It’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals. You’re down by one point and the clock is running out as you dribble the ball to the other half of the court.
Talk about pressure, right? What if you don’t sink the shot? What if you miss and everyone hates you? The media will spend at least two weeks talking about your failure and say that you don’t have the “clutch gene.”
Now imagine that you’re a surgeon and you’re performing open-heart surgery. You’ve been studying for this for years but you’ve only just stopped being a student.
There’s something different without the excuse of being a student at your disposal, isn’t there? Now you’re being called to succeed, but what if you don’t? Are you even a surgeon if you can’t save this person’s life?
These are some high-pressure moments and most people wouldn’t want them. Hell, some of us can’t even watch others in these moments. It’s too much. We don’t want the pressure either. We just want to know that when we open our eyes our team won the game and that the doctor saved our grandpa.
But what if I were to tell you that there are people who want the pressure? Not only do they want the pressure, they live for it, and that everything they do is for this moment.
Seems crazy, but it isn’t.
When we think about Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, these are two players who relish the challenge. You’re probably familiar with this Jordan quote: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
And here’s my favorite Kobe quote: “I realized that intimidation didn’t really exist if you’re in the right frame of mind.”
Ben Carson and his team of neurosurgeons were the first to successfully separate conjoined twins.
In his book Gifted Hands, Carson wrote, “Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them. And if you look at these obstacles as a containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next.”
What these men have achieved in their respective fields was legendary. And they are celebrated not just because they are talented. There are many great talented basketball players and surgeons. What made these men different was their willingness to embrace pressure.
Jordan took on the pressure, failed and succeeded. Kobe found it impossible to be intimidated because he simply changed his mind on how he viewed obstacles. Carson and his team would go on to perform more operations on conjoined twins but they did not always result in a happily ever after for the twins.
But they did what they had to do because they did not fear the pressure of failing. They welcomed it.
When it comes to what you want to do in life, you have to ask yourself, “What is the pressure I can welcome? What is the pressure that I want?”
Some people want to become a chef and fine-tune their recipes, skills and ingredients in order to provide the best-tasting meal possible. Others want to become artists and welcome the challenge of representing emotions pictorially, sonically or in word. Still others want to change the world, one policy at a time and they become politicians.
All of these things require a certain amount of skill but skill is developed by embracing pressure and difficulty. You can’t even be a good spouse if you don’t embrace the pressure of realizing that you have problems, your spouse has problems and that you need to learn how to love.
We think we want a cushy life with no challenges and smooth sailing. I’ve been there, done that, and it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
First of all, it’s boring. It’s like that gifted kid that was in your class that clearly had the smarts to do the work but just didn’t care to do it. He was bored and unstimulated, so he made his own work (and trouble).
Secondly, it can have adverse effects on your brain. Research has shown that workers who were challenged on the job and were learning new skills had stronger cognitive function. From personal experience, it felt like my brain was denser and more lethargic. My short term memory still hasn’t recovered.
Finally, when you get right down to it, it isn’t what you want to be doing. We play video games because there’s an element of difficulty. We go for hikes because it isn’t just a mere walk. We actually do want pressure! But we don’t want pressure for pressure’s sake. There are some pressures that we welcome.
And that is where we will thrive.
So ask yourself what pressure you actually like and find the career that matches that. Not only will it be a welcome challenge, the work might not even feel like work.