Pressure Is A Privilege

Who among us would consider pressure a privilege? Yet, that is precisely what one of the announcers said in the closing holes of a golf tournament.


The announcers were discussing the pressure that professional golfers experience in a closely-contested golf tournament when one of them said “that’s what we work for, why we practice until dark.” It was upon hearing that comment that another announcer said “pressure is a privilege.”

Pressure distinguished

It was within this context that I realized that there is a distinct difference between the pressure we pursue and pressure from external sources. The former is of our choosing. We’re following our passion. We want to challenge ourselves by competing against those with a similar passion and dedication to excellence. In this pursuit we experience the greatest learning when we fall short of our goal and the highest level of satisfaction when we outperform the best in our field.

Pressure from external sources is a different story. When we get pressure from others to make choices that don’t fit our values, to pursue careers that don’t interest us, to settle for less than what we desire, to take sides in others’ conflicts, to tolerate others’ inappropriate behavior, we certainly don’t feel that pressure is a privilege. Instead, we feel imposed upon and resent the pressure we’re experiencing.

Having distinguished the two primary sources of pressure, let’s look at the concept of privilege.


When I hear the word privilege I think of a right granted to someone by virtue of their birth or inherited wealth. I don’t think of privilege as having been earned. Yet, that is precisely what the announcer was saying when she said “Pressure is a privilege.” The pressure the pro golfers experience is earned. The right to enjoy both the learning available from competing with best and the joy when their efforts result in a win are theirs because they earned the right.

What does this mean for you?

For you

When you experience pressure, pause a moment. Ask yourself “Is this pressure of my choosing or is it coming from an external source?”

If it’s from your choosing, relish the fact that you’ve earned the right to this pressure. Remind yourself that your choice to pursue excellence affords you the greatest learning opportunities and the greatest joy each time you succeed. You’ll find that it’s much easier to handle the pressure when it’s of your own choosing…when you remind yourself of the advantages you’ll gain in challenging yourself to higher and higher levels of excellence.

When faced with external pressures, those that seek to get you to behave in ways that don’t fit your values and beliefs, realize that if you cave to the pressure you’ll invite similar pressure in the future. People who influence us to act contrary to our values and beliefs sense advantage and attempt to avail themselves of that advantage again and again in the future.

Here’s an example to illustrate this point. A friend of mine told me that her husband’s boss kept loading more and more work on him to the point that he was, at times, sleeping in his office in an attempt to meet his boss’s demands. Yet, the boss always left work at 5 p.m. The only reason that boss continued to add to her husband’s workload was that her husband failed to say no to his boss when his boss’s requests first became unreasonable. When under intense pressure we, at times, forget that we have a choice. When facing external pressure, pause and remind yourself that you always have a choice. Then choose wisely…choose to prevent future pressure from those who would take advantage of you.

For our kids

As you witness your kids feeling pressure in their pursuit of what interests them, share with them the announcer’s words “Pressure is a privilege.” Help them understand that pressure is an essential element of their pursuit of excellence. Let them know that it’s the pressure that accelerates the growth of their knowledge of what interests them and the sweetness of each accomplishment along the way.

If they’re feeling pressure from external sources, pressure to do things that they know aren’t right, remind them that if they cave to the pressure they’ll invite even more pressure from those parties in the future. People who feel that they have power over them will attempt to exert that power again and again and again. Then help them discover ways to deal with these external pressures so that they are equipped to do so on their own in the future.

Pressure is a privilege…when it’s of your choosing. Privilege is something each and every one of us can earn. It’s not limited to those of fortunate birth or inherited wealth.

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4 Responses

  1. Thad James

    This is an amazing post. I strive to bring on “chosen pressure” by pushing myself into new situations that will stretch my abilities. I won’t work with clients who insist on applying “external pressure” due to their lack of planning, lack of vision or lack of ability.

    Thanks for the great words.

    • dfurtwengler

      Thad, you’ve earned the privilege of being selective in whom you choose to take on as clients and whom to forgo by developing the reputation of being easy to work with. In other words, by relieving your client’s pressure you enable yourself to avoid external pressure. Thanks for sharing a very useful tip on how to apply this message in everyday interactions.

  2. Diana

    I heard this quote today for the first time and had similar processing/thoughts on it as you state here. I personally prefer “Pressure is a choice” rather than “Pressure is a privilege” but I understand how the latter can be motivating depending on the context. Thank you for this post.

    • dfurtwengler

      Diana, indeed, pressure is a choice. We choose pressure whenever we choose to elevate ourselves and our performance to a higher level. We also choose pressure when we nurture emotions like doubt, fear and anxiety. The former is healthy and essential for joyful living; the latter is unhealthy and deprives of the joy we could have experienced. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with our readers.

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