Monday, January 7, 2013

Fortune Cookie #6 - Confidence Isn't Enough

I recently got to visit my favorite local restaurant again, China Buffet #6. As usual, I was very happy with the experience right up to the very last bite. At the end, they brought me my bill and accompanying fortune cookie. Here was my fortune:

They can because they think they can.

When I do these fortune cookie posts, I often feign ignorance at what they mean to try to pull a post out of it, but for this one I want to make it clear that I completely understand the meaning. I just vehemently disagree.

I have heard the following phrase hundreds of times and know it has been used by sales seminars, self-help books and new age gurus:
"Whether you think you can or cannot, you are right."
Stewie Griffin even said it once to Brian in an episode of Family Guy. The idea behind it is fairly simple. Often the biggest deterrent to your success is your own self doubt. I can't disagree with that. There are a lot of people who do not succeed because they never step forward to do what is necessary to succeed due to the fact that they do not believe in themselves. However, that is not what this fortune cookie said.

While it is similar, it is not the same.

I am sorry to inform all you bright eyed youngsters who believed your mother when she said, "You can do anything you set your mind to." It's not true. Your mother lied to you. It takes a whole lot more than just determination, belief, and a healthy self-esteem to accomplish most significant tasks.

Several years ago, my brother Trevor had just left the bar with a girl and was driving home when they came upon a bull in the middle of the road. Despite the fact that the ditches were shallow and he was driving a large jacked-up, four-wheel drive truck, he decided to get out and move the bull by hand rather than drive around it or nudge it with the bumper. Trevor fully believed that he could impress this girl move this bull, but his belief did not prevent his horn-shaped puncture wounds, loss of hair and skin, and days of soreness that he experienced later.

When I was a teenager standing in the bed of my buddy's truck, I firmly believed that I would be able to jump into the bed of another friend's truck as he sped by. The idea that it might not work never even crossed my mind. A few minutes later, when my friends dragged my bloody body into the nearest bar to seek medical assistance (yes, we went to a bar), I fully believed that my shock-induced pick up lines were good enough to break through the sight of my injuries to the cute bartender who was tending to my wounds. As she was applying antiseptic and asked where else I was hurt, I started to undo my belt. She just left me bleeding in the back room.

My brother Kyle was about 8 years old when he believed he could do a flip out of the barn loft at our grandfather's house. He believed it because I thought it would be cool to see and convinced him he could do it. I did such a good job of pumping up his confidence, that soon I even believed he could do it…right up to the moment he leapt out and belly flopped onto the grass twelve feet below. Then, I believed Dad would make me pay for my idea. That belief was correct.

In each of these instances, not only was believing in success not enough to make it happen, but it was the firm belief that something could be done that got us into trouble to begin with. There is usually a reason for caution. Not everything can be done just because you are confident and believe in yourself.

Some people's belief in themselves is so deeply rooted that they can't see the truth even after it has been shown to them. In this video, the contestant truly believed he had what it took.


I have worked with youth for close to two decades and have met literally hundreds of teens who were convinced they were going to be professional athletes. There was no doubt in their minds. They didn't just want to do this, they believed it with their entire being. However, they were lacking a key feature needed in order to succeed: the necessary talent.

NOPE! They can because they are good enough.

Believing that you will go to college will not get you there. It takes work. Believing your business will be a success will not make it happen. It requires a good business plan, hard work, long hours, wise decisions and a host of other factors. Believing you are going to win American Idol because your grandma convinced you that you are better than any of those "screeching idiots on the radio" will not impress Simon or even the nicer judges.

I am not suggesting that people should not pursue their dreams and I will agree that success usually starts with someone believing that something can be done, but that belief is only the very beginning and is definitely not the factor that makes it happen. There is so much more involved. We've all met that incredible cocky person who believes they are the greatest in the world at something (or in some cases, everything). Yet, despite that person's incredible belief, they never accomplish anything worthy. Belief is overrated. Success is achieved by hard work and persistence. Sometimes, even then, it sometimes still doesn't come. I leave you with the wise words of the poet Shel Silverstein.


The Little Blue Engine

The little blue engine looked up at the hill.
His light was weak, his whistle was shrill.
He was tired and small, and the hill was tall,
And his face blushed red as he softly said,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

So he started up with a chug and a strain,
And he puffed and pulled with might and main.
And slowly he climbed, a foot at a time,
And his engine coughed as he whispered soft,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

With a squeak and a creak and a toot and a sigh,
With an extra hope and an extra try,
He would not stop — now he neared the top —
And strong and proud he cried out loud,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”

He was almost there, when — CRASH! SMASH! BASH!
He slid down and mashed into engine hash
On the rocks below... which goes to show
If the track is tough and the hill is rough,
THINKING you can just ain’t enough!


48 comments:

  1. Aaah yes. It never ceases to astound me how often epistemology comes up. Belief definitely comes in two flavors...those that coincide with the truth (reality) and those that don't (delusion). Denying strong evidence contrary to your beliefs is a formula for trouble. Maybe...

    "They can because they think they can, AND they're not delusional."

    Mad props on testing your beliefs with that waitress, though. Raawr. That kind of conviction is admirable even in defeat. :)

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    1. She just wouldn't go for it. I later went into shock, but she didn't help anymore.

      We have a lot of people that are great at dreaming big, but much fewer that are willing to take action. Even fewer that have the knowledge and skill to know what to do and how to do it.

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  2. To be fair, your family really aim for the stars where the stakes are serious physical injury. That's got to be admired. Or pitied. One of those.

    That American Idol clip made me cringe sooo hard.

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    1. It has calmed down drastically over the years and all of us are paying for it with our broken bodies, but we had fun.

      For some reason when I was trying to think of examples, it was just this crazy physical stuff that came to mind. Although, from an entertainment perspective, these were probably more fun to read about than a failing business or misplaced friendships.

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  3. This post reminds me of certain sporting activities for kids where everyone is declared a "winner" whether they win or not. This might save a few hurt feelings but it just isn't the way the world works and the sooner kids realize this the better.

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    1. I used to agree with this...but now...

      The current world is unending war, Fannie May crookedness, and mass starvation and genocide. Maybe the world is broken and there can more to life than winning. Or maybe we can ALL be winners.

      Or maybe I'm delusional. :P

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    2. I don't think the point, thebug50, is about winning. It is the idea that being rewarded rewarded when you haven't done anything to deserve it creates a false sense of entitlement and achievement. While we have spent the last decade worrying about little Johnny's self-esteem, he hasn't learned how to handle the real life situations that will be thrown at him when he enters the real world.

      He won't know how to handle being rejected for a job. NOT getting a promotion even though he really wanted it. The bank refusing to work with him on his late mortgage.

      The "reward everyone" mentality may make kids feel good, but does not prepare them for life. I just saw it covered on the news a few days ago of the problems occurring in universities today with the modern student body who thinks they are entitled to whatever they want simply because they want it. Rewards are offered, but now must be earned and the students are crying, "Foul." They have no idea how to deal with real world situations because they have been told their entire life that actual achievement is unimportant.

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    3. A huge pet peeve of mine, and another reason I am so glad not to be trying to raise kids in this world.

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    4. Any parent has the option to raise their kids properly. However, it is easy to cave to pressure without realizing it is being done.

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    5. Man, I like back-and-forths with you!...helps me flesh out my thoughts. If my persistence becomes obnoxious at any point, though, just PM me on facebook and I'll stop. :)

      I see what you're saying there, but I want to clarify my point a little bit. I wasn't trying to advocate something for nothing. As a matter of fact, I'd postulate that the current all-or-nothing, win/lose mentality actually TEACHES that achievement is unimportant. Hear me out.

      In the case of little Johnny playing basketball, the final score of a game doesn't accurately reflect how much 'something' he's put into it. Let's say he attended every practice...worked extra on his own time with drills...showed focus, perseverance, and improvement through the entire preseason. Unfortunately, his school had the smallest kids in the region, and they were destroyed every game. Johnny just learned that it doesn't really matter how hard you work at something. Winners are determined by chance. Now, chance does play an undeniable roll in life. At the end of the game, one score is higher. That's hard reality...and giving bigger trophies to the team with the higher score still reflects that. If Johnny isn't one of the top five players on the team, he'll sit the bench...also he really wanted the bigger trophy and didn't get it...so that lesson remains without him being a loser. LOSER!

      This might just be semantics, but I think it's relevant. If Johnny works hard but doesn't get the promotion, he should still get good marks for his performance resulting in a better chance next time. If he is consistently responsible with his finances, he should get more leeway with his mortgage. College aid should be offered to him based on his scholastic merit, as opposed to race, proximity to a city, etc. And if Johnny doesn't work hard at basketball practice, he shouldn't be allowed to be on the team.

      I know the world doesn't always work that way at present, and maybe it never will. If that's true, maybe we SHOULD teach our children lessons about plainly accepting unjust disappointment. Being a brick in the wall is definitely better than blindly expecting something for nothing. Talk about delusional. lol

      I think it can change, though...should change, even. Improve. :D If two countries disagree or compete, there needn't be a "loser"...kind of an underlying thought in all this. Sports in current form are, after all, war without the killing.

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    6. I can actually agree with most of that. You're right. If John works hard and doesn't get the promotion, he should still get good marks. That is how the real world works. I was referring to the kids who cannot handle not getting what they wanted and those people are out there.

      As for a kid not getting to play despite his hard work, if he feels like a loser afterward, then there has been a fault in either the coaching or his parenting. However, if he sucks at something, he needs to learn to accept that he doesn't excel at everything. I have no problem with giving someone a pat on the back for hard work and effort, but pretending that they have accomplished something they have not is not actually doing him any favors. Commend him for his dedication, but don't pretend he was the MVP.

      Taking knocks and learning how to lose is a HUGE lesson that everyone needs to learn. Commend hard work, but do not paint the illusion that we are all equal in our talents and strengths. Reality is that it's not true and whether people like it or not, it is the REAL world that we have to operate in. Not preparing your children for that is cruel.

      I am not pushing for the all-or-nothing mentality either. I am an advocate of promoting a healthy self-esteem in kids, but based on reality rather than fantasy. A kid CAN be proud of his self-worth and still knowingly be bad at math or basketball.

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    7. Hmm...I'm not really sure where we disagree, but that's okay. I'm also for learning hard knocks and against telling everyone they're MVP. If you could point out where you felt I was advocating either of those, I would be highly interested...but if not, that's okay too. Good exchange.

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    8. I don't believe we disagreed as much as it appeared at first. In your first reply, I thought we stood on opposite ends, but we don't.

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    9. Right. I said "We CAN all be winners." You read "We ARE all winners." Important distinction.

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    10. I caught that distinction. That is one of the areas where I disagree. We can't all be winners. By definition, if everyone was a winner, then no one actually won. There is one person or team who prevails over the others. They are the winners.

      Not everyone is a winner. If they were, then winning means nothing.

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  4. I think you hit he nail on the head, when you say that belief is only the very beginning and not the factor that makes it happen.
    From the age of 7, my sister believed that she would become a headteacher,(principle)marry the man of her dreams, have a child and a nice middle-class life, without any worries or hassles and she has. But she studied long, hours, had no social life and lost a lot of friends to get there.

    I always believed that I'd marry a rich man and live a life of decadence. My belief system sucks! :)

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    1. It's great to see you here Lily. Thank you. There is so much more involved.

      Mainly, I believe this was sparked by my hatred for those ridiculous little motivational mottoes. I read the fortune and it irritated me.

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  5. This exact harsh realism met me today. I don't break often, but today was the day, and no matter how hard I wanted to smile, and nod thru the news, or the tests, or the talks, I got in my ratty ass broken car, with my ratty ass broken body and realized. I have always pushed thru, just once, I would like a hand to pull me thru, or at least be given quite dignaty to lay in my failure.

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    1. It sounds like that car, however ratty, was at least earned by you and not handed to you.

      Had you the mentality of kids today, you probably would not have been able to handle those trials.

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  6. This post ROCKS!

    "Belief is overrated. Success is achieved by hard work and persistence."

    I could not agree with you more. It often seems to me that a lot of people believe in everything BUT hard work.

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    1. Thank you. That misguided thought is one of the reasons our nation is slipping.

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  7. "The Secret" is one of the worst/best books of this example. All the power is in our hands. If you do not get or achieve something it is because you did not believe hard enough. What a crock.

    Belief and desire give me the motivation to try my hand at something. Practice, capability and talent allow me to succeed. I have always admired the flexible people working with the Cirque du Soleil and think it would be great if they offered a training camp for the average person. I would not join the Cirque because the rod by my spine, my height, age and weight prevent me from doing even the simplest gymnastics. No amount of positive thinking will change anything but my weight(and that is called will power).
    Yes we need to encourage children (and adults) to try new things and believe in themselves but improvement only comes with critique.

    Hestia

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    1. I haven't read "The Secret."

      I wish belief was all it took. I would never want for anything.

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  8. I completely agree. Just saying that you can do something is not enough. You have to work towards the goal, actually have the ability or talent to succeed, and believe in yourself... but the last part is really only needed to have the courage to try to begin with.

    Honestly, though, I'm surprised that you and your brothers all survived your childhood and teenage years with all of the stuff you did.

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    1. We had our share of injuries, but survived. Confidence was not an issue for us, but was the cause of many of our mishaps.

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  9. As I was reading your post, I was thinking exactly of some of the people on American Idol, so I laughed when I saw the clip.

    I think success is a combination of believing you can do it, hard work, and good fortune. And I think those three things can vary as to which is the most prominent in a given situation. Some people do get lucky without little thought or hard work, but of course that's the least common. Some people believe in something and with good fortune, and some hard work, they get it. And then others believe and work hard, but keep struggling because of obstacles that keep getting thrown at them, and they have to work all the harder. That's the 'builds character' way :)

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    1. Right on. It is a combination of varying degrees for each each situation. There are those who 'get lucky,' but they are definitely the exception. All you can do is believe in yourself, work hard, play and see what happens.

      You couldn't be more right about the builds character comment. Reminds me of Romans 5:3-5. Pushing on through hardship is what makes you a better person.

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  10. I think the gist is this:
    Believing you can do something will increase your motivation (or the energy you put into it)and will therefore increase the likelihood of success. But it is no guarantee of success; talent and/or luck will play a part too.

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    1. I think you nailed it. Belief definitely plays a role, but it is not enough.

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  11. The everybody gets a trophy mentality drives me crazy. Unfortunately, life has winners and losers, and teaching our children that everything they do deserves a reward gives them a false view of the real world. One year, my daughter got the trophy for most improved on her soccer team. Luckily, she understood what the award meant and she told us so. "It means I'm the worst on the team," she declared. I'm not sure all kids are as honest with themselves.

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    1. Sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders. I am assuming she was not devastated.

      I got the same award in Little League one year. I sucked and I knew it. Still do.

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  12. Great work, Brett. I'm always amazed by the people who believe they are going to be successful.

    True story, a guy brings kids to a church softball league game and proceeds to sit with them directly behind first base. I told him he wasn't really in a safe spot. He turns to me and says quite curtly, I believe that God will protect these kids from being hit by the ball. I told him that I agreed, in that God had sent them to the game where someone old enough and wise enough would keep them from putting themselves in harms way. Then I asked him if he believed that would be him or me.

    Winning the lottery cannot be affected by anything but luck. Belief plays no part other than getting you to the store to buy the ticket.

    WG

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    1. Wow. I know a guy who runs out of gas all the time for a similar reason. He really believes that God will maintain his car and get him to his destination. Despite how many times this has failed him, he continues to believe it.

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  13. "A man's got to know his limitations."

    I seem to be on board with the thought of a few of the commenters here, that believing in something, starts you down the path. Hard work and determination can only take you so far. If it's not going to work out, it's best to cut your losses and move on. That's not failing, that's good decision making.

    Nice post, Brett.

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    1. Absolutely. Belief does play a role, but it is just the beginning.

      The most successful people we are taught about had plenty of failures in their life as well.

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  14. I agree with you for the most part.

    But I do believe that anyone can do whatever they want. The key difference is in the wording, and I don't just mean linguistics. Many of the things that I have achieved in my life are because I know that they are going to happen.

    There's a difference between knowing and believing.

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    1. I have to agree with that. Belief is more of a hope. Knowing is based upon some knowledge, which means there is a reason for thinking that.

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  15. Dang, you hit the nail on the head. I judged a science fair this past week. When they told us how the projects would be awarded ribbons, even the lousiest of projects would get an Honerable Mention. You feel like saying WHAT? No wonder some kids can think too highly of their abilities. I got a good laugh out of some of the situations you described. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you. I don't think our brains developed until well into our twenties.

      With all the studies that have been done and the damage that we now know it does to our kids healthy development, I have to wonder what people are thinking.

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  16. So true, so true, so true. You may think you can, but shit happens and guess what? You can't. OK, I'm being cynical and resentful here because of my own personal issues, but sometimes even hard work doesn't mean you can. Clearly this post resonates with me!

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    1. I can sympathize with you. We have all had times when we have busted our butts and things still didn't work out, but THAT IS HOW LIFE WORKS.

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    2. That sounded too cynical. Let me clarify. Sometimes, that is just how it works out.

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  17. First I believe, then I get to work. Have I achieved everything I've believed in and worked toward? No. Does it stop me from working at stuff I love? No.

    Dang it...now I have to go and write a better post! :D

    Good post. I enjoy being challenged to THINK!

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    1. I love to be challenged as well. Continue to believe. The belief is important. We just have to have more than that.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  18. Well, I believe I agree with you! Nice post!

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    1. Well, thank you. The world would run much smoother if everyone agreed with me...about everything.

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    1. In all honesty, it is my end that I am the most concerned about.

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