I spent some time this week with my 3 year old nephew is just learning to ski, and it had me thinking about the attitude or energy we call confidence.
There are 2 basic types of confidence. The first is earned with years of practice, knowledge, and experience. The second is sheer bravado.
Its probably the 1st, hard earned, version that deserves more attention, I’m spending some time here, thanks to my nephew, to think through the value of the second.
Bravado looks good on beginners.
After a day or two up and down the beginner’s “magic carpet” run, my sister decided to take him up on his first lift. He could snow plow to a stop and kind of, sort of turn. We got him up to the top of the most basic lift and he slowly made his way down. On the second run he flew down the hill in about 2 minutes, looked up at me and said, “I got this one. What’s next?”
I couldn’t stop smiling.
When we are beginners we have no idea what comes next. Mastering a few basics gives us the confidence to rush head-long into more difficult terrain.
I can point to close to 20 examples in my own life where I thought I knew it all after learning some of the basic steps. I’m sure those who know me well can point to 20 more.
One of my favorite examples of this is talking to someone who has just been through a yoga teacher training. I’ve met so many that have been so positively impacted that they believe yoga can solve pretty much any problem anyone, anywhere can explain to them. (And before anyone blames me for throwing stones, I’m sure I’ve done the same with countless practices I’ve picked up, yoga included…)
There is excitement and confidence of the kind that comes before cynicism. It is what propels us to share our experience and launch into the next, more difficult phase. Without it, most of us would just walk away thinking we had a good time, but didn’t see anything worth committing to.
I think this kind of confidence is an essential phase in our development. In simply being human, most of us, sometime between 8 and 25, think we know everything, then, we encounter some difficulty that completely knocks us on our ass. Life is much more nuanced, complex, and difficult than we initially believed, and there our confidence can shift into cynicism, conformity, or embracing the kind of distractions that can lead us to a kind of aimlessness.
Without that initial sense of beginner’s confidence though, its unlikely many of us would forge ahead.
The real test is when that beginner’s confidence hits the wall.
When things fall apart…
I could easily point my own experience as a coach, poet, yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher, or earlier in life as a competitive swimmer. In all aspects of my life, from professional to interpersonal relationships, fitness, managing money, even staying organized, I’ve never had lasting success without first experiencing beginner’s confidence and then having to face the reality of things being much more difficult than I could fathom when I first began.
In my more than a decade of experience coaching it also the place I see clients struggle the most.
Everything you think you know isn’t enough. When we hit that wall we have usually have 3 choices.
The easiest one is giving up. When things don’t go as planned throwing in the towel is the cleanest break. Its closely related to the second path, which is blaming someone or something else, usually the thing itself.
When my nephew 1st fell down he could have just said skiing is stupid, I don’t want to do it any more, or “someone got in my way”, or “it was your fault”. All of these would have given him an out. The chances he took and the skill he learned to get as far as he did would be just pushed aside for the benefit of just feeling “ok” with himself – justifying his effort by resigning the failure to forces outside of his control.
We all do it. I see it most often when clients are taking risks changing careers and in romantic relationships. Something didn’t work and so its not really worth the effort to forge ahead.
This is the moment most of us have to decide if we will continue on, learning new lessons and progressing to the next level, or simply walk away claiming “I tried, but it just wasn’t for me”.
Its also the moment when we need to decide if we are going to walk the path to true mastery or hold on to our beginners bravado forever – its about choosing to grow up and moving on vs. embracing a fantasy or simply giving up.
All good things take time and work…
I’m sure, like me, you can all point to someone in your life who talks about something they have little or no experience in their lives as an expert.
This moment, where a beginner’s confidence breaks, is where those attitudes are formed.
We either continue develop the skills needed to master something or pretend we have no need to.
We either move into mastery or have a fool’s bravado – always unsure and holding back because we do not want to face the reality of our own short coming.
If there is a skill or goal that you really want to be part of who you are, that you really want to master, there is no pretending. If you do pretend you are likely to live in the delusion that you are something you are not for a long time. You are likely to convince others of your fantasy, doing everything you can to make sure they do not find out you weren’t able to put in the hard work to move through that great first shattering of your confidence.
Find out what it means to stick with it. Be a beginner all over again. Your authentic self will appreciate the effort you put in, and you ego will survive admitting you don’t know everything.