When I was growing up, I was a latchkey kid, which meant that when I left elementary school each day, my house was empty and I had a key to let myself in. Both my parents worked and my sisters were older than I was and their school didn’t get out until after mine.
Fortunately for me, we lived next to the school. My backyard fenced up to the school’s playground. Unfortunately for me, the school had a rule that I wasn’t allowed to hop my fence to get home. I had to walk around the block and the Doberman. UGH!
It was never an easy day for me walking home. The dog was always out. Most of the time it wasn’t on a leash. And it barked a lot. I know that they say that a dog’s bark is worse than his bite but I just wasn’t so sure it applied to this dog’s bite.
I remember trying to avoid the walk home by going to a friend’s house and walking a different way home or walking to the other side of the street and making a big arcing circle around the Doberman to get to my house. I also remembered the day that I just decided I had enough of the dog ruling my life. I was only 8 at the time but I was fed up with being scared of the stupid dog.
It was a scary day. I chose to walk home on the sidewalk that was closest to the barking, snarling Doberman. I had never done it before and I was shaking. All I kept saying to myself was, “You’re going to be fine, you’re going to be fine…” As I approached the house on one side, it was silent but as I walked closer and closer to my house (and their driveway), I heard the dog leap into action. “You’re going to be fine. You’re going to be fine…” I didn’t feel fine. I felt like running. I felt like screaming. I felt like crying. And I just kept walking. The dog got within 10 feet of me, barking mad, but it didn’t come any closer. I continued my walk to my house and slammed the door behind me giving an audible pronouncement of my safety. Phew! I made it.
It was a challenge. It was out of my comfort zone. Yes, I could have kept walking a different route home to avoid the dog. And yes, I could have continued hiding at my friend’s place hoping the dog wouldn’t be there when I returned or that my sisters would have had to deal with him first. I chose instead to overcome my fears and push past my worry.
I would like to say that there was a happy ending to my story such as the Doberman and I became great friends and I walked him everyday and played with him in the park. That didn’t happen. The dog was the same mean, snarling dog all the way up until the day the people who owned him moved out. He was there almost every day to bark and growl at me for passing his corner. And every day, I had to muster the courage to walk by. He never did bite me, though.
What research shows is that events like this as children produce a great degree of self-confidence. Having a variety of experiences, some with wins and some with losses, are what builds character and confidence. We learn to rely on ourselves. We learn to problem solve. We learn to make mistakes and then get it right the next time.
The Doberman taught me one of my very first lessons in confidence-building. And thankfully, I can look back on that situation and smile at myself. I can also use it to anchor myself into self-confidence any time I want.
What about you? What events in your childhood helped to develop the character you have today – your resilience, your confidence, your ability to connect with others, or even your discipline. What events anchor you to these skills?