How do you know if your setting yourself up for dissapointment?
June 17, 2011 2:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm pursuing my dream but have so much pressure that it's not even fun anymore. Is this normal, or am I being unrealistic and setting myself up for disappointment?

It's something I really want but when I'm there I get so anxious and stressed I don't even enjoy it. It's a very complicated and competitive field (auto racing) so I have a lot of fear/pressure about being able to and HAVING to perform. It just takes all the fun out of it. I get burnt out easily and start to hate the one thing I most enjoy. I read in a book about anxiety that if your only thinking about the outcome than you are being unrealistic and just setting yourself up for disappointment. Am I tense because i'm aiming so high?
I wish I could just have fun with it, but i'm often just too tense to do so. Or maybe i'm scared of failure/success or whatever else.
I was thought to believe and chase your dreams, but sometimes I wonder if i'm just being delusional and/or setting up goals that are impossible to reach. My general idea is to keep going at it, because despite all the stress, I got to know myself a lot better being under such intense frustration. So some good has come of it, but I would like to know if anyone has been in a similar situation and found a solution.

Not sure if i'm posting in the right section but thanks in advance!
posted by Jofecopa to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's kind of normal that something you love can become very intimidating and overwhelming once you set yourself under high pressure to perform.

For example, every time I have tried to turn a hobby into a job, I have ended up losing most of the joy I had in it. The expectations are higher (your own and other people's) and the risks of failure can be very scary.

There are a couple of options:
(1) you try to cut back the amount of risk and pressure involved. For example, if your racing is something you are counting on to earn money, try to build up your other sources of income so that you aren't so financially dependent on winning. If it is other people's expectations of you that scare you, try to balance your life out a bit so that other realms also become part of your identity - you won't have to worry that people will think YOU are a failure if you fail at a race, because they know you for other things (e.g. perhaps other hobbies, your job(s), your family relationships, community service, etc)
(2) you try to play mind games with yourself that help you feel less pressured. Tell yourself the racing is fun, that it's not important. Come up with plans for best and worst case scenarios. Imagine what your life would be like if you gave up the racing. Keep that scenario in mind. Every time you engage in the racing, remind yourself that you are CHOOSING this over the other life paths. That you can make a different choice any time you want.
(3) you give up the racing. Don't rule this out. But don't leap into it, either.
posted by lollusc at 2:28 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of top athletes (not everyone considers car racing a sport, but let's not derail) have coaches who help them with their mental/emotional conditioning in addition to the physical aspects. I have a friend who used to work with Jim Loehr, a sports psychologist who has written several books on the subject, including The New Toughness Training for Sports. I haven't read it so can't vouch one way or the other, but maybe invest the $10 and see if anything resonates?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:12 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

A lot of internal pressure, "this isn't fun anymore" problems can be mitigated by having someone who's enthusiastic about it as well to talk with, someone who can remind you about the things about whatever it is you're doing that you love. Obviously, you love racing or you wouldn't have decided to focus on it as a career. Try to keep in mind the stuff about it that you enjoy, whatever that may be (I don't know what kind of racing you're going for), and doing that is a lot easier when you have someone to talk to about racing, cars, or simply how cool it is that you're doing what you're doing.

It's easy to lose perspective and see the things that you love in the things that you do as commonplace, boring and not worthy of celebration, but come on, dude, you're racing cars. That already puts you way up on the "5 year old dream vocation" list. Just keep perspective about the things that you love and remind yourself how awesome it is that you can do something that most people could never attempt to do.
posted by Punkey at 5:07 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to excel at something, take the fun out of it. Its something that just has to get done. If you want to have "fun"...get a hobby, jack.

I couldn't disagree with this advice more, hal_c_on.

"Fun" is what is going to keep you at a task for longer than the rote practicing would do. "Fun" is what is going to sustain you when the odds are against you. You can't tell me that Bruce Springsteen and David Tennant aren't having fun doing what they excel at, can tell just by looking at them that they're having a god-damn blast. "Fun" is what brings diligence.

Not all steps towards a dream are going to be fun, i agree with that point, but...there should be some fun in it because that's how you know it's your passion.

OP: I have indeed experienced what you're feeling, and in my case it was cause enough for me to set things aside or change my game plan. In my case -- what I did when things stopped feeling fun was to examine exactly what was feeling un-fun, and whether there was anything I could do about that. With stage managing -- I realized that the sheer amount of work that job took was just too overwhelming for someone who also had a day job. But i haven't given it up entirely -- if I ever get a job offer at a time when I can take time off my day job, I will say yes. But until then...I'm not doing it.

When writing stopped feeling fun -- I examined the situation and figured out what specifically un-fun was what I was writing; I was taking all sorts of stupid drudgy jobs to try to get a freelance thing going, and the writing itself was fucking boring and paid for shit. So I'm back to a day job and writing the stuff I really want to write. I would examine what about your situation is making things not feel fun -- it sounds like your angst about losing is a big possibility -- and see if there is anything you can do about that particular detail. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:13 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've seen this play out in two different ways. My husband is a musician. After a while as a professional, he realised that his passion was being strangled by all the extraneous stuff: pr, marketing, incessant travel, lobbying for gigs, dealing with promoters and managers. He turned it into more of a hobby, writing music for theater productions, playing in his own cover band, odd jobbing. Because of his 'real' career, he isn't as good as he'd have been if he'd kept at it - no more session jobbing, for example - but he loves what he does. His hobby of photography, on the other hand, has become semi-professional. He takes pictures of musicians. ;)

The thing is, you have to love the nitty gritty details, the reality of the job. Or at least not hate them with as much of a passion as you love the subject. Or the potential outcome. With me, it was a passion for nature conservation. I couldn't do it professionally because I cared too much. So, there's that.
posted by likeso at 5:16 AM on June 17, 2011

Set some intermediate goals. If your goal is to win the Indy 500, and you don't break it down into smaller sub-goals, it will seem daunting. You'll work for years with no reward, because the only reward you've set up for yourself is still unattainable. So, set up a "goal map" of the steps required to get to where you want to be, and then work on the next goal. When you achieve it, celebrate and enjoy it.
posted by gjc at 5:46 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to excel at something, take the fun out of it. Its something that just has to get done.

This is real life.

There are gonna be "job-like" aspects to every dream. The key to success? Learning to love getting the shittiest parts down like a champ.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:58 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm with EmpressCallipygos. If you love the process, you will tend towards excellence.

Where things go sour is that most real world "I'm going to turn my passion into my job" situations tend to run headlong into a society that wants the product and couldn't give a shit about the process.

Also, the problem with goals in anything competitive is that you can do everything right, but still fail because the other guy got lucky or was just a little bit better than you. I've known people who were very good at what they did, but got to where they hated it because they kept getting edged out by other people who were equally good. That's a bad place to be because you start doing things with a small chance of a huge payoff, but are more likely to send you to the loser's bracket by round two. I think the term is "gambling for salvation".
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:14 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

OP: I know what you're talking about. I'm in a similar profession [performing/pressure/competition/big time and money investment to get you there].

Best advise I can give:

1) These are legit and common feelings
2) These are complex feelings
3) This kind of issue is not the best match ask metafilter (because there is no way you'll be able to sum them up, in all of there complexity, in a number of words that is efficient for us all to read and process).
4) I recommend seeing a therapist.

I'm new to therapy. I never considered seeing a therapist, and now have seen the light and am really benefitting from the help of a great therapist that is really helping me deal with my complex stuff that is similar to what you're considering.

These kinds of issues take a lot of processing. A lot of back and forth. You need to be sensitve with them and have someone you can talk with to help get to what's the most important prioritization to you. That's the only way to be fair with this sort of stuff.

This is kinda in the category of some of the biggest stuff you can go through. I'd put it up there with cancer, spouse issues, etc. It's worth taking seriously and not letting it get to become a monster.
posted by Murray M at 6:17 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Two mental games you might try:

I saw this on Askme somewhere, and it echoed what I've done at times, telling yourself: "oh well, I'm going to die in a year anyway." Something about mortality refocuses me away from bullshit fears and anxieties back onto my real goal and going after it more fearlessly. At that point, who cares if Famous Person didn't acknowledge me, I've got a year to live! I want to successfully _____.

Another option that helps me is to try to get into First Song mentality, like I'be never had success before, like there is no pressure on me, like nobody knows or expects anything from me. I do that by moving the goalposts and measuring sticks.
posted by salvia at 8:38 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

So wait. You're telling the OP to not do what I said...which is fine.

Then you tell him to do it like you did...but you ended up quitting?

Read again -- I quit one thing, but another thing I simply altered. But the takeaway was to figure out precisely what about his situation is making things un-fun, and addressing that specific thing. To wit -- if the extreme anxiety is making things un-fun, then perhaps addressing the anxiety is the way to go.

In other words, he has more than a choice between either "quitting" and "sucking it up because it's not supposed to be fun." Your advice was "it's not supposed to be fun, so quit whining," and that's just unnecessarily Calvinist.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for the answers, you have given me a lot of good stuff to think about!
posted by Jofecopa at 3:12 PM on July 10, 2011

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