May 2, 2011

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How Shifty Powers Regained Confidence, and How You Can, Too

Photo courtesy of the Powers family.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Marcus Brotherton, the author of 3 books about the legendary men of WWII’s Easy Company, including the newly released Shifty’s War.

Confidence can be a sneaky thing, playing hide and seek throughout life. No, it’s not something we’re born with and never lose. It fluctuates. Our confidence can become low at the start or end of a big project, if we’re nervous or feeling deflated, or after a setback such as a botched relationship or business venture.

If you’re seeking confidence, particularly if you’ve had it once and it doesn’t seem to be around anymore, what do you do?

One man’s example shows confidence can definitely be regained if it’s been lost. Sergeant Darrell “Shifty” Powers started life as a confident young man. One of the original Band of Brothers, Shifty was one of only two men in an elite company of 140 soldiers who initially achieved the designation of “expert marksman.” When it came to shooting rifles—and hitting precisely what needed to be hit—Shifty’s self-assurance was equal to none.

Yet at the end of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, when the men are shown reflecting on their experiences, Shifty (the real man, not the actor) made this startling statement:

“You thought you could do just about anything. [But] after the war was over and you came back out, why, you lost a lot of that. Or at least I did. I lost a lot of confidence.”

I recently completed a book about Shifty Powers’ life. During my research, I spoke with Shifty before he died in 2009 at age 86, as well as interviewed those who knew Shifty best, and studied numerous recordings of his stories. Undeniably, Shifty finished life as a confident man. In later years he palled around with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, went on USO tours overseas, and signed autographs for long lines of fans. But his confidence proved even deeper than those markers.

Once, a motorcycle gang rumbled up to Shifty’s property in rural Virginia and began to raise Cain. Shifty, then elderly and home alone with his wife, hiked to the center of the bikers’ party, knocked out their fire with a stick, and told them—Walt Kowalski style—to kindly shove off.

The bikers obeyed. How’s that for boldness?

Consider three methods Shifty used to regain confidence, and how his gutsy examples of living might apply to our lives today:

Photo courtesy the Coalfield Progress

1. Shifty went to work.

Shifty was severely wounded in a bus accident at the end of the war. But as soon as he returned home and healed up, he went back to work. For Shifty, that meant working as a machinist for a coal mining company. It wasn’t grand work, but he flourished there. He described how the job gave him a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and order to his days.

Shifty knew he couldn’t regain confidence if he shrunk back. Confidence emerged when he purposely stepped forward and engaged in the task that lay ahead. The same is true for us. It takes guts to go to work, and continue working, but that work helps shore up our assurance.

2. Shifty gave back.

Shifty worried when he heard other veterans were having a rough go of it, drinking too much or tearing up bars. He described how he “didn’t want to end up like one of those sad-stories.”

To find a new sense of purpose, Shifty became involved with coaching high school basketball and community Little League. He found that his mind rested best when he coached. His mind fixed on the game and focused on something good.

Shifty coached boys’ teams for decades. He described how, when he chose to move his feet in a good direction, he could consciously tell his mind to go to a good place also. The same is true for us. Whenever we give back, we find new realms of security.

3. Shifty made his home his place of refuge.

One afternoon soon after Shifty returned from war, he borrowed his dad’s car to see a friend about 15 minutes away. But before Shifty arrived at his destination, he pulled a U-turn on the road and drove home again. His younger sister met him in the front yard, confused.

Shifty explained that there wasn’t enough distance yet between him and the horror he had seen during the war. He didn’t want to give up the feeling of security he was soaking in at home, even for a short drive down the road.

While he eventually regained the ability to move in and out of the home environment with ease, Shifty established this life pattern of gaining strength from home. Aside from a few years he spent working in California and his years in the war, he seldom travelled outside his tiny hometown. For him, it was part of the solution. He loved the life he created for himself, a life that involved family, home, and hobbies of hunting and fishing. For him, that sense of refuge helped refuel his confidence.

Surely there were other ways Shifty Powers regained his confidence, and other ways that any man can do so. But the foundations are all in place here in Shifty’s example. If you want to regain confidence, go forward, not back. Seek occupation, not idleness. Create your refuge and recharge there.

And, if a motorcycle gang ever shows up to party on your property, grab the biggest stick around, and head straight toward the fire.

 

Have you ever lost confidence after leaving the military or from another kind of change or challenge? How did you get your confidence back?

 

 

 

 

 

 


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