“It’s impossible” said pride. “It’s risky” said experience. “It’s pointless” said reason. “Give it a try” whispered the heart. – Unknown
I have a race coming up on Sunday. It’s a trail half marathon described as “tough“, “challenging“, “grit-testing” and promises to “burn your butt“. I am running with my husband Bill and a speedy friend. The race is sold out. You can check the list of registrants, so I did. I am the only woman registered in my age group. The. Only. One. That is slightly unnerving. My plan is to use this race as a tune up for a 25k in 2 weeks. This is the race that really intimidates me! Here is part of the race director’s message “I want to be clear that our course was not designed for the ‘leisure’ runner or hiker. Nor was it designed so that ‘everyone’ can easily finish…Don’t expect to come to this course and set any records for a 25K. Our course was designed to challenge people both mentally and physically.” Yikes! Are trail race directors somewhat sadistic? I guess that makes me a masochist.
My husband will tell you that I am slightly impulsive when it comes to signing up for races. My heart says “Yes, do it!“, but my head says “At your age?” I am lucky. When I was growing up, my parents encouraged me to do. Most evenings after dinner in the summertime, the neighborhood tribe would gather at my house for a game of baseball. The tribe of boys, that is. I was the only girl who played. I don’t remember if I was a good player or not, but I do remember that we had sweaty, dirty fun. I played first base. One evening the girls from the neighborhood came to the game and asked me to play dolls with them, so I agreed. That lasted 15 minutes. I didn’t like playing dolls. I went back to baseball.
The only time I remember playing with dolls as a kid was the time the neighbor boy and I used his sister’s dolls as targets when we were shooting our BB guns. Thinking back on that incident, it is actually pretty disturbing. It is amazing that any of us Baby Boomers grew up to be normal, productive citizens when you consider the small amount of parental oversight we had and the shenanigans we pulled.
There have been several studies linking physical activity and self-esteem. Boys, it seems, naturally have higher levels of physical activity, thus higher self-esteem than girls of the same age. Boys in these studies lowered high cortisol (a stress hormone) levels most effectively by physical activity. Girls lowered it best by talking to each other. Boys win praise by taking action; girls by being quiet and well-behaved.
This is a disservice to girls. Taking action requires risk. Taking reasonable risks (think: raising your hand in class, not jumping off the garage roof) builds confidence. You have to believe in yourself enough to risk possible embarrassment with an incorrect answer to raise your hand. You have to have courage. Confidence is what allows you to actually raise your hand. Confidence is what turns thoughts into action. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. You need confidence to take the risks that allow you to build more confidence.
A sassy and bright 5th grade girl named Alice noticed that the girls in her class weren’t raising their hands as much as the boys did. She herself lacked the confidence to raise her hand unless she was 100% sure of the answer. One day on a field trip, she saw the boys in her class raising their hands, standing at the front of the group, getting the majority of the attention from the guides and teachers who were talking to the students. Alice decided to do something about it. She decided to raise her hand. She didn’t get every question right, but she got a lot of them right. That gave her confidence to talk her friends into raising their hands more often too. And her friends talked to their friends. The girls took the idea to their girl scout leader, who loved it. They decided to make a patch called the Raise Your Hand patch. The leader took it to the local girl scout council, who spread the word. Now girls from all across the country and the world can get a Raise Your Hand patch. It was like throwing a tiny stone in a still pond and watching the beautiful ripples spread farther and farther from the center.
This is not to say that boys don’t need our encouragement in building confidence too. They do. Confident and informed young men and women are needed to build a functioning society. It’s just that boys (in aggregate) have an innate proclivity for action, which naturally instills confidence, more than girls do.
If I didn’t have confidence, I couldn’t do the runs that I love. I could never have started this blog to tell the whole world (or at least my tiny corner of the world) what I think. I would be too afraid of falling on my face (literally, in the case of the trail races). So. I am in need of some confidence for my upcoming races. Taking action breeds confidence. I am going for a run.