In sports, as in business, the weight of expectations can make or break you.
Ken Griffey Jr., enshrined yesterday in the Baseball Hall of Fame, was the top selection in the 1987 draft. He is now a baseball immortal. But the history of baseball is littered with high draft picks who've never materialized as stars at the major league level. If you read through a list of names of the other players selected first overall in the sport, you'll quickly see: It's no guarantee you become an all-star, or even a major leaguer.
Sometimes, the weight of expectations can crush a young player. Sometimes, pro teams err in their evaluations of young players. Perhaps twice a decade, a Griffey comes along who lives up to his top-overall billing.
The same is true in business: great expectations can haunt both the performance of your company as a whole and the individuals who work there. As Inc.com columnist John Jantsch points out, a customer's satisfaction often depends on your ability to meet or exceed your own initial estimates. Savvy entrepreneurs learn to under-promise and over-deliver.
Likewise, many an innovative entrepreneur has been let down by hiring a candidate with a gaudy MBA. The reason? Expectations. They thought an MBA from you-know-where would mean instant brilliance. Instead, it meant an employee with no idea about how to function amidst the uncertainty of life at a startup.
In sports, the equivalent of a prestigious MBA is an athlete's pedigree. And that pedigree can take many forms. You can be the son of a star athlete. You can be the top annual pick in your sport's draft. Griffey was both. So when he began his major league baseball career in 1989, expectations were sky-high. And Griffey surpassed them.
Still, it wasn't easy. For every Griffey or Barry Bonds who exceeds his father's success on the field, there's a son who does not. Hall of Fame enshrinees Yogi Berra, Tony Gwynn, and Tony Perez all had sons who played major league baseball. The sons were not as good as the fathers.
What's more, in Griffey's case, the father-son relationship wasn't always amiable. A 1992 Seattle Times story gives vivid details on Griffey's suicide attempt as a 17-year-old. Bob Finnigan writes:
At age 17, all he felt was hurt and confusion. "It seemed like everyone was yelling at me in baseball, then I came home and everyone was yelling at me there," Griffey recalled. "I got depressed. I got angry. I didn't want to live." So he took a step that too many take. He tried to take his life. In January 1988, Junior swallowed 277 aspirin, by his own count, and wound up in intensive care in Providence Hospital in Mount Airy, Ohio.
All these years later, at age 46, Griffey has reached the baseball pinnacle. And his suicide attempt stands as an example, even a warning, not to condemn teenagers who make rash, selfish decisions. They are just teenagers, and they feel pressure too.
Griffey told Finnigan: "Talk to people. Go another way. Don't kill yourself. It ain't worth it and I'm a great example. No matter how bad it seems at the time, work your way through it. Who knows how your life is going to turn out?"
For entrepreneurs, there are a two helpful takeaways here. The first is to develop skills for handling the pressure of expectations. Whether it's performing good works for others, meditating and exercising, or simply taking more breaks, you have to find ways to remove the stress from your mind.
The second is to reconsider expectations in a broader context. You'll excel at handling expectations--your own, your customers', and those you set for your employees--if you recognize an expectation for what it is: a future hope, not a present reality. Activities like meditation and exercise can help you appreciate the present moment and worry less about what anyone is expecting of you or your business. Remember: You're running a company. Even if you're not where you want to be, you're further than most people ever get. Savor it for what it is, and don't stress about what it's not.