Action Breeds Confidence

Teddy Roosevelt is John McCain’s hero.  If you live in the USA, you know Teddy, he was the 26th President of the United States, the man for whom the Teddy Bear is named and the fourth guy on Mount Rushmore – along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.  Teddy was always good for a quote.  I love his “arena” quote…

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.”

If you want to build your self confidence, live your life in the arena.  It’s a paradox, but failure can improve your self confidence.  You have to try — or as Teddy would say, you need to be in the arena — in order to fail.  Trying – whether you succeed or fail – is positive.  It shows that you have conquered your fear of failure, that are willing to stick out your neck and do something regardless of the outcome.

Dale Carnegie sums up this thought quite well…

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

On Saturday evening, I was seated next to a mother at a dinner party.  She told me that her son, who is a senior in high school and applying to college, is not as confident as she would like.  As it turns out, he is a great kid; a good student and excellent rower.  I told her that she can help his self confidence by helping him see that he is a risk taker and a doer.  He competes both in the classroom and in athletics.  He is applying to Ivy League schools and one of the service academies.   He has chosen to live in the arena.  Whether he gets accepted to his first choice college is not important.  What’s important is that he tries. 

I suggested to the mother that she can help build her son’s self confidence by helping him see that it’s the trying that’s the important thing.  If he tries long enough and hard enough, he’ll succeed. 

Randle P. McMurphy is my favorite character in US fiction.  He’s a con man who ends up in a mental institution to avoid serving a jail sentence.  Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for his portrayal of Randle in the film version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” 

There is a very powerful scene in the film when Randle suggests that one of the other inmates – the Chief, a very large and powerful Native American – should pick up a box in the middle of the room and toss it through the window, so they can all make their escape. 

The other inmates ridicule him, saying that no one, not even the Chief is strong enough to lift the box.  McMurphy then takes bets, claiming that he can do it.  He tries.  He tries mightily, but he fails.  The others begin to poke fun at him, saying that they knew he couldn’t do it.  He is exhausted but looks his detractors in the eye and says, “But at least I tried.”

Things don’t work out very well for Randle in the end – I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read the book or seen the film — but I loved him.  He was a rascal, but he certainly lived his life in the arena.

The common sense point here is simple.  Self confidence is a key to success.  If you want to become self confident you need to do three things.  1) Become an optimist.  2) Face your fears and act.  3) Surround yourself with positive people.  Number two is the most important of these three.   When you are in the arena, when you “go out and get busy,” you’ll find that you can accomplish more than you’ve ever dreamed possible.  You just have to get off your butt and do something.  If you succeed, great.  If you fail, at least you have failed knowing that you tried — and trying builds your self confidence.

That’s my take on self confidence, action and the possibility of failure.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  I really appreciate and value all of your comments.  As always, thanks for reading.


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  1. “The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood”…
    This was one of my high school wrestling coach’s favorite lines and he repeated it time and time again. I can’t think of a better quote about getting out there and “doing”.
    By the way Bud, sorry about those Oklahoma Sooners….I love your success advice, but I won’t take your sports advice to the sportsbook.
    Great Work as usual.

  2. Thanks for the comment Steve. Teddy Roosevelt’s arena is one that many sports coaches have used to motivate young people. And, you’re right. I really expected Oklahoma to win that game. It’s a good thing that I’m not a betting man.

  3. Glenn Cantor says:

    I love the reference to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest. Two additional, great lessons from the movie are 1) push the boundries when you know you are right, even if it means shattering establishment and 2) find the fun in any situation, no matter how dreary is seems. I need to watch the movie again.

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