As the world knows, Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics this past week. She was the face of the competition, the most decorated American gymnast and deemed to be the Greatest of All Time. To paraphrase, Biles said that preparing for the Olympics, while honoring her commitments, both to sponsors and the press contributed to her withdrawal.
Pressure is part and parcel of competition, especially at the Olympics which are held every four, or in this case, five years. But most of us feel anxiety when required to stand and deliver (a presentation) in front of an audience, especially when everything is on the line. And as you advance, the stakes get higher and so does the pressure, which comes from without and within.
The real danger is when we absorb others’ expectations and allow a cacophony of voices to rage within. For anyone who has been singled out and put on a pedestal, these expectations can cause everything from distraction and elevated cortisol levels, to anxiety, distress and even injuries.
How to cope? Expect
the pressure. Nothing worthwhile is a cakewalk, and speakers, as well as athletes must develop their mental as well as physical muscle.
Then, don’t believe reviews or social media. When David was a professional theatre actor, he never read reviews—good or bad. To spectators and armchair critics, today you’re a hero, tomorrow a villain. Develop your own critical acumen, so you know
if you accomplished your goal.
Biles said that she felt like she was “doing it for other people” and she withdrew for herself. We applaud that, but withdrawing isn’t an option for those who don’t have her resources or career opportunities. Michael Phelps has been very open about the pressures and mental health issues he experienced. But he focused on his goals and expectations, which allowed him to filter out the noise and excel.