We all feel pressure from time to time. It’s butterflies in your tummy before a big meeting or that sinking feeling when confronted with adverse news. It’s the adrenalin rush before taking the mic or sleepless nights worrying about what the week entails. It’s feeling overwhelmed with all you have to do and wondering if you’ll ever fit it all in but knowing that you need to.
Pressure comes in various guises. Here’s why it’s a privilege.
“Pressure is a privilege” was said often by tennis legend Billie Jean King and has wisdom beyond its simple premise. With 39 Grand Slam titles, she was expected to win. People were counting on her. The weight of expectation might have crushed anyone else but not King. She knew pressure was her privilege and she rose to meet it.
“Usually if you have tremendous pressure, it’s because an opportunity comes along.” She remembers thinking about the phrase on Centre Court at Wimbledon, realising that she had been dreaming about this moment and feeling a lot of pressure. Even then, she could appreciate how incredible it was to be standing there. “Most of the time… if you really think about it… usually it’s a privilege.”
What’s the alternative?
No pressure, no expectations. No records to set, no award-worthy performance. No finding out what you might have been capable of. No chance to serve, no time to shine. The world needs leaders, and you could be one of them but instead you shy away and look for the easy road.
What’s the point if no one is counting on you? What’s the use in your gifts if you keep them to yourself? They’re only watching because they want to see what’s next. You have inspiring to do and problems to solve. And people to help. So step up and stop complaining. Pressure might crack an egg but it can also form a diamond. What are you made of?
What’s the worst that could happen?
So you fall over the hurdles or you can’t make it work. You lose the game or get overtaken. You pick yourself up. You find a new path. You come back stronger. You learn. They carry on doing their thing and you carry on doing yours. It’ll all be forgotten and will turn out just fine. Fallbacks are everywhere and it wouldn’t be so bad. They are plenty of people who don’t even try. So what if you fail?
You can always sit back and take it easy if you want; your choices are in your power.
The worst that could happen is the pressure is too much and you crack. Or you run away from everything and live an easy life somewhere rural. But even then, would it be so bad? Do your best and win or do your best and fail. Just don’t stop trying. Don’t let fear run the show and don’t let fear put you off entering.
Find the privilege
What’s the privilege you’re privy to? How have you earned the right to feel pressure? They’re expecting you to win because you’re the favourite. They know your work will be incredible because it has been before. They pre-book for your show because you don’t disappoint. They turn up at your door because you’re worth travelling for.
Having mouths to feed and bills to pay is an honour you have earned. Having to find answers, dream up great ideas or ship fantastic products is what you are here to do. Look ahead instead of inward. This isn’t about you.
Channel the feeling of pressure into the feeling of assurance. Feel deserving of the expectations and gratitude for the attention. The role is yours because you’re more than capable of doing the job.
Soldiers don’t cower away from battle; they step up and fight. It’s their chance to put their drills into action. Frontline healthcare workers take lives into their hands every day. They count on their training and do the right thing. Competitive athletes live for the platform. Leaders don’t avoid difficult conversations. Linchpin team members don’t shy away from doing the most important thing first. Pressure is a privilege.
In Billie Jean King’s words, find the “I-want-the-ball feeling”, not the “please double fault” feeling. “Give me the ball. Give me the problem to solve. Let’s figure this out. Let’s go.”