Many Professional Women Wrestle with Expectation Anxiety

It takes tremendous courage to perform well, even when you are scared. For professional women, this can be especially difficult.

Sergeant Lorain Prevaux served in the Iraq war under General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. When the General retired, Lorain was one of two people invited to address him in an event held in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and broadcast around the world.

She was terrified and admitted that none of her close encounters in the military created as much stress for her as the assignment to thank the General in one single minute. But she rose to the occasion, saying in part, “Your courage showed us how to be courageous. Your integrity inspired ours. You are our commander, our hero and our friend, when we stand and salute you; we are not only saluting the uniform, but the very special man who wears it.”

Schwarzkopf’s eyes filled with tears and after Lorain stepped from the platform, he ignored military protocol and embraced her. A big tear ran down the General’s cheek.

Despite the magnitude of this assignment and its importance to her, Lorain had a significant advantage versus many women who experience expectation anxiety. Her pressure revolved around a very specific, standalone task. As such, she was able to focus all her energy on a single moment at a specific time. The expectations were clear; her audience was well-defined.

But on a day-to-day basis, women face far more complex and intertwined challenges. We face often-conflicting expectations, some of them internally generated, that have the potential to create a situation in which it feels like you just can’t win.

There is no quick fix to this situation. But the more clarity you create on what is really expected, the better able you will be to channel your energies and produce results that make you proud.

Just as Lorain could not remove the pressures she felt, you will not be able to deliver on ambitious goals without feeling the heat. But the more you can be specific about what “success” means, the better you will be able to separate unrealistic, overly-perfectionist goals from what it really takes for you to exceed expectations in a sustainable manner.

Success is not being perfect. It is not being all things to all people. You need to define exactly what it means to you. In doing so, you will be able to set reasonable expectations for yourself and even celebrate your successes.