Usain Bolt – Lessons in confidence

It’s the year 2004. In Athens, a 17 year old crouches into the starting blocks at the Olympics. The gun goes off. Like all his competitors, he bolts from the blocks. Plagued by a hamstring injury, he is left chasing his competitors. He doesn’t make it past the first round. In true Jamaican style, many cursed and booed him.

This embarrassing Olympic defeat would have been the story of most people’s career, but thankfully, the young man’s opinion of himself and his abilities were not dictated by public opinion.

12 years later, Usain St. Leo Bolt, the young man from Sherwood Content in Trelawny IS undisputedly one of the Greatest Athletes of All Time. A living legend.

Usain hasn’t been booed in ages for his “poor” performance. Nowadays, he is often criticised, chastised even for the open display of his confidence. Simply put, many people think Bolt is just “too full of himself.”

Yet the very thing that he is criticised for is one of the things I absolutely love about Usain; the very thing we should seek to emulate. Usain Bolt believes in himself. He declares to the universe that he wants to be a legend. He declares to the universe, without fear of criticism or banter that his goal is to be the greatest athlete of all time. He is not apologetic about it. It’s not a wishy washy dream and he is not half-hearted about it. He doesn’t allow himself to think, but what if I don’t achieve it? He believes, backs it up by doing the work and so the universe delivers.

This brings to mind one of my favourite quotes from Paulo Coelho author of the Alchemist.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

This brings me to why many of us are so affronted by Usain’s confidence. Why we want him to be a little more “humble”. Most of us, myself included, are not used to seeing such level of confidence on display. Many of us grew up in strong Christian households where our parents inculcated us with bible passages such as, “Pride cometh before a fall” and stories of great men (King Nebuchadnezzar readily comes to mind) who were punished because of pride. Our (dare I say misguided) interpretation of the bible often serves to reaffirm feelings of “unworthiness” and “wretchedness”.

We latch on to these teachings, ignoring the fact that the very same bible tells us that we are made in God’s image. In. His. Own. Image. Just let that sink in for a moment.  If we think about what this really means, we’ll acknowledge that God made us with the ability to do anything we set our minds to. In the words of Marianne Williamson, God has made us “powerful beyond measure”. Yet many of us believe that having confidence in ourselves, and worst, publicly displaying such confidence somehow diminishes rather than complements the confidence we have in God.

As a result of these lessons, we all grow up thinking being confident is a bad thing and to avoid the “fall” that is bound to occur from being too confident, we all try to downplay our abilities.

You pass an exam, get a promotion, win a competition, an award or a medal that you’ve truly worked hard for, that you deserve to win and instead of celebrating the moment, you downplay your success with a lackluster acknowledgement (for fear of offending the watching public).

And my pet peeve of all pet peeves is the fake show of ‘humility’ I now expect to hear from every person after being introduced as a guest speaker, “Oh, after hearing so and so talk about me and I almost didn’t recognise myself.” Of course you recognised your damn self. It’s a feigned attempt at being humble that makes me want to jump on stage and pummel the person to death. It really annoys me.

We are reluctant to own success and accept praises because very few of us learnt the difference between being confident and being pompous. The two are often muddled, lumped together and so we automatically assume that a confident person is pompous.

And yet if you have ever interacted with Usain Bolt (in real life), you’ll quickly dispel any such notion. Because when he’s off the track, he is one of the most down-to-earth, genuine, and yes, truly humble person you’ll ever meet.

Even IOC president Jacques Rogge, back in 2012 at the London Olympics was quick to label Bolt’s celebration of his historic performance as “showboating”, “immature” and not in keeping with the “spirit of the Olympic ideal.” Rogge’s comments serve as an example of the hypocrisy we all embrace: it’s acceptable to scream and shout and celebrate behind closed doors, but such joy must always be tempered in public.

Many of us are offended (or at the very least, uncomfortable) when we hear anyone speak with what we perceive as a little too much confidence before undertaking any activity or event. I will never forget back in 2012 when some people literally rejoiced when Yohan Blake (whom I love by the way) beat Usain at the National Trials. I remember the venom spewed at Usain, “Yeah man, Blake fi teach him a lesson.” “Him gwan too much!” “Him too hype!”

There were even those who wagered huge sums on Bolt losing at the Olympics. Yet Bolt was unbothered. I remember being in awe at how he was able to shut out the negative energy.  He never for once doubted himself and in fact the loss to Blake seemed to only serve to strengthen his resolve to dominate at the 2012 London Olympics.

 Sadly, many of us are not like Bolt. The loud noise of our detractors is enough to suffocate us. We dread being “embarrassed” or “taught a lesson” and so we dim our lights. But we don’t just dim our own lights; we  go even further and put out the lights of others too.

How many times have we told someone, “That won’t work” or “That makes no sense”? How many times have you allowed someone to kill your dreams?

Because if we are 100% honest with ourselves, our lack of confidence is really fear disguised as “humility”.

We dare not declare our big dreams and aspirations to the world, not because we are genuinely humble, but because we fear the embarrassment that we may face if we fail to achieve these goals. We fear being the laughing stock of our family, friends, neighbours and the world. We fly under the radar hoping that if we don’t draw too much attention to ourselves, nobody will notice if we fail.

We are crippled by the “what ifs”.  What if my business fails?  What if I declare that I am going to start university this year and I am not accepted? What if I celebrate or declare this man or woman as the love of my life and the relationship or marriage falls apart? What if my plans fail?

Let me be the first to admit that I understand this fear. I live this fear. I have held myself back and continue to hold myself back from pursing so many dreams because of fear. Fear of failure and even more importantly because of fear of setting up myself to become what my mother would call, “one big poppy show”.

But really? So what if you declare to the world that you are a winner and you lose. Or you declare a goal and you fail to achieve it? You enter the competition again? You start another business. You apply again next year. You find love again. Failure is really just an opportunity to grow and learn and pick up yourself (I should really start taking my own advice).

It’s no secret that the majority of hugely successful people are those who have found a way to tune out the world and not care much about the criticisms. Those who even through failure and ridicule have gotten back on their feet and keep trying until they succeed. Those who see their vision so clearly they waste no time on detractors. Those who are confident that despite the glitches they will ultimately succeed.

Remember the world criticised, mocked and even laughed at Usain Bolt 12 years ago.

Who’s laughing now?

Have you ever allowed fear to stop you from pursuing a dream? Please leave a comment and let's chat below.


Usain Bolt on the cover of Sports Illustrated

44 Responses

  1. This is an Excellent article!!

  2. This was such a great piece! I’m going to have my 14 year old read this. Confidence can never be overrated!

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thank you Drea! I hope he enjoys it!

  3. On point, Lecia-Gaye. Excellent food for thought.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thanks J.L. Campbell.

  4. Your perspectives are well received. Thanks for another awesome read!

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thanks Jonelle! I appreciate the feedback!

  5. This is just simply phenomenal. The average person who is not privy to certain information on how to overcome fear and in the same breath drive success will definitely view the legend as being “cocky”. I on the other hand understand how necessary it is to constantly tell yourself you can do it and declare to the world that you will achieve your “silly” dreams. It motivates you to work harder just to prove your naysayers wrong. I totally admire Bolt’s confidence and is currently working on building mine. Thanks for this reinforcement Lecia. Another superb article.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Deandra! Much love and success!

  6. This article is beautifully constructed, thought about and written. To be honest i had seen you the author as one of those person who is a bit too confident but reading the article i come to realise that there is absolutely nothing is wrong with being confident. The quotations from the bible help to drive the point home. Comparatively, people say the same thing about me being too full of myself and too overly comfident but knowing myself it is what drives me to success. This article makes it evidently clear that you as a person must not allow public opinion to dictate how you live and operate.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thanks for your honest feedback Sheldon. You know, it has taken me quite some time to get here and thanks to my husband and his confidence in me, I have been able to achieve so much more than anticipated. But in truth being confident is important in so many ways. As an attorney, I have learnt that if a client asks you a question and you sound unsure, even if the answer is correct they immediately doubt you. You have to project confidence at all times to command respect, especially in the commercial world. You also have to remain respectful and this is where many confuse the two, because confidence and arrogance are opposites. For me personally, if I take on anything with confidence, there is almost always sure success, but once I start with doubts in my mind, it’s usually only downhill from there. So yes, let’s embrace our confidence, especially if we are reaping the benefits Sheldon!!!

  7. Lecia, your article confirms how different yet alike people are. You rightly said that so many of us are afraid of highlighting our successes/abilities and that resonates so well with me. I think one of the reasons I am private is that I don’t want to be vulnerable when I voice a plan and it doesn’t work out. It was like you were in my head when I read your article. BTW, I never thought Usain was arrogant. I’ve had many a disagreement with my sis who always berates him for ‘showboating’ before a race, whereas I believe he has great appeal and knows how to entertain a crowd. He believed in himself, put in the work and delivered. We can all take a lesson from that.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      I am like you too Monique. In fact, if it weren’t for my husband who is very open, I probably wouldn’t even have started this blog!Fear is a heck of a thing and a part of the reason for writing this is to confront my own fears.

  8. Lay

    That is an awesome insight!

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thank you Lay

  9. Years ago I bought Usain’s 9.58 Story. I understood from reading the book that he understand his and strength and weaknesses more than other athletes .He also knows his craft from a technical perspective.That’s where his confidence comes from. His confidence is not one of arrogance that the bible speaks against. Thats why he is so loved by people all over the world. One thing I also learned from reading his book is that like most successful persons bolts set goals for every major competition he enters and works his ass off to achieve these goals. He also understands that its OK to lose in the one race meets. That’s what he has over other athletes. He said when Tyson Gay beat him in that world champs final he told his mom Tyson will never beat him again in a major championship . Bolt do not run against his stronger opponents when he is not fit enough. Thats to keep them in check. He recognize that if they beat him this will build their confidence.His philosophy is If I beat you once you can never beat me again and he has lived up to that to today. Bolt story is a great example of how to navigate success while staying on top. I hope his story is taught in schools to inspire other youths to greatness.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Corey well said!!!

  10. This is BEAUTIFULLY written.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thanks Kaye! Please share!

  11. Lecia I am inspired and motivated by your article to push myself to the highest point, I am pursuing an advanced degree and was about to quit, because I failed one class, the professor and the Associate Dean were steering me into another field when my dream of being a Nurse Practitioner is on this pathway. Usain posted this article on his page and I read it. I am grateful that you were being led at this time to write this. Thanks to you and thanks to Usain Bolt. God bless you all.
    Keron of Houston TX

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thank you for sharing Keron! Do not be deterred by one failure at all. Continue to pursue your dream and I am already congratulating you on the great success you will have! I truly appreciate your sharing! Love!

  12. Pat

    Very inspiring yet do I dare. I am too comfortable in the rut (pothole) in life that I have carved for myself the fight I have to do with my inner being to be confident in myself it’s going to take a lot of energy. But if I can do it then maybe I can encourage someone else

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      I think you should! I know its hard, but you should!!

  13. Jen

    Well penned. Love how you come home and drop that mike….shut dem down. Nuff love mi neighbor, nuff respect for you and what you did for our country! Keep on doing you.

  14. My response to the argument that Bolt is full of himself is always “he has a reason to be.” We don’t want to see ppl celebrating themselves. The popular argument now is that selfie taking is narcissistic. How can you determine that I am narcissistic from the fact that I take a lot of pics of myself? Ridiculous. Many ppl don’t want to see others shine their own lights.
    Fear is a funny thing. It keeps you safe and it also holds you back. I come up with the best ideas and never pursue them. The tricky part is that I’m pretty fierce and very forward and confident etc, so what am I afraid of really? Me no figure that out yet.
    Great article. Bolt really is an excellent lesson in confidence.
    Love love Marianne Williamson.

  15. Were you writing about Usain or preaching for me?
    You hit a few notes that resonate with me. Lovely thank you.

  16. Great read. Truly inspirational. I have experience the blacklash of confidence being mistaken so many times for cockiness and being “show-off”

  17. This is my life so far in a nutshell. I was a promising student then shit happened (illness, bad relationships etc) and my own family ridiculed and said “a beh, she a fly too fast, etc etc” but I have managed to pull myself together and not focus on the negativity. Now I am winning and I am not afraid of failure in any of my future endeavours. I know that I have the strength and the know how to overcome. Absolutely fabulous read. Very relatable.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thanks for sharing Sash! Wishing you even more success!

  18. This is my life so far in a nutshell. I was a promising student then shit happened (illness, bad relationships etc) and my own family ridiculed and said “a beh, she a fly too fast, etc etc” but I have managed to pull myself together and not focus on the negativity. Now I am winning and I am not afraid of failure in any of my future endeavours. I know that I have the strength and the know how to overcome. Absolutely fabulous read. Very relatable.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Thank you for sharing Sash and I’m so happy to hear of your successes. Continue to strive for greatness and enjoy the ride!

  19. Brilliantly written! Powerful lessons from an amazing soul– Usain!!! One love..

  20. I love the boldness of your article. Just as you wrote about Bolt, you have openly embraced success and celebration and belittled fake sense of humility.
    Though I sometimes wonder if confidence and ability are directly proportional? How does one know what one is capable of doing?
    While I reflect on these questions, your piece gave a fresh perspective with no mincing of words !

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      This is good question Manasi. What I love to focus on are those things or more specifically that one dream that you are truly passionate about. The thing that keeps tugging at your heart even when you ignore it. Strangely enough that is the very thing we are most scared to do, because it makes us so vulnerable. I wouldn’t declare to the world that I am going to be a world-class athlete because I know that even if I trained 24 hours each day I would suck at it. I simply don’t have the ability and worst I don’t have the passion. However if you do have the passion, if your heart is tugging you in that direction, I bet you every dollar that it’s something you do have the ability to do (even if you don’t know yet)

  21. Excellent article I admire his confidence to the max because I don’t possess even a fraction of it. This article brings to mind the age old Jamaican practice of not sharing our successes for fear of “badmind”, yet when something goes wrong it is time to share (for most people). I have a personal mantra, If I am not good enough to share in your successes please do not burden me with your hardships or failures.

    We really are afraid to ‘big up’ ourselves when it is due.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      The fear of “badmind” is a popular one yes! I don’t understand the people who obsess about “haters” or “badmind” people. I agree that you should ignore or cut off anyone who brings this negative energy into your space but once that’s done then move on and focus on the positives and get on with accomplishing our goals.No amount of badmind can stop a man who is determined to succeed! And you are right, we are afraid to big up ourselves. We really should.

  22. Great read and i can totally relate to this article in my own business growth.

  23. Brilliantly said

  24. Ben

    Great article. I love how you used Usain Bolt as the catalyst to dissect how we are thought to be and the ramifications on our lives by buying into those ideologies. The journey to reclaiming oneself is to claim one’s birthright of greatness and that is the ultimate lesson Usain is showing and teaching us by example. It is a lesson we should all take to heart and learn as we choose to move forward as empowered beings. All the best and many more successes Usain.

    • Lecia-Gaye Taylor

      Amen. It’s such are difficult lesson for so many many of us, myself inlcuded

  25. If possible usain bolt should travel the world to spread confidence and self respect

  26. Excellent read and so true. Some people cannot determine confidence from pompous. But I do have been following Usain and I admire his confidence, his spirit and his determination. Never let anyone dim your light.

  27. Excellent article. I find that many people don’t know the difference between arrogant and confidence. Usain’s confidence is the perfect antidote to fear. Understand your talent, use it and excel. Then celebrate your success. Go Usain! A good, no exemplary role model for those fighting for success.

    • This is a brilliant article. As recent as the Jamaican 2016 Olympic trials, Usain scratched from the final and sough an medical exemption. Bolt’s American rivals were quick to heap ridicule at him. Mike Rogers even called it a ”cop out’. Gatlin called it a ‘special case’. Bolt was undeterred by all this. He expressed ‘disappointment’ with these vicious critics and vowed to ‘silence them’ at the Olympic Games. This is what separates Bolt from all other athletes. He does not contemplate losing. He visualises victory and only victory. This is an extremely rare case of self belief, confidence, focus and determination. Bolt once said ‘ when I step on that track, it’s all business’. Great stuff indeed.