After a couple of decades of “Best Participant” trophies and endless congratulations to kids for just getting out of bed and existing every day, the experts have finally started cautioning against too much positive reinforcement. The thinking is that children will develop an inappropriate sense of entitlement to esteem if they are praised for every effort, whether it’s impressive or not.
While I think babies and toddlers should be applauded for pretty much anything, and I think the Tiger Mother approach is tragically unbalanced, I see the point, as can anyone with a basic grasp of logic and psychology. High self-regard can be created in anyone if they’re given enough positive encouragement, but if esteem comes from without it’s fragile. Just as it will always depend on external factors for sustenance, external factors will have the power to upset it.
There was a book in the late eighties, titled Do What you Love, the Money Will Follow. As it turns out, it wasn’t true, but I think there’s a rough corollary that IS true – do what you do well and the confidence will follow.
I entered adult life with a notable shortage of confidence and what I now realize was an annoying surfeit of bravado. I didn’t know what confidence looked like or felt like, so I presented my closest approximation and probably alienated more than a few people.
But almost in spite of my cluelessness, as I plowed forward further into adulthood and got more life experience under my belt, a cool thing happened. I went from trying desperately to project confidence to actually feeling confidence because I was starting to make concrete achievements. I learned how to do a bunch of stuff and to do it well. I learned a lot of new life skills and job skills and it felt good!
And, because the feeling of accomplishment was coming from within there wasn’t anyone who could take it away. Well, maybe they could rain on my parade a bit, but as I took on increasingly bigger challenges and enjoyed a combination of successes and very educational failures, my confidence grew.
To this day I fall back on what I learned about myself when I was living a double life as a UPS package slinger by night and academic by day. Surviving that taught me that I can dig deep and do what seems impossible, so when others say “you won’t be able to do that” I just think “well, my whole adult life I have been doing stuff that wasn’t supposed to be possible.” Amazingly enough, it often IS quite possible and has the added advantage of ratcheting my confidence up another notch or two.
And since it’s true confidence, I don’t have to trumpet it (well, except right this minute, in this blog) so I am probably a lot nicer to be around.