Pressure. Rock legend Billy Joel sang about it. You’ve likely heard his song, aptly titled “Pressure,” that encapsulates the weight of expectation bearing down you. He’s not the only one penning lyrics on the subject.

Why is this such a meaty topic for songwriters? That’s an easy one. It’s something we can all relate to: Stress is universal. Feeling pressure to succeed at something(s) is a timeless human condition. The question is, other than singing about it, what can we do to manage it?

Set Expectations

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To quote Billy Joel’s tune, “You have to learn to pace yourself. . .You’re just like everybody else.” It can be easy to let the pressure to succeed spiral out of control. We set the bar high and we make the timeline to clear that bar too short.

Billy Joel didn’t sit down at a piano one day and knock out a hit. He began taking lessons at the age of 4. He dropped out of high school determined to make music his career and his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, was released in 1971. It was hardly a commercial success. Billy Joel spent the next year working as a lounge pianist in LA using the name Bill Martin. One thing led to another (You can read his full bio here: Billy Joel), and 1973 became a turning point for Joel with the release of the Piano Man album that included hits like “Piano Man” and “Captain Jack.” The lesson for you is this: success takes work. It takes practice. It takes careful planning and realistic timeframes. No one is an overnight success. Not even rock legends.

Be Prepared to Fail

There will be Piano Man caliber projects you produce, and there will be an occasional Cold Spring Harbor. Failure is just part of life. We all experience it at some point. It’s disappointing. We don’t like enduring it. Yet, each misstep gives us the chance to grow and learn. It gives us the tools to get further along the way to success the next time – either in a similar project or a completely new venture. Enter your project knowing that you might fail and if you do, you’ll survive it. In fact, you’ll be stronger and better prepared for the next opportunity. Knowing it’s okay if you don’t knock this one out of the park can ease the pressure you’re putting on yourself.

Narrow Your Field of Vision

Odds are that this big, scary thing you’ve undertaken has a lot of moving parts. Don’t focus on the final step. Worry about where you are right now. Yes, make your plan. Know where you’re going and what you have to do to get there. When you start working, however, focus on the here and now. Feeling overwhelmed about completing your MBA? Sure, that’s understandable. But let’s not worry about that right now. Today, just focus on getting through the homework assigned by your economics professor. Tomorrow you can give attention to that project your marketing class is working on together. One day at a time is easier to handle.

Adjust Your Focus

We tend to worry over the things we can’t control. “What if they don’t like it? What if I push back and it offends someone? What if…” Even if you did everything right, someone might not like it. Even if your input is appropriate and accurate, someone might take offense. You can make a task list and then someone tosses you a curve ball part way through the process that skews your original plans. You can’t control these things. Focus on what you can control.   

Belt It Out

When all else fails, hit pause and give yourself a little space to let the tension ease off your shoulders. Sometimes you need to step back from conquering the world and just enjoy the simple things like dipping your toes in the ocean or sipping a nice cup of coffee while you binge-watch some guilty pleasure. All that stuff on your plate will be there when you’re done. When you’re ready to return your focus to your work, pump up the volume on your favorite stress-reducing tune and belt it out, go for a jog, toss paint on a canvas. Do whatever it is that gets your blood pumping and the positive feelings flowing. Then dive in with renewed confidence, knowing that no matter what, it’s going to be okay. You’ve got this.