After a decade of coaching ambitious women who are interested in advancing their careers, I have noticed a common theme. Many of my clients consistently beat themselves up with the unrealistic expectations they have created for themselves. Granted, most women who work with me are serious about reaching their full potential and capitalizing on their talent, but they are unaware of how they set themselves up for failure by developing unattainable goals and then using their inability to reach those goals to spin negative self-talk.

unrealistic expectations


Ambition breeds a certain amount of discontent with the status quo. With ambition comes the desire to reach higher goals. Those of us who have ambition strive to move our careers forward, take on more responsibility, get promotions and raises, open new businesses, etc. In order to succeed we need to have the grit and determination to stay focused on achieving certain milestones along the way. This is healthy and positive. We adjust our desired goals along the way and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone to be successful.

But what happens when we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves? There’s an important difference between a stretch goal and an unrealistic one, especially when we have the tendency to berate ourselves for never reaching our objectives.

I had a coaching session last week with a client who, by all outward appearances, is extremely successful. She is the COO of a healthcare company. Hired just four months ago from outside the company for her business savvy and management expertise, she has already had a positive impact on the leadership team, the company culture, and strategy of the organization. When I pointed this out to her, her response was troubling. ‘Yes, but I should be out more meeting customers.’ Her statement dismissed what she has already achieved. Certainly, meeting more of her customers is important but it is an unrealistic expectation given the work she has had to do inside the company. And by the way, this statement comes on the heels of many comments where she has knocked herself down because she thinks she should be further along with her career by now. See a pattern here?

What we don’t realize when we create unrealistic expectations for ourselves is that we are not setting goals that will help us realize our ambition. To the contrary. We are setting ourselves up to fail by distracting ourselves from our work, and giving power and energy to negative self-talk; a dialogue that undermines our success.

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