The Best Way To Deal With A High-Pressure Situation

A friend of mine got a flat tire on the way to the airport last week. It was a crisis, and she missed her flight.

I got a flat tire on the way to the airport several years ago. It was an inconvenience, and I made my flight.

What was the difference between the two incidents?


When I have an important flight, I get to the airport ridiculously early. My travel mantra is, “I’d rather be bored at the airport than panicked on the highway.” So I plan for the unexpected. Because if there’s one thing I know about the unexpected, it’s that you can expect it.

Tires go flat. Traffic jams happen. Roads close. The unexpected happens. My friend who missed her flight doesn’t plan for the unexpected. She says, “It only takes 20 minutes to get to the airport, so if I give myself a half hour, I’ll be fine.” And she’s right – if everything goes perfectly. Which it does… most of the time. But not last week, when the unexpected happened.

And that’s when, for her, a routine trip to the airport suddenly became a high-pressure situation.

In a sense, she created the high-pressure situation by not planning for the high-pressure situation. Planning is paramount because the best way to deal with a high-pressure situation is to avoid the high-pressure situation.

Let me say that again.

The best way to deal with a high-pressure situation is to avoid the it.

Look, some high-pressure situations are unavoidable. That’s just a part of leadership. But a surprising number of high-pressure situations can be avoided – or at least mitigated – by simply planning for them.

If you have an important presentation to give on Monday morning, don’t wait until Sunday night to start writing it. If you think the economy might fall, put some money into savings. If you think you might get a flat tire on the way to the airport, check your air pressure and tread regularly, and give yourself plenty of time, just in case. Because even if you have great tread, you might run over a nail.

Look, stuff happens. Sometimes nasty stuff. Like running over a nail and getting a flat tire. But if you get a flat tire because you didn’t properly maintain your tires – that’s on you. That’s a situation that could have been avoided.

If your boss comes to you and says, “Hey Kim, you know that presentation to the executive committee that I asked you to give two Mondays from now? Yeah, I’m gonna need to you give it at noon today instead,” that’s a legitimate high-pressure situation. But feeling pressure because you had two weeks to prepare and you procrastinated until the night before? That’s avoidable; that’s on you.