When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I remember one time, writing out for an English friend, some of the various alternates of the sword (劍) character: 劍・劒・劔・釼・剣 … and she went “you see, I’ll never be able to do that [you must be magically talented]“…and it was kind of mini-heartbreaking because my intent had been to prove that any fool can learn kanji, not that I knew kanji. Daniel Coyle of Das Le El The Talent Code calls this the “HSE/Holy [Crap] Effect”.
Social resistance is like a matte painting of a formidable fence separating the worlds of those who do succeed (in many senses), and those who don’t. Once you realize the fence is fake, you simply walk off the set of the little Truman Show that had been going. Thereafter, you may not become instantly unstoppable, but it will certainly take a heckuva lot more to faze you.
Before we can succeed at something we need to think we can do it. I grew up in a working class household. We had books in the house, but neither of my parents went to university. I read a lot, but never felt comfortable tackling something difficult. When the going got tough, I would quit. Avoidance. Procrastination. Fear. Ambivalence. When I did end up going to university I spent a good year feeling like everybody was smarter than me, like somebody was going to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I shouldn’t be there. It took a long time to get over that. Several years later as a casual tutor I ran into other students experiencing similar anxiety and insecurity. Their inability to understand the material given to them (which was hard) was a source of great discomfort and fear. In their own mind, everybody else was getting it, and they alone did not understand. The reality was that it was hard material, everybody was struggling, and they were comparatively doing just fine, but they were plagued by self-doubt. Everybody else is fine, and I’m not. This was the way that they saw the world.
I came to see that one of the biggest distinctions between people who do well at a given path, and people who burn up and fail, is self belief. Generally, self-belief and confidence appears to be one of the benefits of growing up middle/upper class. It’s not just education too. It spills over into the social world, employment, everything. The challenge for education systems is to teach without destroying confidence. Not just by affirming children as ‘special’ regardless of effort of course, but by encouraging play and failure. It is OK if you can’t do something right now. It will make sense if you keep going. People who think that they can do something are not fazed by something that they find is unintelligible. They don’t tell themselves “I am stupid because I cannot understand this”. Or “this is too hard for me to do”. They just do it. They play around. This confidence eventually leads to results, which in turn affects again how they feel. People will say that they are “smart”, and they might believe it. They will then continue to do things that are hard, and so on it goes. So much of it though is simply having the guts to try, or feeling like you are ‘allowed to’ do something.