Confidence, or how much gumption do you have in your tank?

Let me begin by saying I am a deeply flawed individual and I carry a rock.

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It is a sedimentary rock, solid gray except for a slash through the center, a layer of white separating one side from the other, plucked from the shore of Lac Leman in Switzerland.

I carry it as a metaphor, to remind me that I am separated from an essential part of myself, the part that should be propelling me to achieve. That part is self-confidence, self-value, the knowledge that one is worthy. I carry the rock as reminder I must work to bridge that divide.

Self-confidence or lack thereof determines to a great extent whether our visions of accomplishment are realized. We must protect our dreams, we must have faith in ourselves if we are to accomplish anything. Faith in oneself and confidence go hand in hand, if not indeed they are the same thing, wrapped up in a bag called gumption. But that gumption bag has holes in it, making it a variable quantity. Sun Tzu in his classic ‘The Art of War’ called it ‘momentum’ and also said that without momentum even the brave become timid and with momentum even the timid become brave.

One side note: Remember this is within the realm of reality and outside that realm is delusion. On either end of the reality scale, some think they can fly without benefit of aircraft, others think they will die if they set one foot outside the house. Both are delusional. What is the difference between dream and delusion? Dreams are actually achievable. Delusions are not. If a guy four feet tall proclaims he will be a professional basketball player, he is clearly delusional. Custer thought he could take on all the Native Americans in the world. He was delusional. He was also an idiot.

Please pardon these absurd broad-brush stroke examples to illustrate the point, but within the bounds of reality the gumption level is often not so clear, and whether we have sufficient gas in our tank to carry us through often determines whether our dreams are realized.

I habitually drift toward the lower end of the scale, my tank no more than a quarter full. I’ve made too many mistakes. The thing is that faith in yourself is a difficult quantity to acquire if you don’t already have it. In order to have faith in yourself you must trust yourself. And trust is the ability to predict behavior based on experience. Let me repeat that. Trust is the ability to predict behavior based on experience. You do not trust the used-car salesperson you’ve never met because you have no experience with them, but you do trust the family member (blood relative or not) who has proven time and again they’ve got your back.

So how to acquire faith in yourself, how to trust yourself?

I’ll tell you what’s worked for me.  

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Begin by doing things you know you can do. If you dream of building a large sailboat but do not have the confidence, build a little dinghy first. If you don’t have the confidence to do that, build a model. That’s how I began my boat, with a model. The material for a model doesn’t cost much and if it doesn’t turn out you can always consign it to the flames and no one will ever know, but I knew if I could build the model, then I could build the real thing if I did it the same way.

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It doesn’t matter the field of endeavor – cooking, writing, painting, sculpture, woodworking, music, photography, whatever you choose – start at the point where you can say to yourself ‘I can do that.’ Start there. Do that. Then do that again, with something a little more complicated. Bear in mind that all great tasks are made up of lots of little tasks. Eat that apple one bite at a time.

To go back to the boatbuilding analogy, you don’t build a boat all in one go, it’s a bunch of small tasks, of drilling a hole, then driving a screw into it, sawing a board. Small tasks, which when you look at them individually you can say ‘I can do that.’ Then after you’ve done that task, admire yourself for a moment. Say to yourself, ‘I did that.’ Enjoy it. Enjoy each small accomplishment. Then move on to the next slightly more complex ‘I can do that.’ Accomplish that. Enjoy it. Admire self. Repeat. Keep repeating until you have the experience to trust yourself and go forward.

Bear in mind that not all will be success. This is normal. MIT professor Harold Edgerton, the inventor of the strobe flash maintained that most of his experiments did not work, but he was unconcerned because it didn’t matter. Those experiments were the ones he learned from. So when some task doesn’t turn out, don’t worry because progress is not always smooth. Drop back to the simpler ‘I can do that’ and start again. That is one way to silence the internal critic. To borrow from Theodore Roosevelt, it is not the critic that counts, it is the person in the arena who counts. That goes double for the critic inside. Whether the inside voice is old parental tapes saying you’re delusional for wanting to pursue your art or memories of the infinite cruelty of children on the playground, the critic does not count. The person who counts is you, the person in the arena, tired, sweaty and bloody, striving for something greater.

So make a start. Write that sentence one word at a time, write the paragraph one sentence at a time, the chapter one paragraph at a time, your book one chapter at a time, each step building a section of bridge between your self-confidence and yourself, across that white band in your own rock that keeps you from accomplishment. Then smile, admire yourself, enjoy, and sail on.

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One thought on “Confidence, or how much gumption do you have in your tank?

  1. Just looked you up to apologize. I’ve always felt wholly responsible for our dustup, and I’m embarrassed about my behavior. I was depressed at the time, feeling pretty hopeless. Then, out of the blue, I hooked up with a friend I used to do standup with and got a job writing comedy. I’ve been very successful (lucky), and it’s changed my outlook. Anyway, just wanted you to know I remember you fondly and wish you well. You wrote a great book, Bob.

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