Pressure vs. Stress

Let’s be clear.  Pressure and stress are two completely different animals. 


The dictionary has several definitions for pressure, but this is my favorite:  “The exertion of force upon a surface by an object.”


Stress, though, is defined as:  “mental, emotional, or physical strain or tension”.


Stress takes a physical and emotional toll.  It makes your stomach hurt and your heart race.  Stress causes your brain to run wild with all kinds of horrible “what if’s”, all kinds of unspeakable possibilities.


Pressure is different.  Pressure is when you feel the weight and importance of what you’re doing.  When you’re under pressure, you acknowledge the potential good that can come from your work or your life.  You know it matters. 


Sometimes it matters a lot.


At the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, we help start and oversee CEO classes.  It’s a lot of pressure.  We’re working in more than 30 communities right now, spread across Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Missouri, in addition to talking with people in multiple other states.  Like any good startup, we’re creating much of this on the fly.  Our work centers on experiential learning.  It’s the most powerful kind of learning, but it’s not new-we certainly didn’t invent it.  Our model, though, is very different than school, and that means we’re navigating all kinds of new waters every day.


We’re wrestling with all the challenges that come with explosive growth and grappling with maintaining the culture and quality that makes CEO the remarkable learning experience it is.   We’re learning every day, both things that work and things that don’t, and we’re pulling together a dizzying array of resources to make sure we deliver the promise of CEO.


It’s a lot of pressure, because if we’re right, we may just revolutionize the way schools work.  Whew. 


It’s not stressful, though.


Stress is bad.  It makes you hyper aware of your weaknesses.  It exposes your darkest fears.  Stress causes you to focus primarily on the negative, on the things you don’t know, things that don’t go well, and that builds fear and worry until you just freeze in place.  You start looking for ways out of your situation, and there’s very little likelihood any of those ways will lead to success.


When you fit what you do, though, pressure is welcome.  It’s good.  It focuses your energy as you exert your force on the problem or challenge at hand.  It’s welcome, because you know it brings out the best in you.  It’s invigorating, because you know the results of your work matter.  They matter to you, and they matter to others. 


We fit what we do.   How about you?