Under pressure? Flip your thinking


Image by YouTube.

Even those who aren’t big NASCAR fans were on the edge of their seats during the last 10 laps of the Watkins Glen International race. Winless Chase Elliott, son of NASCAR great Bill Elliott, was in the lead. The race was his 99th start in the NASCAR Cup series, and he was still looking for his first checkered flag.

Martin Truex, Jr., in the No. 78 car was right behind him. He was close. Too close. Not quite enough speed to overpower the No. 9 car. But enough speed to hang with him and wait. Wait for the slightest miscalculation from Elliott, a tiny flaw in judgment that can happen at top speeds on this winding road course, a high-pressure error that would crack open a window of opportunity to allow Truex to sail by and sink Elliott’s 99th attempt to win his first Cup race.

Life can be plenty difficult sometimes.

What was Elliott thinking during those final laps? It would be easy to curse the competition. To grumble about not being able to shake off Truex. To even allow negative thoughts to creep in of losing it just before the finish line.

Turns out he flipped it.

Not the car. His thinking.

Elliott had recently watched a video clip by Georgia coach, Kirby Smart. He talked about the enormous expectations of his football team. Last year, they played in the championship game and lost to Alabama in overtime. There is pressure for a repeat trip to that final and decisive game and this time, to come out the victor.

The coach quoted tennis legend, Billie Jean King, when he told his team that, “Pressure is a privilege.”

We tend to think too much in this world about how to remove stress and stressful expectations from our lives—that pressure is a burden.

But what if we thought differently about stress? And expectations? And pressure?

Elliott ended up winning that race. And in the post-race interview he said that pressure is a privilege.

The only reason he had pressure at that moment was because of where he was—a 22-year-old race car driver racing with the top professionals in his sport. His determination and skill set got him to the big league. It was a privilege to be among the elite. He embraced it, even though that privilege came with enormous pressure.

And he wouldn’t want it any other way. The alternative—having no stress or expectations—would not have led him to that moment. Pressure is part of accomplishing great things.

Very few are professional race car drivers, but many have pressures. Pressure to raise our kids well, to the best of our abilities, knowing that they truly are our future. Pressure to succeed in our job or our business because, at a minimum, it keeps a roof over our head and more so because we have goals we want to accomplish. Pressure in navigating the ebb and flow of personal and professional relationships.

Imagine if we had no stress or a life with no expectations placed upon us. At first, the idea of a non-stop vacation might sound pretty appealing. But after a while, we’d want more. We’d expect more. Otherwise, the days would float by in a meaningless way.

We can flip our thinking about pressure when we realize that our journey prepared us for the challenge at hand. Our life experiences build and lead us to pivotal moments, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. It means we’ve done a lot of things right to get there. And whether we win or lose, we’ll come out better for it—better prepared for the next challenge.

Then it clicks that pressure isn’t a burden, but instead a privilege.

One that we’ve earned.