This I Believe

Rachael - Manlius, New York
Entered on December 18, 2006

We Must Be Allowed to Find Our Own Way

I believe that to be truly self-confident in our actions we must be allowed to find our own way.

Most people find at one time or another that they are frightened or discouraged in the face of a problem. For a lot of us this happens at an early age.

I remember going to my parents and asking them for help with all sorts of things. The answer was always the same. They explained the general idea behind what I didn’t understand, or told me where I could find significant information, then sent me off to figure the rest out on my own. This has continued to the point that I rarely believe there is anything I cannot accomplish, with or without a bit of help.

I hear my relatives, my peers, and even adults say, “I don’t know how. I can’t. I’ll just let someone else do it for me.” In my mind this translates as, “I’ve never been taught to rely on myself, and now I don’t care.”

The difference I find between these people and myself is that they have always had someone who is willing to do the work for them. Maybe a parent didn’t want to see his or her child get a poor grade or be embarrassed in front of the class. Maybe the subject bullied or persuaded their friends to give them all the answers. Or, never having been in the spotlight for either success or disappointment has failed to teach them anything about self-accomplishment. This is not necessarily their fault, but I believe they gain nothing from these experiences.

People should be rewarded for the work they do, and for the contribution they make to a greater cause. It’s one reason I enjoy activities such as cross-country running. It is a sport that demands time, patience, and endurance. You are part of a team, but you have nowhere to hide. When you don’t do your best everyone knows it, including you. It is then a personal choice whether or not to learn from it and move on. I have learned more from my failures than from the advice of any teacher, coach, or mentor in my life.

I often see awards handed out for simple participation in both athletic and scholastic events. I see parents tell their kids who have come in below the top ranks, “It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a stupid competition. Those judges were unfair.”

This frustrates me. I think that those ribbons and trophies will never evoke a sense of pride in their owners when they look at them years from now. Those kids may never learn true sportsmanship.

Perhaps to those kids who are told, “It doesn’t matter.” it does matter. Maybe constructive criticism and encouragement to keep trying would help their self-esteem more in the long run than coddling from well-wishing parents, because in real life those kids will find that there isn’t anyone else to do the work for them.

Doing your own work, and accepting and learning from your own failures will teach you more and get you farther than commiseration and passive resignation ever will. This means that we must be allowed to find our own way.

This I believe.