What I learned about overcoming fear watching my 3rd grader running for Student Council

Crisp Apples
Aug 21, 2017 · 7 min read

Finding courage in life is a constant journey to happiness and fulfillment. Successful people learned to ask themselves what they would do if they weren’t afraid, and to escape the trap of excusitis. It’s hard work of reading, observing, practicing and self reflection. My 3rd grader taught me more than a book.

My two kids crystallized for me that there’s no point in comparing oneself to others. People describe my daughter as “bubbly and sassy”, and her older brother as “bright and deep”. During a Hawaiian vacation, my daughter, a kindergartner then, was eager to share the experience with her class. She was busy collecting rocks, leafs and postcards, despite that she couldn’t repeat half the vocabulary heard during the trip and had difficulties with articulation. Her older brother demonstrated much higher level of understanding and recollection, but refused to share in class, “I hate speaking in front of people.” Sure enough, the baby sister did a wonderful job sharing.

When you believe I-can-do-it, the how-to-do-it develops.

One’s attitudes are more important than one’s intelligence.

Following a teacher’s advice, I signed up my boy for after school drama workshop when he was in 2nd grade. After practicing the lines for several weeks and gradually gaining confidence, he did well in the final play about American Presidents and the White House. It also led to a surprising discovery.

“Mom, Do you know there’s a tennis court, a swimming pool and a movie theater in the White House! Can I watch a movie there?”

“I’m not sure … but you know what, if you become the President, I’m sure you can.”

“I’ll just be the Vice-President instead, because he doesn’t have to do any work … I’ll need to run for Governor before President, and Mayor before Governor. I’ll start with running for Vice President of Student Council at the end of 3rd grade, then President in 4th grade.”

To get enthusiastic, learn more about the thing you are not enthusiastic about. Dig into it deeper, and you’ll develop enthusiasm.

Near the end of 3rd grade, I asked my boy if he was going to run for Student Council as planned. “No, I changed my mind. Max (not real name) in 4th grade is gonna run for Vice President. He is in the sports team. All boys in the team will vote for him. I won’t win.” He had a point. The teacher suggested he could run for Treasurer instead, since he is known to be good at math.

Avoid the costly mistake of waiting until conditions are perfect before you act. Meet problems and obstacles as they arise.

My boy agonized about the decision for a few days, until the lunch meeting mandate for all candidates. He was in a much better mood after submitting the application.

Action cures fear. Indecision, postponement, on the other hand, fertilize fear.

After declaring his candidacy, all he would talk about was how he could win. “Amy (not real name) from 4th grade is the top candidate, but another girl in her class is also running and will divide girl vote. The boys in the lower grades are my friends. My sister can help with votes from lower grade girls…”

Make a list of reasons why you can do it.

We made the baby sister in charge of getting more votes from girls. She came up with creative ideas for designing the posters, and did more work on them than her brother. She talked to all her friends about the election.

People do more for you when you make them feel important.

The school let each candidate pick their own spot in the outdoor hallway for their posters. The day the posters were out, I had no idea until I walked to the turn of the hallway and saw a poster right in front of my eyes. What a strategic spot for the poster, I thought.

I couldn’t find one of my son’s posters until on my way out. Like everyone else I had to stop at the gate to open the childproof lock. My son’s primary poster was on the back of the gate, inches from my nose.

My boy said the teacher let each candidate carry their posters to the spot of their choosing after lunch. He had picked this spot in mind and ran as fast as he could to reach there first. His words painted a vivid picture of the kids “running” for Student Council, highly motivated.

Grow the “I’m activated” attitude.

Adopt the principle of the “next mile”. We don’t make one big jump to success. We get there one step at a time.

Making posters and strategizing the spot for display might have been up my son’s alley, the speech in front of the WHOLE school is a different story. He tenses up when multiple pairs of eyes are on him. I reminded him of his good performance in the drama play. He said, “But we had practiced three months for it!”

Then he came up with two proposals of what he would do after getting elected which he believed all students would love, and he wanted to share them.

Successful public speakers have one thing in common: They have something to say and they feel a burning desire for other people to hear it.

The school wide voting happened at lunch time following the speeches on a Friday. I received a phone call from the teacher in the afternoon. “B did a great job giving the speech. We know he put lots of effort into the posters. We are so proud of him. It was a really close race.” I sensed the heaviness in his voice. “Unfortunately he didn’t win. We will let the candidates know the winner of their own position today after we spoke with their parents. The result will be announced publicly next week.”

I was grateful that the teachers had designed a thoughtful election process for the young candidates. Still I was nervous when picking up my boy later that day. He didn’t appear upset and was calm on the ride home. When he was about to get out of the car after we arrived, he said,

“Mom, can I tell you something that sucks but was true?”

“Of course.”

“I didn’t win.”

“Oh, do you know who did?”

“Kevin (not real name) did.”

Wow, I didn’t anticipate my boy losing his “first campaign” to his best friend in class! Being used to be the smartest kid in class and only aimed to compete with higher grade opponents, what had gone through his mind after the news?

“How do you feel about it?”

“It’s okay. I’m better at math, but Kevin is handsome and popular.”

This was about the longest remark my boy had made when asked about his feelings. He must have thought about the loss seriously and made peace.

Sincerely attempt to heal, on an honest basis, every misunderstanding you have had or now have. Drain off your grievances.

“My dear, have the courage to face your faults.” — Teacher of Opera star Rise Stevens

“Did Kevin and you talk after finding out the result? Did you congratulate him?”

“Yes, I did. We agreed that one of us is gonna run for President and the other for Vice President next year. So we will both win. No one can beat us.”

I felt it was one of the proudest moments of my parenthood.

How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.

All confidence is acquired, developed. Concentrate on the good part of the experience; forget the bad. Bury it.

It was disappointing to lose after working hard and his friendship with his best friend was put through unexpected test. Would I want him to do it again if I had known? I believe so. The journey and learning are worth it.

Success doesn’t demand a price. Every step forward pays a dividend.

It’s rewarding to see my boy getting out of his comfort zone, diving wholeheartedly into something he had feared, and handling the outcome positively. I have no idea what he will grow up to be. My only wish is for him to reach his full potential, experience life and not be somebody who is afraid of living his dreams.

You can easily spot these people because they go to great length to rationalize their status and explain how “happy” they really are. They are like the youngster who feels he can’t make As in school or make the football team, so he pretends he doesn’t want to make As or play football. They aren’t satisfied because deep down they know they have surrendered.

The school hosted a Thank You Breakfast for all Student Council members and candidates the following week. Unsure if my boy would like to attend after losing the election, I asked him casually. “Sure, I’ll go.” No hesitation in his voice this time.

Do what you fear, and fear disappears. Just try it and see.

(P.S. — These quotes are from The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. Take them to heart. They will help you on your own journey to overcome fear.)

I hope you feel encouraged by the story as much as I did, and had fun reading it!


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Crisp Apples

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It’s not about who you are, but about what you have to say

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org