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“Pressure”…a bad word?

“I just feel so much.….pressure.  Pressure to be something great, to make all the right choices, to be perfect, and I can’t do it….I’m just me, I can’t live up to all that everyone wants me to be!”

The words fell out of her nineteen year old mouth as she shared her heart with me.  My heart, it sunk as I listened to what could have been a recording of my very own thoughts during different periods of my life.  And the “everyone” that she was referring to….I knew she meant me…which is all the worse. 

“Pressure” ran through my head as she spoke.  I recalled my college days, working so hard to “be” everything that I perceived every important person in my life expected me to be.  I intensely felt that pressure.  It motivated me, it scheduled my life, and it pushed me to my limit, then I stopped.  I stopped doing the things that I thought were “expected” of me even though it broke my heart as I imagined how I was deeply disappointing those that I most loved and respected.  I wanted them to be proud of me.

I thought that fulfilling all their dreams as a first-born child, first grandchild, oldest sister, best friend would make me feel worthy of love.  I thought that if I worked hard enough and showed them all that I was ok, regardless of my mistake that had brought tragedy and pain into all of our lives, then I could somehow prove to them that my life was worth their sacrifice.  But I couldn’t do it anymore.  Despite my worst fear, that I would never be fully loved for just me, I stepped back from the list of demands that I had created and the “pressure” that they had ensued.

All of these memories, thoughts and feelings whirled through my head as my baby sister released the “pressure” that has been building up in her.  My gut reaction was “I don’t want to be that pressure in her life.” My automatic thought was pressure=controlling. 

I heard myself say, “there’s no pressure, we just want you to be safe, to be you, we love you – before you ever make a ‘good or bad,’ ‘right or wrong,’ decision; before you ever do anything, you are loved, just as you are.” And that’s true.

I know I responded that way because I don’t want to be that adult.  You know, the controlling, manipulative, living life vicariously through the next generation, adult.  I never want her to see anything but love and safety when she thinks of me – yes, sometimes I do live in that make-believe world.

Then, I had to back peddle. 

Pressure is absolutely necessary in life.  Without the pressure of a string on one side and a sturdy stick on the other, a vine would never grown upwards – the fruit would rot on the ground.  The slightest pressure on a bit in a horse’s mouth gives the 1,500 pound animal a boundary, the pressure of a little leg on the horse’s side tells it to move forward.  The pressure of fingers against clay makes useful vessels.  Pressure causes coal to be turned into a diamond.  Pressure encourages growth, moves us forward, causes us to reach higher.  It comes in the forms of competition, pain, necessity, passion, inner drive and outer push. 

Obviously, there are types of pressure that are destructive, that crumble and break.  There is that self-seeking, controlling, abusive, and manipulative pressure that makes one cringe. That makes me want to run far away from the word and carry no identification with it.

I had to face reality though.  I do “pressure” my sister.  I remind her of the promises she has made. I remind her of the standard that she has invited into her life and that it entails.  I see her goals and I cheer her on to reach higher.  I encourage her to make wise choices, hard choices. I tell her that she is made for greatness and beam with pride as she proves me right every day.  “Pressure” looks a lot like love.

Do you know what?  When I stopped living according to the perceived expectations of my loved ones, nobody stopped loving me.  I’m sure I did (and still do) disappoint many, but they didn’t turn on me, they didn’t disown me, they let me be me. Those that I respected the most and that I was most worried about disappointing – they love me unconditionally and now I am certain of it. 

As I’ve pondered this word “pressure,” I recognize that today I choose a life with a measure of pressure.  Deadlines, goals, dreams, challenges, they are all a form of “pressure”– they help me to be the most that I can be, to have a fruitful life, to grow in love. So maybe “pressure” isn’t a bad word after all.

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