It’s that time of the year again. The nail-biting, hand-wringing, buzzer-beating, stress-packed world of March Madness! We’ve seen just two rounds played, but I’m struck by the amount of pressure these “kids” endure when they step onto the court. The world is watching – the stakes are huge. While most people try to avoid stress, these kids wouldn’t trade it for the world!
The fact is – they get it. They understand they are lucky. Hundreds of programs work year-round for a chance to play in the tournament. They want to experience this gut-wrenching pressure. Crazy? No. They see it as an honor to be under all that stress. They realize that…
You see – when your job is pressure-packed – it’s a sign of success. Think of your company, I’ll bet it is the “A-Players” who end up with the biggest problems, most critical decisions and the responsibility to ‘win.’ Isn’t that what you want? If you get the pressure-filled job it is because you make winning shots. You separate yourself from the pack and perform!
If you have a pressure-filled job – good for you. If you still aspire – keep trying. This article is about handling the pressure when you’re responsible for the game-winning shot. The key is to enjoy the challenge of pressure-filled jobs, but keep the debilitating stress at bay.
Awareness – You need to see the bigger picture and broader context. Don’t get locked in or locked down too early (or at all). See all the moving parts in a larger, systemic picture and you find opportunity and options to advance. Keep your head on a swivel and take it all in.
Gratitude – Stay grateful and don’t forget to have fun. This is what you have worked for (and trained for). You’ve come a long way and finally have a challenging and dynamic role. Give thanks; remind yourself pressure is a privilege. If you can’t be grateful, maybe you’re not ready for the role.
Perspective – Maintain some relativity; your stress is rarely life or death. Don’t succumb to hyperbole or drama. Keep it in perspective to ensure your best thinking and behavior surface.
Preventative Maintenance – If you wait until stress is highest to learn to cope and relax, you are too late. You need to take care of yourself before the chaos – eating, sleeping, and exercise are the basics. Meditation is more advanced. Be proactive – like the airline teaches every flight – put your mask on before helping others.
Receptivity to Feedback – never stop being coached; practice every day; take timeouts to regroup; listen to others. While you may be the one to ‘take the last shot’ you still need input from those around you. You can’t carry the stress in isolation and expect to play your best game.
Manage the Pace – slow down the conversation. There are lots of detail and nuance if you engage and listen. Pressure doesn’t require speed. You don’t need to go fast to be effective. Play at the pace of your game to maximize impact. Ironically, if you go too fast – you lose ground.
Stay Strong – you must have courage. Yes, the stakes are high, but you can’t afford to choke. Play like you can afford to lose. Have the courage to risk and fail – ironically that’s when your best performance tends to break through. If you can’t accept a loss, you are apt to tighten up and choke. When you fail – learn from it and come back tomorrow smarter and stronger.
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll see both elation and heartbreak. Whatever happens to your bracket – take pause to admire their ability to handle the stress and perform.
The next time you feel the stress – remember pressure is a privilege. Pause, breath, smile – then go kick their ass!