In May of 1968 I was drafted into the United States Army. Those of us who were drafted spent 2 years active duty and 4 more years in the reserves. Upon my release I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my abilities. At that point I read a book by Dale Carnegie and was very impressed by the things that he taught. One day I was looking at a local paper and saw that there was a Dale Carnegie public speaking course being offered in our area. For some reason I had a strong desire to enroll even though the course was very expensive and I didn’t like public speaking. I just felt like I needed it to overcome some of my insecurities.
The first night of the course the instructor had all of us introduce ourselves. I quickly learned that I was by far the youngest person in the class. Most of those enrolled were already successful in their careers. We had a couple of CEOs from area companies, several top executives, managers and salesmen. Most just wanted more training since they were already doing a significant amount of public speaking in their jobs. And then there was Calvin. He was a man about 45 years old and you could tell he was extremely shy, withdrawn and uncomfortable being there. When he introduced himself he had his head down and was barely audible when he said his name.
I wondered why Calvin had signed up for a public speaking course when he was obviously very uncomfortable and seemed to have an inferiority complex. We found out that night that he was a deliveryman for a local bread company. The reason he was there was because the CEO of his company was taking the course and thought it would be beneficial for his shy employee to it with him.
Over the course of the 12-week course we saw a remarkable change come over Calvin. He went from being extremely shy and withdrawn to being outgoing and confident. By the time the course was over he was very friendly and was looking everyone in the eye when he spoke. He was also giving amazing speeches. At the end of the course we all gave speeches on the topic of our choice. As part of Calvin’s final speech he told us what happened to him when he was a little boy that had caused him to withdraw into a shell. He said that when he was in elementary school he tried out for a play that they were doing at his school. Calvin got the lead role that year and was very excited and a little cocky to go along with it. He was excited about his accomplishment and he memorized his part very quickly. His mother was also proud of him and would have him recite his lines to everyone who came over. His confidence soared and he was excited for the night of the play.
On the way to the play he was sitting in the back seat with a cousin who was his age. His mother had Calvin say his lines one more time to make sure he had not forgotten anything. He confidently said his part perfectly. When he finished his little cousin said, “You think you’re so smart you are going to get up there and forget everything.” That comment put doubts in his mind about his abilities. When Calvin got on stage that night in front of the crowd he panicked and could not remember his lines. He ran off the stage humiliated and told us that he had not spoken in public in all of the years since that humiliating experience.
Calvin chose to let a thoughtless comment made by his cousin cast doubts about his own abilities. That lead to an incident, which killed the confidence he had in himself. Fortunately for Calvin he found out who he really was and rediscovered talents that he had kept buried for most of his life. Of course Calvin’s experience is not really all that unusual. Almost everyone has things happen in their life that could potentially destroy self-confidence. However, we should remember that we have a choice in the matter. We can choose to pay attentions to the mocking and negative comments of others or we can choose to not let the words of others turn us into failures. Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us that, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
When you are tempted to get down on yourself remember the words of Sterling W. Sill who said: Self-depreciation is a sin. You will never rise higher than your confidence in yourself."