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Opinion piece by Lyn Mansour, CEO of KLM Empowered

We live and breathe it daily — at home, at work, individually, as businesses and as a society in a rapidly-transforming world where the future is not only uncertain but is most certainly up to us. We’ve been conditioned to believe that pressure is toxic: a weight to be feared as well as difficult — almost crushing — to carry. Yet, is that the truth? Can pressure be something not only positive but also necessary; as a catapult to our best, our most capable, and our most confident selves? And is our narrative regarding pressure the right story to be telling ourselves? Let’s chat “positive pressure”…

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The assumption that pressure is negative

So many of us are conditioned to believe that pressure is always negative: that it’s something to be avoided and feared, especially as it trips and short-circuits our overall wellbeing and sense of self. How many times have you answered the question: “How are you doing?” with “I’m under so much pressure!”? Too often. But do we understand what we’re saying? I believe that what we are expressing is an inability to cope and that this is inextricably linked to a feeling of being defeated. We’re losing. It’s a misperception of the human condition and our capability and we need to start changing the dialogue around it — right now.

How do you look at pressure?

For many, “positive pressure” may sound like an oxymoron, but I’ve started using it as a new lens on pressure so as to understand, and harness, its power. In the yin and yang of the greater scheme of life, there is a positive and a negative in everything we do. The task for ourselves is how we are able to look at pressure — which includes the circumstances, even the trauma, surrounding it — and be able to transform it to make it more positive in our lives. How do we do this? As a start, by asking ourselves: “Is this pressure catapulting me into something greater?” “Am I allowing this to take me further?” Most often, the answer will be an irrefutable yes.

The Olympic Games — as well as the culture of the Olympian athletes — speaks widely to this. We only have to look at the success of South African gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker to know what happens when we go for gold: we break records, we smash through our own limits, and we reach our full potential. Or fellow South African surfer Bianca Buitendag who was set to retire years ago, had a false-positive Covid test days before departing for Japan and on the final day of competition, missed not only one but two buses to the Olympic venue. And yet? “Every obstacle fuels the fire,” she said, with her silver medal in hand.

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Pressure as a driving force

Pressure is required to perform. It is often the ingredient to add driving force behind success. If we are able to see pressure as positive and place our focus on that — placing positivity on the circumstances and seeing them as something we can use to our best advantage — then we have every chance at success. Pressure invariably affects our mental wellbeing, our confidence and our ability to perform — and is a differentiator between whether we’re under or on top of it.

In my own experience as a business owner, I too have witnessed and felt the “monster” of these times, and during my 39 years of business it too weighs heavy on me, on all of us. But I made a choice – to either stare square on at the monster or allow it to wreak havoc in a business I have worked too hard to build. And so, I chose the former – and my team and I began to look not at the calamities of the times but at the potential and the prospect of bringing something new to market.

This decision catapulted KLM Empowered to introduce innovation and new integrated technologies through the Knowledge X-Change Centre of Digital Excellence which builds future-ready leadership and technology skills, making us robust towards change. It also brought us closer as a team, shooting for the same stars. It forced us to move out of our comfort zones and taught us the importance of evolution and agility.

For me, this was my own enactment of positive pressure, and the power of the human condition that resides within. Sometimes we have to embrace the discomfort and stare at the darkness for a little while to see the true pearls of opportunity that lurk beneath. Then most importantly, act on the opportunities and drive it hard. 

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