Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Confidence vs Optimism or... I think I can vs I hope I can?

I am very much a "glass half full" kind of guy. We can get into semantics about how it depends on whether you start with an empty glass and add water (filling it up so it is half full) or if you start with a full glass and pour out half (emptying it so it is half empty) but I still look at life's silver linings more often than not. I believe that being optimistic makes me a happier headhunter. I expect every candidate I introduce to get hired (even though I know that the statistics tell a different story). Apparently, it also makes me a healthier headhunter too. According to Harvard Medical School: 

Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years. Harvard Health Publishing 

 Being so darn bright and cheerful all the time got me to thinking about how to encourage my kids (and yours) to be optimistic as well. Then I thought, "Is there a difference between optimism and confidence and is it better for our kids to be confident or optimistic?"  Is confidence when they think they "can" do something and optimism when they think they "might" be able to do it? 

George, Charles and Noah (Merriam-Webster) define confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances.  They define optimism as an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.

The definition of confidence sounds almost mathematical in its precision. There is a distance that your son has successfully jumped before so he knows that he can jump the same distance again. 

While I think optimism is a good thing, the above definition carries with it an unfortunate hint of wishful thinking. Like the high school student who doesn't study for his exams but still thinks he might somehow get an A. The belief that good things will happen through no effort on our kid's part is not what we are striving for. I want to see my son anticipate the best possible outcome from his own actions.

"Things will work out" sounds more like optimism than confidence. Can your kids be confident and pessimistic at the same time? How about optimistic but not confident? My wife would say that she is not pessimistic but rather realistic. 

Optimism allows our kids to view obstacles and problems as temporary. Pessimism brings about a "what's the point?" kind of attitude. We can take this a step further and imagine a confident young woman but with a pessimistic outlook. Even though she is sure of herself when it comes to her personal skills and knowledge, she hesitates to take on new challenges and opportunities.

I want my kids to have a sense that if there is the possibility of either a good outcome or a bad one, the good one will at least have an equal chance of coming true. Why start anything new or take any risks if the belief is always that it will not work out? The difference seems to be that with optimism there is a sense of external causality and with confidence, it is more focused on one's own internal capabilities. 

I am going to go on record here and say that if you can only have one (both is best) then optimism will take you further than confidence. With optimism, even if you are not sure of your own capabilities, you might still be hopeful enough to try that new thing, say yes to the opportunity offered and apply for that job you are not 100% qualified for.

We have covered confidence several times in this newsletter but how do you raise optimistic kids? For those of you who have been regular readers of the Headhunter Dad you may not be surprised that "modeling" the right behavior is at the top of the list. If Mom and Dad are acting pessimistic and complaining all the time, guess what, the kids are going to do the same. Be positive and focus on what is going right in your life. At least around the kids. The second activity is actually the same as discussed in the article about building confidence. Encourage them to take on new challenges. They will fail sometimes (many times) but when they succeed, make a big deal about it. As they get older the successes will be stronger memories than the failures and help them to develop both confidence and optimism. Who knows, maybe some of this positive thinking will rub off on you too.

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Gamification of Parenting. Should we let them win?

In a recent gin rummy match with my 12-year-old daughter, I totally dominated, winning 3 straight games in a row of our 5 game tourney. I am the master of gin rummy! We had bet on the game (chores not money) and she was grumpy after the 2nd loss and miserable after the 3rd and final loss. She went off to her room for the evening and I did not see her again until the next day.

OK, so then I felt bad. I didn't really rub it in when she lost and I was a good winner (I think). But when your kids are sad you want to do whatever it takes to cheer them up. This got me to thinking about whether the games we play with our kids will have an impact on their career prospects in the future. More precisely, not so much which games we play with them but rather how we approach that competition.

The science of confidence, as we have discussed several times in this newsletter, points to overcoming adversity and succeeding as the origin of self-esteem and self-confidence for our kids. If they try something and fail and never try it again, they will only remember failing. Apparently, it does not matter what the activity is as long as it requires some effort on the part of our kids. If it is easy or there is too much luck involved then it will have less of an impact on their psyche. Doing the hard things to get better and seeing that there is a reward for not giving up is what gives our children what they need to take on that next challenge, and the next and the next.

Following this train of thought as it applies to games, it does matter what the game is. Chess for example which is 100% skill (there are no dice and no luck of the draw) should work well. Beat the pants off your kids a couple times and as they learn more about the game and get better they eventually win and build confidence. A game like Candy Land which is based entirely on which card you draw is all about luck. Most kids will realize that they are not really contributing to the win. Age may matter here though. a 3-year-old playing a luck-based game may still feel good about themselves when they beat Mom or Dad while the 15-year-old knows that it is luck. 

Age brings me back to the main point I want to resolve. Should I let my kids win and if so, should it be sometimes, occasionally, often? If you let a 3-year-old win they will not know that you did it. They may even develop some of that valuable confidence we are trying to instill. A 15-year-old on the other hand will at least suspect we let them win and I bet that it would have the oppositive impact from what we are trying to achieve. What if you continue to win to the point where your kids no longer want to play with you, do you force them to continue playing? If you let them quit are you missing a chance to teach them that if they keep trying they will eventually overcome? 

As with most of my articles, I dove into the internet to see what others had to say about this and could not find a consensus. It seems like everyone has let their kids win at some point and everyone thinks it is OK to let kids win... except when you should not let them win. Maybe the Headhunter Wife is correct (as she usually is) and it is not a big deal either way and I am just overthinking it. What do you think?

The HeadhunterDad, AKA Lawrence Kieffer, is a professor of career studies at Temple University, Japan campus, the COO for Fidel Consulting an APAC Recruiting and Staffing firm focused on IT professionals, a devoted husband, and father of two amazing kids. Follow on TwitterLinkedin or Facebook.