High anxiety from high expectations

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How do you feel when someone unexpectedly pressures you with high expectations?

For me, the emotions that well up in that stressful circumstance have varied widely. Years ago when I was getting started at this, I heard:

“Michael, we need you at the registration desk right away.”

The look in the conference organizer’s eyes was urgent. As we weaved through the hotel hallways, I’m wondering, “What could I have possibly done wrong?  I haven’t even presented yet.”

When we get there, I see a poised woman, stylishly dressed, lecturing the CEO of the conference company about something. He’s nodding furiously, and when I walk up, relief washes over his face, like “Phew, now I can hand her off to Michael.”

He begins: “She feels the conference hasn’t been up to her standards so far, and she’s thinking of cancelling her registration for your workshop tomorrow. Tell her how great it’s going to be and why she shouldn’t cancel.”

She jumps in: “Frankly this conference has been way too basic for me not a good use of my time and money. I’m already getting placements in places like the New York Times style section and the front page of USA Today. Am I going to learn anything from you I don’t already know?”

And she folds her arms and furrows her brow.

Fortunately for me, this all happened so fast I really didn’t have time to think about it. If I had, I would have balked – this was only the first year I’d been teaching this pitching workshop. I’d never had someone this vocally demanding in my groups. And I might have shirked the challenge by giving her an out. But I didn’t have time for any of that. So I just said the first thing that came to my mind:

“I don’t know, but I definitely want a shot. I’d love the challenge of working with someone with your experience and helping you get to the next level. Having you there will lift the experience for everyone.”

She nodded and her expression softened a bit. We exchanged some get-to-know-you pleasantries and she said she’d see me in the morning.

As she walked away, my gut tightened, I got a little dizzy, and I was like, “What have I gotten myself into?!” And I stressed out all night about how I was going to deliver. Ultimately, I chose to rely on my preparation and then sleep finally came.

To her credit, when the workshop began she stayed off her phone and laptop and really applied herself. At lunch she told me that within the first hour she’d learned two new angles for her clients she’d never thought of before.

Shortly after that, she founded a PR firm, and today it has 60+ employees in LA, Austin, and NYC. Many of them are reading this post, and they also know the stress that comes from her high expectations and the thrill that comes from meeting them 🙂

You know what’s cool about people putting high expectations on you? You tend to perform better than if they hadn’t. And then your trust in yourself grows, and then you welcome additional challenges and the rewards they bring.

Like this email I got last week from someone who referred a friend to my next workshop. He wrote, somewhat ominously:

“His agency is small, so that means he and his team member are making a big professional development investment in your workshop (no pressure).”

Now, he absolutely WAS trying to put pressure on me. But he didn’t need to. I know that even people from big shops are making a huge sacrifice to trust me with some of their precious time. At this point in my career I like it when people come to workshops with this attitude, because they’re going to work hard and apply themselves, and get better results because of it.

If that’s you, we’ve only got 9 spots left for Secrets of Media Relations Masters in NYC next month. If registrations continue at the current rate, it’ll sell out before Labor Day.

Here’s the page with all the details. If you register, send me an email with your high expectations 🙂

This article was originally published on Aug 24, 2017.