Today, I want to share a story about pressure, though a different kind of story than what I normally report on.

I was in Phoenix last week doing a program for one of our clients, one of the big four accounting firms. The night before the program I went to meet some good friends of mine in Scottsdale for dinner. I called a cab and a lovely older woman picked me up. Soon, we began a lively conversation on our ride to the Indian food restaurant.

When she heard that I live in Canada, she became animated about the costs and importance of health care. She described how difficult it has been for her to get, keep and pay for health insurance. She described how she works 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week in her cab and still has trouble paying for everything. She told me this in a very matter of fact way.

She said that Obamacare was a ‘godsend’. She teared up when she said she didn’t know what she would do without it. For instance, there was no way she would have been able to pay for the nearly $20,000 worth of care she recently had. It had made that big of a difference in her life.

She said the worst challenge she faced, however, was dental care as there was not great health insurance for dental in the US (it is not covered by Obamacare). I couldn’t help notice the distinct lack of teeth in her mouth as she described her situation. She shared that she only had 3 teeth left as a result of a degenerative condition that makes her bones and teeth weak and prone to breaking. She told me she extracted most of the teeth herself when they broke off because she simply couldn’t afford the cost to have them properly removed. This is when I teared up.

Throughout the conversation I was moved by how stoic, thoughtful and proud this woman was. She didn’t blame anyone for her situation. She was committed to making it work. I was impressed by her incredible outlook and obvious work ethic.

As she was describing the pressure she faced I couldn’t help but gain a bit of perspective of some of the pressure that I face or that our clients and Olympic athletes face. There is no doubt it can feel overwhelming when we face a difficult negotiation or have to make an important presentation to a client or face an audit inspection (if we do audits for a living) or face a big competition in sport. Equally we can experience significant pressure at home when we deal with conflict in our personal relationships. I certainly have. But somehow it seemed a lot less significant compared to what I was hearing in that cab in Scottsdale, Az.

I am thinking that most of us have not had to extract 15 of our own teeth because we couldn’t pay for a professional to do it. I am thinking most of us do not work 7 days a week, 10 hours a day and still have trouble paying for the basics in life. This absolutely does not invalidate the pressure you or I experience. It does, however, remind me – us – that in spite of the unique pressure we face, there are exemplars out there who can show us the way.  Like this woman.

It occurred to me that this hardy woman had the kind of optimistic, tenacious, enthusiastic attitude that was characteristic of the best of who we studied in the 12,000 person study that was part of the book. (Of course, we didn’t study people who face the type of survival pressure she faces; we studied managers and leaders in organizations). But she was, like the people in our study, an exemplar of all that is possible within us. Her story reminded me that no matter the pressure and challenge we each face, we have a choice that we can sometimes miss. It is a choice we each have. We do not have to allow our situation to dictate to us our level of happiness or our attitude. We independently hold this choice. So as you go through the difficult, pressure filled moments tomorrow or the next day, keep this in mind. No matter what you face, you can bring an attitude of optimism and enthusiasm to it. You can be tenacious when you hit setbacks. These are all part of the tools that we have inside of us – we just need to remember to access them and use them. This brave, thoughtful, lovely woman is a reminder for me and for all of us.