Pressure is a Privilege

Billie jean kingI heard a great quote this week, “Pressure is a privilege.”

It just so happens to be the title of the book by tennis legend Billy Jean King.  I haven’t read the book, but the quote/title really got me thinking.  It seems particularly apropos in light of the winter Olympics currently going on in Sochi.

Billy Jean King was certainly well acquainted with pressure.  She won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles, 16 women’s doubles, and 11 mixed doubles titles. She was a member of the victorious United States team in seven Federation Cups and nine Wightman Cups.

King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. The Fed Cup Award of Excellence was presented to her in 2010. In 1972, she was the joint winner, with John Wooden, of the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award, and in 1975 was one of the Time Persons of the Year. King has also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was given the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the year lifetime achievement award.

Notwithstanding any of this, she may best be known by the masses as the woman who beat male chauvinist tennis player Bobby Riggs in the 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match.  So, I have no doubt that Billy Jean was familiar with a level of pressure that many of us will never be able to comprehend.

However, each of us has to deal with various degrees and types of pressure on a daily basis.  We often look at the pressure under which we must perform as being a burden – something from which we would like to be freed.  Pressure isn’t exactly something we all want more of in our lives.  King’s sentiments on pressure have caused me to question my perception of pressure and my natural propensity to be free from it.

Pressure is a privilege because it means there is something expected of you.  If you are experiencing some sort of pressure, from clients, suppliers, employees, your employer, family, friends, your spouse, children, neighbours, teachers, mentors, coaches, or from anyone, there is a high likelihood it is because there is an expectation of you to ‘perform’ – to take some kind of action producing an anticipated outcome.

Sure, there are some expectations that are unrealistic, or perhaps the time frame is unrealistic, but many of the pressures put on us are simply the reality of carrying responsibility.  Pressure is the privilege of being responsible, of carrying responsibility, or previously proving to others that we have what it takes to come through for them.  And, oftentimes, pressure is what we need to achieve our greatest results.

A scenario where you are free from any and all pressure will probably not enable you to produce your greatest results.  Likewise, a scenario where you are overwhelmed by a crushing degree of pressure will not enable you to be your best.  Each of us has a different capacity for handling pressure so we are all motivated by differing degrees of it.  We all share one reality though; there is a certain degree of pressure that does cause us to perform at a higher level than if we were left to our own devices.

If you have ever had the privilege of being coached in a sport by a good coach, or mentoring in your work by a wise leader, you know that they enable and empower you to grow in your abilities by creating pressure-filled scenarios.  We can often be surprised by what we accomplish when pushed beyond what we think we are capable of accomplishing – that’s pressure.  Olympians are keenly aware of this.  We have all watched as some break under the pressure of the Olympics, while others step into a new level of greatness.

Regardless of who we are and what we do, let’s shift our perspective on pressure from being something from which we want to be freed, to a gift enabling us to be better.  Pressure is an indication we have others depending on us to be the best we can be.  And, they are doing so because we have previously proven we have what it takes.

Yes, pressure is a privilege – let’s be grateful for it.

Leading and Living on Purpose.