And if he told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?

Caroline Pocock - Ecuador


February 9, 2011

What is it that gives us the courage to take a risk when it seems that every rational thought in our heads would convince us to do otherwise? We can almost deceive ourselves into doing something we’re not totally comfortable doing. Hopefully, we push ourselves for the better- to accomplish a high-set goal or to expand our boundaries. But, in every trying situation, we’re forced to silence that doubtful voice in the back of our heads and fake a little confidence, even when we don’t necessarily believe it.

This is something that I was accustomed to doing at home. I felt at ease enough with where I was to risk the failure of trying something new. At the end of the day, I could always fall back on all of life’s commodities that kept me going- friends, family, good food, etc. But I’ve realized that I’m not quite as adept at playing the confidence card when I’m this far out of my comfort zone. Although I’ve been here over three months, I’m still hesitant to speak to some people for fear of my lack of language skills and I still have trouble voicing any disagreement. I feel a bit disarmed here surrounded by a culture with different customs, expectations, and ideas. It takes a lot of bravery to take a leap when you don’t even have your footing.

But, I’ve been making a conscious effort lately to push myself to do and say things that make me a little more uncomfortable. After all, I didn’t come here for a vacation; I came here to leave my mark. So I challenged my supervisor when I wasn’t satisfied with what he was asking me to do at the school. I nervously presented my capstone project (in Spanish) to the school staff, explaining the details and requesting their help and support. And I’ve tried to have a more open and in-depth conversation with everyone I encounter, disregarding my own grammatical errors. To my surprise, nothing bad came of any of it. In fact, with every ounce of confidence I faked, I put a little in the bank.

My sudden inspiration came from our most recent journey in the Amazon. After an amazing retreat in the depths of the jungle, we met with Tyler Gage, a social entrepreneur, in Tena on the way back to Quito. Tyler started a tea company, called Runa, which sells the traditional Kichwa tea – made from the guayusa leaf – to a rapidly expanding market in the U.S.  He and his partners have constructed a farmer-friendly system of businesses, not-for-profits, and associations which put the power and the profit back in the hands of the locals. He explained to us the intricacies of the whole system and the unique path he took to get where he is today (which involved taking time off from college at Brown University to spend time in Latin America). But what left the biggest impression on me was nothing that he could have articulated to us.

In person, Tyler radiated with an astounding confidence and enticingly cool composure. I sensed that he was completely comfortable with himself and what he was doing, which put me at ease around him, as well. It was as if his confident energy had invaded my own thinking, making me equally confident in him. I would have trusted just about anything he had said. And indeed, I did. While driving in his white truck over a bridge across the Napo River, Tyler turned around with a spark in his eye and asked, “Hey, do you guys want to jump off this bridge?” To my surprise, without even giving it a second’s thought, I immediately said yes.

Just to put things in perspective, this bridge was significantly high, and I’m usually scared just to jump off a little boathouse into a lake. But, in the contagious can-do spirit, I began mentally preparing myself as he threw the truck into reverse and parked just before the bridge. We all watched as Tyler and his friend stood towering over the specks of people below and leaped into the air without hesitation. By this point, I was literally shaking with fear and anticipation. But, I told myself that I simply had to do it. You just don’t pass up the opportunity to jump off a bridge into the Napo River when it presents itself. So, after a few minutes of standing on the edge in contemplation, I mustered up some of that fake confidence and I threw my body out into the air without my mind’s permission. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. When my head bobbed up out of the water, I felt the most amazing rush of accomplishment. At that point, I decided that’s the kind of confidence I want to have – the kind that is so convincing it could make a complete stranger jump off a bridge.

Confidence is quite a peculiar idea. It doesn’t come to exist until you allow it. And as soon as you don’t, it dwindles away. It’s really just a conscious decision to behave as if you knew you were completely capable of the task at hand. So, all that hinders me from boasting the confidence I need is the doubtfulness of my own thoughts, and, that, I can change- or, at least, for now, fake it.

Caroline Pocock