What not To Do Under Pressure
In 2015 I moved from Canada as I was elected President of the Irish entity of a global student non-profit. Due to some failed audits in previous years, I started my new leadership role not only in debt to this global organisation but also unrecognised as a legitimate student organisation in Ireland.
Starting From Nothing
I had essentially no budget, nothing to start to with. I was tasked with growing the organisation to support all major Irish universities and I had convinced four other young people from around the world to come help me do it. The only thing that really stopped me from achieving this goal, was letting myself be pressured by people without any real authority or credible power over me.
I think the most important thing to remember in a very high-pressure environment is the realistic worst-case scenario. In this case, I believed the worst-case scenario was the closure of the Irish entity which would lead to thousands of potential Irish students missing out on the tremendous benefits the organisation had offered me when I worked for them in Canada.
Negative Cultural Narrative
In reality, that scenario was just a story someone else put in my head, it was never ‘real.’ The global organisation was never actually going to exit a market with as much potential as Ireland due to a relatively small debt from 5-10 years ago. While they would make a lot of in-company noise about it (due to a feeling of needing to follow very rigid rules to maintain cultural order), the threat was hollow ,and I should have just stayed away from anyone who was trying to get me to buy into this cultural narrative.
The real worst case scenario would be a lack of progress, but nobody would get hurt or be worse off overall for it. Worst-case we all walk away with extremely valuable career experience and a few stories. I found that reminding myself of the most realistic worst-case scenario relieves pressure and let me focus on taking the right decisions to be successful, rather than panic and make poor decisions by fighting off a doom-scenario that wasn’t real. I work in Sales Management now, which tends to be a high-pressure role (especially through this pandemic) and reminding myself that the worst-case scenario really isn’t all that scary is what gets me through the toughest days.
Pressure of impending doom also taught me how to focus on the core of this business. When confronted with the goal of expanding a business without any budget and literally starting in the negatives, you have to focus on what works fast. I felt that despite the situation, I still had to follow the blueprint on what our structure should look like. What I should have done, is look at our profitable programmes and have all hands-on-deck driving into achieving that specific goal. I should have allocated all resources to supporting that specific programme and made my peace with having to leave the other programmes behind for a year.
Unfortunately, I let emotions cloud my judgement, and again listened to outside influences who said, “you need the business to look like this exact model that works so successfully in other countries, otherwise you’ve failed”. That was wrong, we’ve since seen that this business can take different shapes and have different focus from region to region while retaining the core value and delivering that value to the relevant stakeholders.
I let too many voices get into my head. Taking on too many opinions had me second guessing my decisions too many times and is probably what led to a lot of inaction. If I had just focused on solving one problem and had the confidence to go all-in on it with a smaller team, I think I would have had a lot more success overall. Luckily, I’ve had the chance to confirm that theory later in my career, where I was tasked with growing a team from a standing start. This time around I constantly reminded myself of the worst-case scenario, tightened up my group of advisors and went all-in on diverting my resources towards one specific strategy at a time.
Decision Making and Actions
The most important thing to keep in mind when under immense pressure is that it will pass. How quickly it passes depends on decision making and actions, but no matter what it will eventually pass. I’ve felt before like I was drowning and had no road to victory, but that pressure was naturally relieved eventually. Through my first experience in Ireland, I’ve learned that decisive action and big-picture thinking will allow me to relieve this pressure much faster. Either way, eventually it will pass.
When the pandemic started, I began meditating every morning for 10 minutes using the ‘Calm’ app (Headspace is another popular one). I find daily meditation makes me feel as if I can “see through the fog” more easily. It only takes 10 minutes a day and reduces anxiety, stress and generally makes it easier for me to see the big picture in times of great pressure.