This story starts now, but it really started in the crummiest time of my life, when I was playing at being a victim. Pressure was scary — and I did everything I could to avoid finding myself feeling remotely pressured to do, say or be anything.
And, I was miserable — and really, really lonely.
The good thing about the story, is that it didn’t end there. I eventually learned to lean into the pressure and discovered something totally unexpected in that space that I had so long avoided — real, unadulterated joy. Pleasure, fun and even elation were sitting there waiting for me, when I stopped hiding from my gifts and, instead, started claiming them.
Thank you, Billie Jean King (via Serena Williams)
This summer, I had the opportunity to listen to Serena Williams speak about her pregnancy, her new efforts to end abuse and, of course, reflect on her success. What struck me the most about her talk was what she said about pressure. An insight that she borrowed from another tennis great — Billie Jean King. The success she enjoys today, she described has, invariably — but maybe not so obviously, resulted in another challenge. Championships, record-breaking and accolades have led to the unsexy side of fame — pressure. Most people don’t think about this. We look at these superstars, the record-breakers and the top of the charts, and we idolize them. But, at the top, pressure is at its highest, and more than we care to realize, this pressure hits a breaking point, and stars begin to fall.
Serena, in her authentic, giving way, explained that there, in the spotlight, the challenges that were as a result of being AWESOME, were a privilege that comes with that honor. Yes, being awesome, truly living and leaning into the world, comes with the distinct and not so savory opportunity to fail in the middle of the world. The pressure of making it, means whatever you do now, becomes something everyone is watching to see what happens next. Everyone knows you can’t be a champion forever. Your book won’t always be on the bestseller list, you’re record will be broken. And they want to see what you do under more pressure.
They want to see you when you fall.
This is a phenomena that is not likely to change. I was introduced to this in my AP English class my senior year, while reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: when Marlow laments about “the fascination of the abomination,” and it’s the reason the Interstate stalls when there’s a fender bender — because human beings are fascinated by the scary, the freakish and, the failures. It makes us feel safe, it props us up and allows us to feed the stories that have been allowing us to live in our comfort zones. It’s a protective layer, and — it’s holding us back from being better, great and awesome.
As a kid, I adored Drew Barrymore, and when her life became too much for her to handle, and it fell apart at the seams, the gossip, the rumors the “tsk tsk” from others as she fell from grace, were my first living example of this that I can remember — and my first realization that being a superstar was unforgiving, and even scary, because watching her life unfurl was devastating for me as a young kid. Why did everyone have to be so judgmental? Today, for me anyway, fascination of the abomination is the only answer that makes any sense.
Serena talked about the work it took to climb that mountain of success — to become a champion. Commitment to her purpose was always at the forefront of every action. Every day, she worked at her goal. And, as we all know, she got there. But for her, the story doesn’t end there. And that’s the purpose of this post.
Staying on the Mountain
If you’re like me, your goals are a little less audacious than winning Wimbledon, or becoming a superstar, but whatever your dreams, they are incredibly precious and important. We are all climbing our own mountain. But, what happens when we actually get to the top? The answer could be as simple as, “go find another mountain.” But the truth is, there’s a lot more to it than that. We have to find a way to stay on the mountain. And that, to me is what struck me the most with the statement Pressure is a Privilege.
Here I am, writing this, because I feel I have accomplished something. And, after all the work, I admit, I am a little tired. And, staying on the mountain is proving to be j
ust as much a challenge as getting here — maybe even more, because, now, I know that it wasn’t all for nothing. That there is something important happening, and instead of going through the motions to see if there’s anything to my dreams, I can see that there is. And, that’s even scarier than what I was feeling when I started this journey. But, pressure — this doubt, uncertainty, restlessness, and fear are all a privilege. This moment, right here, right now — this is when the story gets good. This is when you have to stay the course, and keep believing.
The Resistance is Getting Louder
Yesterday, I told someone that my biggest fear is that the success I have achieved so far has been a fluke. And, as I write that, I know it’s the resistance. Before, the message was different — “you can’t do it, you’re not good enough, this will never work.” And as hard as that was to overcome, this message is even louder, more menacing, more threatening, more gut-wrenching. Today, the resistance is screaming:
t’s all a ruse. You’re a fake. You haven’t done anything important. Nothing you’ve done actually matters at all, who do you think you’re fooling?”
And that, my friends, is what privilege is all about. Yes, as ugly as the resistance is, it’s going for that most vulnerable space, because it knows exactly where it is. And, because you have gained some traction, because you defied its power over you, you have to pull out your stronger game. You have to be ready to up the ante and level up. You have to get ready to start all over again.
Because, the alternative, is not the option you want — you didn’t work this hard for this long, to just climb back down the damn mountain, and walk away. Your work means something because it’s your work. Stay on the mountain, not only is it your right, and privilege. It’s now your responsibility. We need you to keep believing. Because we’re watching and we’re believing in you. And, that is the greatest privilege of all. Now, you are able to teach others and to lead by your example of faith, and overcoming the resistance, and proving that, yes, a person like you can.