“Did I do something stupid that no one else did?”
“Yes, and you’ve asked that eight times now.”
“What? I did.”
In a flash, I was suddenly aware of my surroundings and realized I was laying on a gurney in the emergency room talking to my sister. But why?
My sister sighed with relief as she realized that I was no longer repeating myself. She explained that I had been in an accident while sledding.
I had hit my head, went unconscious, and then had been looping for the past four hours, asking the same few questions over and over.
The accident was back on December 30, 2012. Years later, the majority of what I know about it has been told to me by friends that were there as I have little to no memory of that day.
In short, we were cold and tired and ready to call it a day but I pointed to a mound of snow some kids had built and informed the group that one of us had to sled down the hill and go over this makeshift ramp before we left.
Despite multiple warnings from my friends, I decided it should be me. I’m not sure where this bravado came from. Perhaps I was trying to show off? Nevertheless, I took the bright blue snowtube and swooshed down the hill.
I hit the mound and was flung 10 feet past and landed on a snow-covered running path. I bruised my ribs and my head hit the ground, rendering me unconscious.
An expensive ambulance ride, multiple X-rays and hours later I found myself with my sister clueless about what had happened.
The concussion and week spent on bed rest hopped on Vicodin was not worth it. Nor did I garner any enjoyment from the large hospital bill.
There was no glory in this moment of false confidence. Why did I think I was qualified to make this jump? That morning was the first time I had been sledding since I was a kid.
I was ill-prepared. I lacked a proper helmet or sled. The snowtube was borrowed and the gusto was founded upon nothing.
A trip last week with my Dad to Las Vegas made me think about this display of false confidence. While he and I sat at a card table playing poker, methodically learning the flow of the game, I was struck by others who walked up threw a large bet on the table and quickly lost it all with one bad hand.
Now Vegas is a place to take some fun risk and so might not be the right analogy. However, it reminded me that in my life the moments of false confidence have led to nothing but trouble.
The other major instance of this was when I was 22 years old, right out of college and playing in a softball tournament for work.
We played a full game in Central Park in the late afternoon and then headed to a nearby bar on the Upper West Side for a happy hour. I decided to challenge a friendly but older team member to go shot for shot.
I was not a big drinker, especially compared to him – a regular bar fly with at least 50 pounds on me – but for some reason I puffed up my chest and decided I was going to try and prove something that day.
Perhaps the impetus was my performance in the softball game? I had spent the majority of the time on the bench, probably due to my lack of athletic prowess.
Perhaps I wanted to prove that the young new kid could hold his own?
Whatever the reason, you can easily have guessed that it led to me getting drunk and blacking out.
I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues and endangered my own health. My boss was not impressed and set me straight the next morning at work.
I didn’t touch an ounce of alcohol for the next few months. To this day, I never drink liquor at work events and keep to 2-beer maximum.
One more anecdote, courtesy of Aesop, to help drive the point: “A Donkey and a Rooster were together when a Lion, desperate from hunger, approached.
He was about to spring upon the Donkey, when the Rooster (to the sound of whose voice the Lion, it is said, has a singular aversion) crowed loudly, and the Lion fled away.
The Donkey, observing his trepidation at the mere crowing of a Rooster summoned courage to attack him, and galloped after him for that purpose.
He had run no long distance when the Lion, turning about, seized him and tore him to pieces.” Moral of the story – false confidence often leads into danger.
As I reflect upon my effort over the last few years to develop my self-confidence, I realize it is built upon my training and hard work.
I didn’t enter Freeze Fest or Granite Games on a whim with no preparation. My confidence entering those arenas was based on the fact that I had spent weeks, even months, lifting, practicing skills and movements, and working on my sleep and nutrition.
I feel confident going into a workout or a competition because I know I have put in the time and effort to justify my enthusiasm and bravado.
Similarly at my job, I speak with confidence to my clients when I have done my research and come well prepared with all the facts and analysis.
I feel my best on a property tour with a prospective tenant or buyer when I have anticipated all their questions and have the answers at the ready.
As much as I’d like to think my charming personality could help me even sell the Brooklyn Bridge, I know that false confidence would be built upon a very shaky foundation and eventually will crack.
False confidence only masks our insecurities. It is good to be brave and take risks. It is even better to walk through life brimming with confidence.
However, that strong mindset and the actions that follow need to be grounded in reality.