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.