Do not be afraid to take a risk and show your talents

Jan Mühlfeit and Kateřina Novotná

I noticed that people in the Czech Republic, as well as in Central and Eastern Europe, are unable to show what is inside them. One of the reasons lies in education. In USA, for example, special attention is paid to career, and not only at schools. Students engage a lot in rhetoric, so they are able to sell what they have learnt. This is not the case in the Czech Republic – and that should change. Global interconnection brings also global competition. Not only among companies, but also among people.

When Czechs come to London Seedcamp to look for investors to support their fantastic technological start-up, they often fail due to their inability to present their work well. Within only 5 minutes they have to leverage what they have been working on for the past 2 years. The problem is that they are incapable of doing so. Instead, they get lost in details and fail to convey the message.

Just Do It!

Current teenagers are extremely afraid of failure. They will, however, face risk far more often than previous generations. Information explosion pushed by technologies results in people having less time for decision making. So they will face more pressure, stress and the necessity to make decisions, knowing that the outcome is uncertain. Unfortunately, they are not well prepared for it.

Already children are afraid to take risks. Why is it so? In sports, as well as at school, parents often focus only on results – bad grades, lost games, bumpy cups. However, the result represents only one of the two parts of the whole process. The other one is the activity itself – the course of the exam, test, game or performance. If parents pay attention only to results, children miss the opportunity to realize what they have done well and where they have made a mistake. When you are only scolded for your results, soon you start to be afraid of further failure which then affects your self-presentation as well. This can be avoided by devoting only 30 % to the evaluation of results and 70 % to the evaluation of the activity itself. And this does not apply only to children.

For ten years I worked by the side of one of the most successful and wealthiest people on the planet – Bill Gates, who used to tell us: “If you are not sure whether to do it or not, just do it; you can always beg for forgiveness.” I did beg him for forgiveness a couple of times. If your boss or parents have this kind of attitude to risk, you realize that positive risk-taking is just natural.

Sitting in The Corner…

In our courses we mostly meet secondary school aged children and our experience is that they do not believe in themselves at all. They have great knowledge, but they do not want to show it off in front of others. It seems as if the old Czech saying “Sit in the corner and if you are nice, they will find you” was still deeply rooted in our genes.

Usually we ask children for their opinion about this saying. The general reaction is as follows: “No one will notice you when you sit in the corner. No one will know that you are there. You will not stand out this way.” It seems clear to children that sitting in the corner silently is good for nothing. And yet they are afraid to talk about their merits and to compete, they are worried about failing and disappointing their parents. This feeling is caused by the previously mentioned parents` emphasis on results instead of the course of the activity and the fact whether their child likes and enjoys the activity.

Children often consider self-confidence a swear word. They think it is close to egoism and that self-confident people look down on others, brag and boast, and sell even what they do not have. We try to prove them that being self-confident does not equal looking down on others at all. In reality it means knowing oneself, one’s values and talents, as well as the capability to work with these assets and to evolve constantly. Then you are able to help others with just anything.

It is terrible for me to find out that very successful adults who I invite to Radio Z have the very same problem just like children. Often they react shyly when asked about their strengths. It seems silly and inappropriate to talk about their strengths, but in fact it should be absolutely natural. And why are adults shy? The reason is that they were not taught to speak about their capabilities when they were young.

Show What Is Inside You

Self-presentation is necessarily connected with body language. The very first means of communication was not spoken language, but body language. It is body language that accounts for 80 %, or even 90 % of how we perceive others. Therefore it is important to learn it and find out which posture is appropriate and which movements should rather be avoided. The main aim is to feel good. Our mind and body is interconnected, so when you do not stand straight, but you are hunched, you can call yourself a champion a hundred times, but your mind will not believe it. And keep in mind that there is only one first impression.

Our society is hungry for model examples of self-presentation. And that is one of the reasons why YouTubers are so popular nowadays – young people look up to them for being able to present and sell themselves. Children do not have a chance to learn it, as they lack role models. Even when a child is smart, others may think the opposite – when you do not show your merits, others do not have a chance to discover what is inside you. This applies to sports, arts, business, as well as politics.

Ideal Feedback

More than half of the children attending our course do some sports. Most of them, however, never attend tournaments, contests, matches. Why is it so? The main reason is the fear of failure and fear of their parents. Parents often consider their children’s successes a trophy which they like to polish in front of others. Those parents who are fixated on results often shout at their children across the fence while playing football, yelling that they are no good at football and they will never learn it. This also occurs in those cases when parents aim to fulfill their dreams through their children.

Such children usually show only short-term motivation to achieve good results. Quite quickly they lose desire to compete, in spite of the fact they are obviously talented, and soon they lose interest in the activity. If the evaluation is focused on the course of the activity (on the course of the match or performance) and feedback is balanced, children usually build deeper emotional bond and more positive relationship to sports. They are likely to keep loving the sport for their whole life, instead of quitting it during puberty and never picking it up again. Moreover, negative emotions are passed on to their daily lives, which increases their aversion to risk-taking and showing capabilities. It is essential to realize that a lost game is a result of a certain equation, not a fatal personal mistake.

The ideal case is the so called sandwich feedback. At first you should praise the child, then give corrective feedback – you can criticize, explain how you would do it and what was wrong. After that you should offer a solution how to avoid making the same mistakes next time. Finally, praise the child again or give assurance that next time they will do better. Past mistakes can be avoided and new ones will push them forward. What is important is to make children aware that making mistakes is natural, so that they do not worry about potential blunders and do not lose their will to risk-taking.

There is a great tool for overcoming obstacles – visualization. That is why we perform physical activities focused not only on the exercise itself, but also on imagination during our courses with children. By making a simple movement, children try to see how far they can go with their hand around their body – until they feel their muscles stretching unpleasantly. We ask them to remember this point. Then we close our eyes and visualize the whole exercise. After a few rounds of visualization, it is impressive to see how much further children manage to stretch their hands in reality, compared to their first attempt. The only reason is that their body believed their imagination. In all aspects of your life, it is vital to connect your body and mind.

What We Learn from Sports

Apart from having a positive effect on our physical condition and health, team and individual sports teach us a substantial skill – to make interpersonal relationships. If you practice sports since childhood, you learn how to cooperate with others.

Another important skill that we learn from sports is the art of discipline. If you attend contests or matches, you need to train a few times a week. The acquired discipline is something that a lot of people lack. Also, you gain psychological resilience thanks to which you are able to achieve great results even at the point when others are already failing. Despite exhaustion, you are fully involved. Last but not least, sports give you endurance. It helps you persist in those times when you are not doing your best. Bill Gates used to add that every no is in fact the beginning of yes.

The above mentioned attributes are apparent by those children whose parents give them balanced feedback. It does not matter whether your offspring becomes a singer, professional sportsman, manager, doctor, lawyer or politician – discipline, psychological resilience and endurance will be beneficial in every job.

Let me point out one of the participants of our recent “Unlock children’s potential” course – Natálka, a 14-year-old girl who became blind in the age of 6. Despite her state she is able to communicate very well and she is not afraid to show what is inside her. This is related to her sense for relationships and empathy. She does not hesitate to accept her own talents and she is not afraid to make plans how to use them. I enjoyed watching her join all activities boldly (we explained the course of the seminar to Natálka and prepared all materials with the help of her mum before the seminar). Natálka was very inspiring for others. They saw that even if life throws obstacles in your path, you should never lose hope or surrender. When you do not lose heart, stop working on yourself or stop believing that things are going to be better, you are far more likely to succeed than when you are worried and surrender.

By Jan Mühlfeit in cooperation with Kateřina Novotná

Every child is an original with a number of talents and strengths. Unfortunately, school does not develop them, instead focusing on weaknesses and the elimination of mistakes. It is necessary to help children identify their talents, boost their development and teach them to use their talents effectively to bring them joy and success. Our all-day “Unlock children’s potential” course, designed for children and their parents, helps children understand which talents they possess and how they can leverage them in their future work and personal life. This course is intended primarily for children aged 9 to 15, but younger children can apply as well. Recently we opened a course for secondary-school children aged 15 to 19. During these courses we engage in topics such as positive psychology, brain functioning, motivation, energy, psychological resilience, time, inspiration, finding your true self and personal mission. The practical part includes discovering individual talents by the Gallup StrengthsExplorer test. We do also practical exercises and during personal consultations we figure out how to leverage children’s talents.

You can learn more about our seminars here or in our online program“Unlock your child’s potential”  here .