Get in the Game

Today is Monday, so this post is on self confidence.

The other day, I came across a quote from Dwight Eisenhower.  “Pessimism never won any battle.”  I agree.  In fact, I believe that a true pessimist would never even join the battle for fear of it being lost before it began. 

The recent Super Bowl was a good example.  The media hype surrounding the game could have made the New York Giants wonder why they were even going to show up.  But they did show up, and they won the game over the seemingly invincible New England Patriots.  This isn’t a sports blog, so that’s all I’m going to say about the Super Bowl.  However, I do think it is illustrative of President Eisenhower’s quote.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I believe that self confident people have three things in common.

  • Self confident people are optimistic.
  • Self confident people face their fears and deal with them.
  • Self confident people surround themselves with positive people.

President Eisenhower’s quote goes to the first two of these points.

First, you cannot succeed in your life and career if you are a pessimist.  You have to be optimistic. defines pessimism as “The tendency to see, anticipate, emphasize or expect only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions and problems.”  Optimism is defined as “A disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”

“Expect” is the key word in both definitions.  If we expect to fail, we probably will.  If we expect to prevail, grow and flourish, we probably will.  When I was accepted to graduate school at Harvard in 1980, and decided to enroll, several people took me aside and said something like, “Are you sure you want to do this?  There will be some very smart, competitive people there.  You might not do so well.  I’m only telling you this for your own good.” 

My answer was, “If I was accepted, I’m sure I can do the work.  I’ll do fine.”  And I did.  Other people, no matter how well intended, expected me to struggle and maybe fail.  I expected to flourish, and I did.  To me, this expectation of success, my optimism, made all the difference.

Second, we all face battles in our life.  Often, the most significant of these battles is with ourselves and our fears – especially our fear of failure.  No one likes to fail.  Failure hurts.  It is humiliating.  It can have a negative impact on our finances.  In general, failure just sucks. 

The easy answer is to never try to accomplish anything difficult.  If you don’t try, you can’t fail.  On the other hand, if you don’t try, you can’t succeed.  Trying involves doing battle with yourself and your fears and being optimistic enough to believe you will succeed.

One of the most powerful portrayals of failure I have ever seen is in the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Randall P. McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson in the film, is one of the great iconoclastic characters in 20th century literature.  I loved the book by Ken Kesey, and I loved the film version of Cuckoo’s Nest, almost as much as the book.

The setting is a mental institution.  McMurphy has conned his way into it as a way to get out of serving a short jail sentence.  He finds the other people on the ward to be cowed into submission by the villainous Nurse Ratchett.  McMurphy is always trying to stir up trouble.  One day, he urges The Chief, a very large, silent Native American inmate, to pick up the big box in the middle of the room and to throw it through the window, so they can all escape.  The Chief choose to not try.

One of the other inmates suggests that McMurphy should do it himself.  He warms to the idea and even takes bets on his ability to lift the box and throw it through the window.  He struggles mightily to lift the box but he can’t.  After he concedes defeat, several of the others are kidding him about his failure.   Mc Murphy is battered but unbowed, he looks at those who are making fun of him and says, “But I tried dammit, at least I tried.”

Randall P. McMurphy was an optimist.  True, things didn’t work out well for him in that scene or in the end of the story, but he tried. 

And that’s the common sense point for today.  Optimists try.  They are willing to risk defeat and all that comes with it to reach their goals.  Pessimists most often don’t try, or they give it a half hearted effort.  If you want to succeed in your career and life, you have to believe you can succeed and then do the work to justify your optimism.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense. 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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