A Lesson in Confidence

As summer ‘17 bids farewell and a chill in the morning air hastens the leaves’ downward journey, I find myself reflecting on the past quartile and its precious learning moments. Like the countless Canada Geese, who now gather on the lake in preparation for their flight southward, there have been many such moments.

However, one particular reflection stands out, as does the lone pelican I spy from my cottage office, who patrols the bountiful fishing hole off the edge of our dock. He surely has learned well from his family, because this pickerel-rich environment serves up, one more time, a tasty morsel to satisfy his appetite and reinforce his confidence.

As I recall, my feature learning moment was embedded in a golf game of two business associates, which occurred this past Canada Day morning. Providing active listening is in play and there’s ample opportunity to learn, when one spends four or five hours in nature chatting about the here and now, and other things. Of course, it depends upon the quality of one another’s questions, but providing there is full engagement, the learning possibilities are endless. As occurred on this morning.

Just as the early nip in the air yielded to the rising sun’s warmth, so too did the heat of our conversation percolate into a rich form of transparency and understanding. In fact, by the time we teed-off on the back nine, I confess my game began to suffer from a severe case of positive distraction.

I’m not sure exactly what spurred my playing partner that summer morning to share one of his deeply held beliefs but, nevertheless, I’m certainly glad he did. It was in those moments that followed that I was given an opportunity to slip behind the curtain with him and go backstage briefly in our relationship.

While sitting together on the golf cart, oblivious in a sense from where we’d soon be putting from, he offered, “You know, without confidence, a person has nothing.”

“Tell me more,’ I replied, ‘Do you have a tangible example?”

Fortunately, we were not being pressed at the time, because the response of my Alberta ‘top forty under forty’ associate took several minutes to both frame and illustrate his story.

He took me back to a time close to twenty years ago. He was an up-and-coming college student athlete in the sport of volleyball. In fact, some claimed he had national team potential.

He came to college volleyball from a remote and northern environment. Because his dad was a serial entrepreneur, there was a need for both he and his sister to work in their father’s business, sometimes even handling the night shift, from the age of 10 onwards.

Even though his team qualified for the College National Championship, unfortunately their moment in the sun was short-lived. They bowed out, without putting up much of a fight, in the semi-finals to the eventual champion. Expectations for the team and his performance were exceptionally high and, regrettably, they were not met. Disappointment and depression ensued, even though his answers for the collapse were not in that time available.

Apparently, things became clear only after he moved on from his College coach to a major university volleyball program. Now in his early twenties, he discovered the importance of the relationship of one’s inner perception of their natural ability to one’s personal confidence.

It turns out that a change in coach was just, as they say, what the doctor ordered. In his words, he migrated from a negative reinforcement situation, perpetrated by his College coach, to one where there were no barriers or negative evaluations. Understanding today that confidence is a learned behavior, he credits the university program, and especially his new coach, a former national team member, with the nurturing and installation of his positive mental attitude.

His new-found confidence must have been infectious, as his squad qualified for and won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Championship. As for his post-graduation, volleyball career, continuous achievement beckoned. He went on to play for the National Team and, subsequently, played several years of professional volleyball in Italy prior to coming home in his thirties to take over his father’s business.

“What was the biggest single factor in the reclamation of your confidence,” I asked.

His answer was quick and direct. “The coach,” He replied.

I had a need to dive deeper. Consequently, as we left the golf cart and walked to the number sixteen green where our putts awaited, he was forthcoming.

“I never could have developed the personal confidence necessary for professional achievement had I stayed with my college coach,’ he shared openly. ‘Nothing was ever good enough for him. He put me down countless times, dwelled on my mistakes, and never made me feel I was integral, or even valued or needed.”

He hastened to add, “You know how they say practice makes perfect, well, there’s a negative side to that equation, too. If you hammer someone and their shortcomings often enough, there comes a point in time where your pupil becomes a believer in their deficiencies.”

Suffice it to say, we finished our round without further introspection and said our good-byes in the parking lot. We agreed to speak in the Fall. As I drove away from the course, I reflected on his story – as I have several times over the past three months.

Possibly, just maybe, on that early July morning, we unearthed through sharing and story-telling, one of life’s important truisms. That just may be the relationship of confidence to high performance and achievement.

Possibly, just maybe, not unlike the hungry pelican who trolled the waters off the end of our dock seeking his reward, so too human beings constantly seek and, sometimes find, their confidence by continuously trolling their relationships.

Clearly, our relationships are many and diverse. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, they nourish us with new-found knowledge, which is underpinned by acceptance, empathy, and honesty, which creates our comparative advantage. And, then again, sometimes nourishment is lacking, if what we glean about ourselves is regressive and inhibits our freedom of expression.

Possibly, just maybe…



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