Works Well Under Pressure

Have you ever wanted to ditch your life and go on a whirlwind adventure that lasts a lifetime? (Boy, that sounded like some lame plug to a travel blog.) But if lots of people feel this way, why don’t we? I’m one of those people that works well under pressure. And considering that’s a pretty common phrase, I’d assume that there are many, many others who also work well under pressure. I was giving it some thought, what exactly does working well under pressure mean. For me, it means that I step up when it matters, when I have to.

But on the other hand, I have a lot of social anxiety when I feel pressured by other people to perform in a certain way – did I say something stupid, why are they all looking at me, am I being left out – etc. Fairly benign things, but I have the habit of taking them to their extremes and internalizing everything to the point of curl-in-a-ball, cry on a sunny afternoon, bouts of depression. Oh, turns out that there might actually be a reason why people suffer from depression, and it’s fairly positive. Check out the Times article, Depression’s Upside: Is there an evolutionary purpose to feeling really sad? It says in the article that Darwin actually suffered from terrible mental health and he was so perplexed by it, because his most important scientific findings and theories support the notion that his depression makes him a weak-link in evolution or a freakish anomaly. This is reassuring for some reason. But I digress…

So, if depression helps people fixate and analyze things better, and if I work well under pressure, wouldn’t the most logical thing be for me to throw caution to the wind and just go for the adventure? Because survival in some form or another will kick in? Plus, what adds more pressure to your life than your money running out, having to scrounge for food and needing to find shelter? Now you might wonder, hey, this is just a one-way stop to homelessness. Don’t you see all those homeless people living out on the streets? Well, yes I see them. But I’m under the impression that most homeless people end up that way because they’re seriously mentally ill or have other issues. I realize that I’m coming from a place of privilege and that I have the resources (I have skills so I could work if need be, I have parents who would help if need be, etc.) to avoid ending up completely lost. …Would knowing that I have these resources/back-up-plans make me feel any less pressured? Probably. …Maybe this is just an unachievable human desire…

My other thought was that people should go on these non-stop adventures on the premise that they’d kill themselves when they stop. Talk about pressure! And it doesn’t have to be some road-to-hell, drugs-sex-alcohol, craziness a la Hunter Thompson. You could actually go out and make a real difference. What if your adventure was to help every person who ever asked you for help. And when people stopped asking or when you had no more to give, bang. Off with your head. I think I just have the desire to see what I’m capable of. But that’s the problem with life. Life itself doesn’t pressure an individual person. Pressure is just a construction by other people put onto you. So, it’s like I know I’m not achieving all I can, because there’s no pressure. Hence, my thinking on the off with your head bit. And the whole, you could get hit by a bus, so live every day like it’s your last, is too hyperbolic for me. I want to sign a contract or something (in blood of course.) Anyway…

I saw Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of Half the Sky–this amazing book that basically posits that gender inequity will be the global initiative of the 21st century, speak today. She talked about many of the stories from the book, but she also offered a Hawaiian parable. Often when talking about changing the world, people feel overwhelmed and think how can I make a difference, what can I do, it’s too big for me to solve, etc. But she said this:

There’s a boy walking along the beach. There are hundreds of starfish on the beach, just hundreds, completely covered. And he walks along and every few steps, he bends over and picks one up and tosses it back into the ocean. And he keeps doing this. He’s thrown in maybe five starfish, when an older man passes by him. The old man says, Child, what are you doing?! You’ll never make a difference, look around, there are too many starfish. And the boy bends down and picks up a starfish and throws into the ocean. And the boy says, I sure made a difference to that one.

The meaning of life might just be throwing a starfish into the ocean.

For more on Half The Sky, which if you only read one book this year – it should be that one, visit their website: Half The Sky Movement.

Works Well Under Pressure

2 thoughts on “Works Well Under Pressure

  1. I think that true achievers are individuals who work well under pressure, It is finding the balance between the pressure of achievement and the need to refuel the physical form. A few years back I had been working 16 hour days for about 6 weeks. I saw dozens of clients with terminal cancers, children with leukemia, schizophrenics who were violent. I worked hard to heal, to help people die with dignity, to assist parents in letting their children die without fear. It was overwhelming. When I was done with helping as many as I could, I crashed…depression set in and my mind was a marshmellow. I packed my suitcase, drove to the airport, parked in economy parking and walked into the airport. With passport in hand, I sat and looked at all of the departure flights and looked specifically at where I could go without a visa. After an hour I chose, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Brasil. I spent an entire month parked on the side of the road speaking with strangers, farmers coming in from the fields, children fishing off the bluffs. It was wonderful and refreshing. What i realized was that I was as beneficial in my ‘down’ time as i was in my work mode. I realized that every single person assisted in my growth as a human being. If we are truly here to serve, then its awesome when we can remember how much others serve us in the same way. Just a little reflection.

    1. heather van de mark says:

      Wow that’s so amazing. I believe the idea that every person we encounter is here to change me in some way, but I just haven’t found a way to practice that. To really integrate it into the way I live and interpret the world. It’s easier than it should be to brush off another person.

      Were you nervous when you made the decision to go to the airport? Or did you feel like you had nothing to lose, only something to gain? I’m terrible at making big decisions like that. I fret over them so long. And I don’t know why, all considering whenever I’ve trusted my instincts or chosen a direction, I’ve always been okay. Not that every moment was sunshine, but choosing the tough decision didn’t collapse my whole world either. Everything has always turned out fine. I feel like I should trust myself more. Who better to make the decisions in my life than me? I guess part of it is the fear of disappointing or alienating others. When do you think you learned to trust yourself? To follow your instincts, that you know what you need best and most?

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