It’s a typical greeting in Portuguese, but not even knowing a simple “hello” was in my vocabulary when our RyanAir jet hit the tarmac in the coastal town of Porto.  While I was relieved to find that most of the signage in Portugal is done in both Portuguese and English, it didn’t change the fact that I was embracing a new culture all by myself.  In fact, it was on the metro into town that I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was the only person I knew in the country I was in.  Sure, it’s a little intimidating, but that’s what this two day adventure was about: taking charge.

In society today, we seem to have this fixation with acceptable levels of confidence.  I can include myself in the masses of folks who are rubbed the wrong way by what we perceive to be arrogant behavior.  I’m not going to sit here and point fingers, largely because I think we all know of someone who is, shall we say, the president of their fan club.

Yet, in being preoccupied with discounting condescending acts, I think that at times I have lacked enough confidence in fear of being seen in the same patronizing manner.  For me, I had to recognize that there is a flip side to the coin.

There’s a saying that the difference between being good and being great is a matter of confidence.  While this is something difficult to quantify, I can offer a credible example.  For those of you who don’t make your own bracket and glue yourself to the T.V. in March, you’ll have to be imaginative.

One of the leaders who I admire in college basketball is Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens, a man known for his calm demeanor on the sidelines.  He doesn’t yell or scream, or engage in altercations with officials.  Rather, he believes that his approach to the game will be reflected in his play of his team.  Consequently, he remains poised, and instills confidence in his players during games, rather than tear them down.  Since assuming the reins of the program in ’07, the small liberal arts school from Indianapolis has produced a record of 139-40, and made two Cinderella runs to the Final Four in 2010 and 2011.  It comes as no surprise that Stevens has his Bulldogs poised to make another push to play April basketball again this season.

Now, I must acknowledge that Stevens has the benefit of recruiting the right type of player to be successful in his system.  Often, he goes after guys who have an unselfish, team mentality, rather than the best talent available.  Consequently, it’s impractical for every manager or leader to take this approach, but it still begs an important question.  If Coach Stevens can get average hoopsters to play with the best in the nation by getting them to believe in what they can do, doesn’t that make confidence not only important, but essential for success?

I think we can all answer that one.  Yes, confidence is a necessity to achieving almost anything in life.  Yet, why do we seem so turned off by folks who project it so dynamically? 

This is a question that has been on my mind for awhile now.  However, after forcing myself out on my own this week in Portugal, I think I have an answer.  Nothing is ever the be-all and tell-all, so take it for what it’s worth.

As a human being in a competitive society, you have to be confident.  You have to believe in yourself, and even at time compete with yourself.  Always strive to be the best YOU can be.  However, it’s also important to be happy for others – to respect them for their accomplishments, and instill confidence in them when they need it.  See, I think where the problem with arrogance comes in is when people start to belittle others to place themselves on a higher shelf.  

For me, it comes down to this.  It’s a mentality that states, “I’m good, and you’re good, but neither of us is too good.”  

I recently re-visited a poem that I think captures this type of lifestyle.  It was something my trumpet teacher had placed in the front of my lesson book to put me in the right state of mind while practicing.  It goes like this:

“Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing
can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity
to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel
that there is something in them
To look at the sunny side of everything
and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best,
and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others
as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past
and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times
and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself
that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,
and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
not in loud words but great deeds.
To live in faith that the whole world is on your side
so long as you are true to the best that is in you.”   

Yes, it reaches a bit beyond the scope of this discussion, but I think the point is made.

These were the thoughts motivating me during the two days in Portugal.  I didn’t want any lack of drive keeping me from experiencing all that Porto had to offer, whether that be conversing with a local, seeing an attraction, or doing anything I thought might be uncomfortable.

I won’t ever know if I did everything I possibly could have, but I think I got close.  I did two running tours (one each day) to see the city and Atlantic coast, each about 1.5 hours in length.  My tour guide was a local professor who started the agency to share the city he grew up in through his love for running.  It couldn’t have been better.  No other way to see Porto allows you to see so much in such a short amount of time, chat with someone who knows their way around, and put in a great workout.

I also had the opportunity to experience some Portuguese cuisine.  Seafood, pastries, and wine are what this region is known for, and though I can’t speak to the wine, I can say that weaving through the different wine establishments on the running tour was a unique experience in and of itself.  Porto is located at the mouth of the Douro River, and the southern bank is saturated with different wine cellars, museums, etc.

As for the seafood and pastries, my cooked hake (similar to cod) and pão-de-ló (sponge cake) left me wanting to write a testimonial for the restaurant.  They were simply spectacular.

Seeing as that I’ve created a novel out of this post, I’ll fill in the rest of the gaps in the vacation with some pictures if I can.  Due to technological constraints, they may be in a separate post, so stay tuned!