of committed action. It demonstrates your willingness to keep pressing forward, drawing on your capabilities, and being averse to quitting no matter how difficult the challenge.

You have to act to build and increase mental toughness. Each step you take increases your self-confidence and your business fitness.

Mental toughness builds on itself but it takes your efforts to get the ball rolling. Once you do, everyone will take notice and your career will benefit.

Photo from Ben Sutherland via Flickr