A few decades ago, in a previous life when I worked as a professional horse trainer (since I wasn’t rich, the only way to be around horses was as a trainer and groom, prepping the horses for their wealthy young owners – on rare occasions I was allowed to ride one of the ‘reject’ horses, all of whom I considered gorgeous and perfect and who often turned into champions under my tutelage), there was this one guy that everyone had a crush on.
Randy, with his black curls falling over his forehead and capping his green/blue eyes, was a uniquely talented horse trainer, a man who had apparently grown-up poor amidst the tonied horsey set of his native northern California. But he had a positivity and a gentleness to him and treated every horse he had the pleasure to ride as though they were a world champion, whereas often he was actually riding a somewhat ‘leftover’ horse, one with limited capacity or talent. I could relate to that. But because Randy treated them like champions, many of them began to act like champions, and in the years that I knew Randy, when he was a very successful professional show horse trainer, and many of the horses he rode were ‘top of the line’ champions. But just as many who had previously been ‘B’ level horses at best in terms of competition, performed like and then became champions because of his innate belief in them. He expected every horse he rode to be great and so they were.
I have found the same to be true in many aspects of life, and certainly in terms of parenting; when my son Stephan was having a variety of challenges in his early years, those teachers and therapists that expected him to rise to a challenge saw those results – he did rise to the various challenges. Likewise, those that thought he had more serious issues impeding his progress got comparable results from him. Luckily, I was both too kid drunk and thrilled to be a mother (after having spent more than 5 years in the attempt), to see anything less than Stephan’s amazing, limitless potential, and I know that my belief in him helped add to the stockpile of confidence that every person needs as they increasingly head out into this very challenging world.
In Stephan’s elementary school years we lucked into a teacher who expected great things from all of his students, including Stephan, and somehow the combination of him being a teacher, i.e., a mega authority figure for a child, as well as a man – I had recently gotten divorced so attention from a grown up male seemed to hold extra resonance for Stephan during that time – unlocked a confidence and willingness to take chances, to speak up when curious, and that welcome impetus has lasted all these year, including now into Stephan’s college experience.
Of course, there is credence in the notions of both nature and nurture, and some of us may more naturally rise to an occasion in a more extroverted way than others. But having someone that you know believes in you is irreplaceable in our lives, especially when we are young.
As an adult, I know too well, like a lot of people, perhaps especially women, what it is like to be constantly undermined at work. One recent position I was in looked great on paper but in day-to-day reality was the most backwards, toxic, non-supportive place I’d ever experienced, a scenario so absurd on a daily basis that it would have been funny a la an episode of The Office, had it not been so soul-crushing; the atmosphere was so tense and inhospitable that people would often be overheard crying in the bathroom on their 10 minute ‘lunch breaks’ or work for 15 hours a day for a week straight only to have the boss say he was ‘disappointed’ in their work. The Boss, who we called the emperor (as in the one with no clothes), cared little about the people he worked with except in so far as they concurred with his presumed brilliance – in reality, he undermined and disregarded the most capable workers to the point that much of the top talent eventually left the company.
But I digress; the point is, the power of our minds is seemingly limitless, including in the many ways we - whether consciously or not – paint a picture or expectation in our minds and somehow that picture eventually comes to fruition. It was true of Randy the horse trainer, turning horses that were previously ‘also-rans’ into champions. It was also sadly proven true in my recent toxic work environment. And it is certainly true of my son Stephan, who has already had to overcome more serious challenges in his young life than many of us do in a lifetime, yet has continued to thrive and grow into each subsequent chapter of life due in part to the confidence that has grown in him as a result of consistent encouragement throughout his most formative years.
Confidence is a delicate thing – our human minds are made to question things, including our selves and our own capabilities – but if we can keep it as a compass point, a true north, then we can steer back to that place when we feel otherwise shaken, and it can provide us a righteous and much needed boost.
So believe in your children! Let them know that their potential is unlimited, and that anything they can imagine, they can work towards making a reality. I have had to learn that lesson for myself later in life, but better late than never.
So when your child (or you) are feeling unsure as to whether you are good enough or strong enough to accomplish the task before you, the answer is an emphatic YES. Yes, you can. We can. I have watched belief morph into confidence and confidence morph into achievement, be it in a horse or a child or in myself.
And whenever the old doubts squeeze into my mind, which they inevitably do, I picture my old horse trainer friend Randy, riding into the winner’s circle on a horse that had previously been called a ‘nag’ and accepting the championship that Randy’s belief had helped make possible.