Tag Archives: competition

Pressure: Time

stopwatchWhat puts more pressure on you: time constraints or achieving perfection?

Taking the definition I checked on Saturday into account, e.g. :

sense of stressful urgency caused by having too many demands on one’s time or resources:  he resigned due to pressure of work[COUNT NOUN]: the pressures of city life

I can confidently say that time constraints constantly interfere with my desire to achieve perfection.  You know how it is – the work project has to be delivered by a certain date, the daily business has to go on while you are faffing about with external contractors (they never speak your language, you’ve got to learn how to explain what you want/need in their terms instead of your own), you want everything done right, if it’s a web application that your clients must use, and you have to support them and use the backend on a daily basis, it had better be perfect. 

In order to achieve this you’ve also got to work with colleagues (is this going to meet the need, will you understand how to use it?), and the clients (is this going to meet your need? will you understand how to use it?) and so on.  I’m currently taking a course in project management at work, the running joke among the group is that it would all go perfectly and delivery would be on time if it wasn’t for the other people.  They just soak up so much time. And there are so many other responsibilities you have to meet outside this project, do they not understand?  Why won’t they just get on with it?  etc., etc., etc.

The solution to this is of course to allow time to plan your project, with all the stakeholders, before you ever get started. If it looks like the project won’t be delivered on time, it is acceptable to re-think the plan, revise your strategy and in some cases it’s even ok to scrap everything and start over.  So in general, while time constraints in this type of activity does cause me to feel under pressure, it’s bearable and manageable.

A situation where there isn’t much chance of finding a “get-out” clause is in competitive sport.  Most sports competitions are defined by achieving a certain goal within a certain time, or within the fastest time. My own experience of this was in individual fencing tournaments, which I briefly discussed in Pressure:  Strength.    In fencing, you have to give your all in increments of 3 minutes or less. In that time, you have to be able to read your opponent sufficiently to predict their intentions, ensure you don’t signal your own intentions, come up with a strategy to deal with their approach, and mislead them into making errors, follow the rules and, (especially if your coach is watching!) execute all the moves perfectly.  In this scenario, it’s all on you. Nobody can help you, and there is no-one else to blame.  If you lose (fail), your opponent is better than you (not an option) or you just didn’t do what you were supposed to do in the allotted time, e.g. there is no-one to blame but yourself.  If you don’t have the right mindset to enjoy this particular type of pressure, you should think long and hard about making an activity like this your personal outlet, because I’m here to tell you, it won’t be fun for very long.

Pressure: DefinitionUnder Pressure – QueenNaBloPoMo January 2014Picture from 123rf (still waiting for my code…..)

Pressure: Strength

Wish I was that good :)
Wish I was that good 🙂

Eleanor Roosevelt said: “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Tell us about a time you felt your strength.

I was already over 30 years old when I first took up a foil and learned how to fence.  Why is a story for another day.  After a year or so I found my preferred weapon was the epee, and I achieved enough success in competition to be selected for the Irish team at a 5-nations challenge.  My competition form was not bad, for most tournaments I would get to the quarter-finals, and on good weekends I even managed to get to a final, but the #1 spot always eluded me.  The normal format for a fencing tournament is a round robin of bouts up to 5 “hits” of 3 minutes each  – first to gain five hits, or the person with the most hits at the end of 3 minutes wins.  This is followed by the quarter- and semi-finals which consist of 15 hits over 9 minutes.  Whatever way my head worked at the time, I could never get past 2nd place.

Once a year, there was a “one-hit” competition, based on the principles of a true duel – e.g. an all or nothing, no holds barred bout where the first person to land a hit wins, and the opponent is eliminated immediately.  Unusually for fencing, males and females competed against one another.   One year, I won that competition.  For my first ever competition final, I went in with the attitude that because I had never won, I had nothing to lose. When I landed that hit, I was over the moon.  Cut to the next year.  I finally had a title to defend.  As the day went by as I had success after success, the field narrowed down and finally there were just two people left – almost 40-year old, 5’9” me, who had only won one fencing competition in her life, and an 18 year old, 6ft 2in male national champion. He was stronger, fitter and faster than I could hope to be.  His reach at full lunge was a metre or more beyond mine.  The general feeling in the room was that the result was a foregone conclusion, and even my best friend commiserated with me for not holding my title before the match took place.  I commiserated with myself too.

There was a half hour break between the body of the competition and the final, while the room was cleared and only one piste remained.  I couldn’t look my coach in the eye, I was too close to tears.  As the long seconds dragged into minutes, all sorts of things went through my mind… what kind of a fool was I to even be in the competition (at my age), who did I think I was? Oh, God, everybody is sorry for me because I’m going to lose, eek, embarrassment, fear.  Could I just get in my car and go home? Concede? Lock myself in the changing room and never come out?  At last the president called us to the piste (fencing used to be quite formal, for president, read referee).  Weapons were tested (I dropped mine), wires checked and the traditional mantra “En garde! Vous prêt? Allez!” was called.  In the back of my mind, one voice said: “Oh shit” while a second, slightly more strident one said: “Fuck it”. That’s the voice I listened to.  And I kept my title.

Under Pressure – Queen