I recently read a short story by William Saroyan, The Fifty Yard Dash (first published in 1937), that reminds me of how over-rated the idea of confidence is. The main character, twelve year old Aram, sees the chance to prove his greatness when his school announces that a track meet will be held, one school against another–all students to participate.
Here, I believed, was my chance. In my opinion I would be first in every event.1
Leading up to the event Aram imagines himself winning all of the events, not once, but hundreds of times. You would think the act of imagining success would serve to reinforce Aram’s confidence. Possibly it does, but in the end it makes no difference. Despite the fact that in the beginning of the first event, the fifty yard dash, Aram believes himself to be moving at an extraordinary rate, when he opens his eyes there are three boys ahead of him. As the race progresses, regardless of what Aram intends to happen, his position only worsens. He ends up finishing last, and faces much the same result in all the other events. What happened?
The author does a wonderful job demonstrating that all the confidence in the world is no substitute for practice. It really doesn’t matter what Aram thinks or believes. He didn’t practice.
I think diminishing the idea of confidence is an excellent lesson for parents. If we want our child to perform better in an area–say, mathematics for example, then we need to spend more time with our child on math games and exercises. Of course, it’s easier to try to instill a sense of confidence in our a child–the old “pep talk” comes to mind. On the other hand, it requires effort to set up activities and exercises to help our child to strengthen a skill set. It might require changing our habits, turning off the television, missing a few emails. But in the end, our habits, our routine–the environment that we create for our kids–is immeasurably more valuable than a confidence booster now and then.
After all, confidence isn’t a catalyst–it’s a result.
1. Saroyan, William. “The Fifty Yard Dash.” My Name is Aram. New York: Dell, 1967. Pg 51.