“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
About ten days ago, a week before my daughter’s elementary school let out for the summer, there was a school Field Day where the entire student body of 400 kids played games at 28 stations to earn food and prizes. They were looking for volunteers so I tended the soccer kick station with another parent.
It was an easy 10 feet kick into a goal. We had a lot of kids come by – Kindergartners who had feet about the size of a deck of cards, differently abled kids that came by with their instructional aides, and most of the student body including the 5th graders who looked like they were ready to take on the world.
Everyone was displaying great spirits until one girl, perhaps in the 4th grade came by with a friend and gave the ball a kick. I shouted “Wuhoo” and she said, “Don’t say ‘Wuhoo.’ I’m a failure.” And I said that she kicked the ball with lots of strength and she repeated, “I’m a failure.”
Her ball hadn’t gone in (we didn’t really require that) but most kids could get it in, even the little Kindergartners. So I gave it her the ball again and said, “Kick it again.” And she did – without even really trying and it didn’t go in. She said, “See, I’m a failure.”
I was flummoxed. Her assertation that she was a failure was a wall that seemed to keep everything from going in. With that up, it didn’t seem like anything could penetrate.
With the first post I wrote about confidence, I can, I quoted author and psychiatrist Neel Burton who distinguished confidence from similar concepts by explaining confidence is feeling “I can,” self-esteem is feeling “I am” and pride is the feeling of “I did.”
When the little girl came to the soccer kick station, she both asserted that she couldn’t and that she was a failure. And once that was in the air it seemed to operate like a foregone conclusion for which there was no quick fix.
Because we can fail over and over again and still be confident. Here are some examples.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
“Failure is only an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
“A woman who never gives up can’t fail.” – Abby Wambach
The distinction seems to lie between admitting we’ve failed without calling ourselves a failure. I hadn’t thought much about that small difference until I heard researcher and author, Brené Brown tell a story about when her daughter was in pre-school. The pre-school teacher told Brené that one day after Brené’s daughter had been doing art at the glitter table the teacher said to her, “You are a mess.” And the daughter retorted, “I might be messy right now but I’m not a mess.”
In the retelling, Brené laughed and said that her roots as a shame researcher were visible. We can describe our current situation without calling ourselves names. No name calling is a rule in my household since I heard that story, and I apply that to the conversations I have with myself as well.
My daughter overheard me telling my mom about the little girl who called herself a failure at Field Day and was fascinated by the story. It was a great opportunity to talk with her about what happens if we believe the names we call ourselves. I hope the ripple effect is that she won’t call herself names and maybe even say something if she hears someone else doing it.
This is my fifth post about confidence. Here are the others: