Under Pressure: Five Ways to Thrive to the Beat

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek
3 min readFeb 6, 2024

It came on the radio this morning:

“Pressure. Pushing down on me, pressing down on you, no man ask for.”

Now, “Under Pressure” is an absolute classic and a musical pairing unlike any other. (I mean, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie — right?) But lately, it feels like it’s more than a song; it’s an anthem. For business leaders everywhere, 2023 was another year for the books: the convergence of global events, economic shifts, societal expectations, and amazing (albeit frightening) tech innovations created an environment where we all felt the heat.

But here’s the thing: pressure in and of itself is not necessarily bad. In fact, pressure has the transformative power to drive innovation, productivity, and achievement of goals… if managed effectively.

That’s a big “if.”

You see, pressure is all about how it’s applied and how it’s released.

So, how do we not just survive but thrive under pressure? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Acknowledge it. When the pressure starts to mount, acknowledging its presence is the first step to regaining control. Then, identify its source, and give it a name. It could be as simple as a looming deadline; at other times, the source could be a particular person. It becomes far more manageable to handle once you know what you’re dealing with. And here’s a tip: If the pressure is constant and pervasive, it’s time to get honest: are we trying to do too much? Have we set unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others?

2. Release the safety valve. A healthy workplace culture includes mechanisms for stress release — for instance, employee well-being programs, flexible work arrangements, and time off to prevent burnout. But I’ve also learned the importance of allowing myself and my team to press pause when we need to. Recently, feeling the pressure rise (due to a busy day married with some hangry-ness), I “stepped away” and went for a short run on the treadmill. I returned reenergized, albeit a bit sweatier. Sometimes, a brief pause is all we need to regain our rhythm.

3. Prioritize and communicate. Prioritization is a cornerstone of effective management. It’s easy to succumb to a daily avalanche of tasks, but taking a moment to evaluate what demands immediate attention and what can wait is a game-changer. For instance, when someone requests an additional deliverable, I’ve found that explaining my priorities (both the what and the why) not only clarifies my focus but also sets realistic expectations.

4. Ask for help. Easier said than done, right? But believe me, it’s never healthy to navigate pressure in isolation. Whether it’s a colleague, a manager, or the team, reaching out for support can provide valuable perspectives and help in overcoming hurdles. And, if you see someone else in need, offer a helping hand.

And, finally…

5. Keep it in perspective. In our business, there is no such thing as a marketing emergency. Full stop. (Despite that long-ago Thanksgiving Eve, when an account executive at “a company long, long ago and far, far away” became agitated because he couldn’t get his hands on some tchotchkes for a client, and then proceeded to terrorize the poor human closing the office for the holiday. I called him, and gently reminded him that marketing emergencies are a myth, especially ones involving logoed hats. By the way . . . we all survived.)

It’s true: “Insanity laughs, under pressure we’re breaking.

We’re all human, vulnerable, and sometimes we struggle under intense stress. Instead of pushing ourselves to the breaking point, let’s take the advice above to heart … and “give ourselves one more chance.

Fun fact: The #1 song “Under Pressure” was written … you guessed it … under pressure. Although it started as a casual jam session, it quickly became a high-pressure battle between two distinct but complementary (and, we can only assume, highly competitive) rock legend egos. Says Queen guitarist Brian May, “It was quite a difficult process. Somebody had to back off.”

Apparently, they went for pizza and… a beverage or two. Or six. It was, after all, rock and roll in 1982.