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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Under Pressure

By Silvia Uribe

Old Faithful
For most, pressure is an unpleasant sensation; something to avoid at all cost. Many, are sold on the idea that we can live our lives without pressure, be freed up and feel the liberating sensation from the stress that pressure brings along, as well as from the illnesses that derive from it. Magically, they tell us, once we have accomplished this, our life will be closer to perfect. But is this true or is it just an imaginary state, much as the "simply perfect" place described in Thomas More's Utopia?

Pressure starts from the time we're babies. When we're learning how to walk, for instance, we fall; we get ourselves up time and time again, just to fall back on our butts, and then we start all over, until one day we're able to walk. Our life continues pretty much in the same way; we pressure ourselves by trying new things, failing, and trying again until we master that new skill, or a new ability, or until we accomplish a new goal. Pressure is innate to human kind.

As we grow up, we learn the ropes. We know that if we apply ourselves and are willing to repeat things enough times, we can be successful in the end, and success is sweet. It makes us feel good, accomplished, even admired. That's how we build our self-esteem, and how, when we have an inevitable defeat, we can bounce back rather quickly.

Depending on the size of our ambitions, we continue trying new things until we achieve each goal. Those who work well under pressure are the ones who, instead of avoiding it, adapt to it faster.

Life is pressure, and we seem to be wired for and well equipped to not only manage pressures, but to use them as a tool for our personal growth.

But, is it possible or even good for us to pursue the idea of not having pressure in our lives? If we are financially well off, that's great, one less concern. But much like anybody else, we cannot get away from other pressures: health issues, family responsibilities, and work or the lack thereof, or simply trying to move ahead in life.

Instead of adapting, we could avoid pressures at all cost and teach our children to do the same. We could decide not to take on any challenges, not to pursue any dreams, not to have the responsibility of a family and, since we have to make a living, choose to have a job that is not too demanding, and if it becomes so, leave it and go somewhere else. Basically, we could follow what I call the, "law of the least effort".

But then, it would seem, our life would never be complete; we would be silent, stand-by witnesses of our own story. We would take all our power away from ourselves and be like the leaves of a tree, going wherever the wind may take us, with no direction or particular purpose.

In the USA, the reality of life is different than in most other places. In Latin America, for instance, people are exposed to very difficult circumstances at a very young age: they don't have enough food to eat, or a welfare system in place to meet their most basic needs. Parents have no opportunities, and they cannot appropriately provide for their children. Nevertheless, most people can still function normally because they're capable of dealing with those pressures.

Thankfully, most of us here don't have to deal with extreme circumstances. Yet as parents, we think we do a favor to our children when we over-protect them so that they don't have to face challenges. But, is this really helping them, or are we raising them as socially handicapped persons who are not prepared to deal with life struggles?

Look around. Our youth today is plagued with quitters who are so passive that they have no desire or instinct to fight for what's worthwhile. "Having a girlfriend is too much pressure", Mike, my 19-year-old neighbor, told me last summer. "…if I have one, I need money; girls are high maintenance. I don't want to work, jobs are too demanding. What's wrong with staying home playing computer games?"

Mike is not an isolated case. Many young people grow as dreamless individuals who cannot visualize themselves in the future and get depressed because they have no motivation in life.

No one wants that for their child. That's why it would make more sense for us to sharpen our children's innate abilities to adapt to, and deal with, the pressures that come their way; to give them trouble-shooting, decision making, and coping skills by allowing them to struggle (at least every now and then), instead of rescuing them time after time.

Frequently, life is tough, but it is rarely impossible. Those who adapt to life and its pressures have a much higher chance of success than those who avoid them. Being under pressure is not as bad as being under-living, under-achieving, and constantly under-estimating our capabilities.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

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