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

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 2, 2011 · 30 comments

in Blog

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Will May 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Great post!

I’m in my first job out of college, and it’s also my first job in what I want to be my career for life. In the ten months I’ve been at it, I’ve definitely had my confidence shattered a lot. But I’ve found that a deep breath, a good song about pushing on (Sinatra’s That’s Life or others), and tackling the task ahead of me straight on instead of meekly coming into work builds my confidence up.

2 Cody May 2, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I just talked about Shifty Powers in my History class today. What a great coincidence. This just makes me respect him even more.

3 Steve Ingersoll May 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm

What a great post. Thanks for sharing this with us. With all of us “new” veterans now, there hasn’t been this kind of direction out there for us. Sure we can seek counseling and talk to people, but in my opinion it’s things like this that will help the best.

4 J. Grant Repshire May 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I agree with what Mr. Ingersoll posted above, I think that a lot of us new veterans could learn a lot from the WWII vets and the vets of other previous wars. While I was a cavalry officer with the 82nd Airborne in Iraq during 2006-2008, I thought it would be good to come home and talk to my grandfather, a WWII infantryman who fought in Europe, about what it means to be a veteran. He led is life the same way as Shifty, returning home from war, working his farm till the day he died, and serving his community through the VFW and other worthwhile ways. Sadly he died while I was in Iraq, on the same day my troop commander and another soldier in my squadron were killed. Stories like this are a good thing for us to read. Too often now returning soldiers get treated like victims of their experiences, rather than warriors who should now apply the same vigor and courage they showed in war to their peacetime lives. I believe Shifty Powers as outlined above is a great example on how to do that.

5 Rob May 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Will-
“Thats Life” has gotten me through many a difficult time.

6 Levi May 2, 2011 at 11:00 pm

After I got out of the Marines and a bad marriage, the shock of being home was a little more than I wanted to bear. I immediately dove into all-night parties, all-day work, and full-time college. I traded a lot of self-respect for good times that only lasted one night.

Eventually, I stopped hanging out with destructive people and focused on the rest of my life rather than now. Nothing will give a man a sense of purpose like a sense of purpose.

I joined the Freemasons, rejoined the volunteer fire department (right before Katrina) and followed my lifelong dream of becoming an educator. I worked in a gravel pit, in home construction, on a ranch, and in a bar, just to be able to say I did it. Within two years of graduating college, after many sleepless nights and lean meals, I found myself a Past Master, a homeowner, and a married man. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, and that’s my mission until the day I die.

Hunger breeds confidence, especially in those moments where you manage to feed yourself.

7 Marcus Brotherton May 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Some very good comments, thanks.

Shifty Powers was truly an American hero, a man who never sought fame, yet it found him in the end. But even then, “fame” was never his goal or what he truly relished. It was love for country, love for his family, love and respect for his fellow man.

8 DR May 2, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Confidence helps you in any situation, and this post proves it. If Powers had approached the bikers and asked them to leave without the confidence he displayed, the reaction of the bikers could have been a lot different. Instead, he said ‘shove off’ in a confident manner, and the bikers left. I think the level of confidence displayed heavily impacts the outcome of any situation. Powers if the perfect example of a confident man.

9 Kim Hatley May 3, 2011 at 12:01 am

Outstanding article Marcus! The reference of “refuge”…. I actually read your article twice. I loved it!!

10 John May 3, 2011 at 3:42 am

A quote my father always had hanging up somewhere in every house he owned. “This too, shall pass.” He used it to remind himself not to get too despondent over the bad things, but to also not get too complacent when the good things were happening. I’ve tried (with mixed success) to apply that to my own life.

11 Andrew Martin May 3, 2011 at 7:13 am

Life has a way of throwing you curve balls. I’ve learnt in my 48 years of life to simply keep your head down and soldier on. My dad was a military man of the WW2 generation and served in New Guinea, Tobruk, Greece, and many other theatres in the AUstralian army. He was a quiet, unassuming fellow who I hated for a long time through my early years. And when I lost him I found out that he was even more complex than I ever thought he could be. But the one thing I took from him was this: “No matter how hard the road, you cover more distance shuffling forward, than crawling back”.
Thanks Dad. I learned something from you.

12 todo76 May 3, 2011 at 10:12 am

Although I do not have military men in my background I am always humbled by what they face and the way they face it. Admittedly, my life is a relative cake walk and one where I easily have the power to walk so I constantly remand myself for not facing up to issues.

But after reading this article I think I should shift my approach to a more positive confidence-building method rather then a negative “quit whining” one. I’m not big on baseless empowerment (I’m special because I say I am) but recognizing the abilities and talents God gave me to overcome what He sends my way would be a good daily reminder.

Thanks for an excellent article!

13 KarthVader May 3, 2011 at 10:27 am

I went abroad for school, but quickly found out that I was not mature enough to handle the course work. I also hated the culture (the people, not the traditions) and had to get out. I stuck it out for a year, but after falling into a depression, what I would consider alcohol abuse and self-destructive behavior, I had to get out. I returned home a broken, angry and lost boy. The following year, after settling down at home and hitting the books again as a post-baccalaureate student, I regained my confidence, but it was a slow rebuilding process.

I realized that your habits are dictated by YOU. No one can break them except yourself. Regaining confidence requires you to go back to the basics, the root of your being. Change is the only constant in life; I embraced that fact and have not looked back since.

14 Marcus Brotherton May 3, 2011 at 10:29 am

Wow, a lot of good wisdom is coming from these comments today. Thanks for telling your stories, men.

15 Justin Powers May 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

This is a really interesting story. I wonder if I’m related to this particular ‘Powers’. My grandfather is Bob Powers, I wrote an article for him for the lessons in manliness ebook, it was the first article (!!!).

I don’t feel like finding the link to the ebook, but here’s the link to where I also posted the article:

http://justinspowers.com/2010/04/mountain-of-a-man-bob-powers/

I’m honored and humbled to come from such a man as this, and I would be even more honored if I found out that Shifty Powers was also a relative of some sort (as unlikely as it may be).

16 B. DeLeal May 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Well put, Repshire. I’m a third-generation Marine and my family’s been in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and now OIF. I grew up watching war movies, mostly of WWII. I never remember anything than to want to be tough, hard men like they were. And now having lived my adult life in the service I see that there is more toughness of character to be found in humility after a tour or a lifetime of service. I saw that humility in the men of Easy Company. For instance, it took a great deal of self-reflection and humility for Shifty to admit that he lost confidence in himself, particularly after having endured such great sacrifices and achieved a respected status of designated marksman among such warriors. Great article, guys, and great responses. Keep it up! Semper Fi, Bill

17 Tom King May 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Sometimes when your confidence has been shattered and getting back up on your horse seems more like scaling Mt. Everest, those who have never been through what you’ve been through all line up at your door to tell you to pull yourselves up by the bootstraps.

Well what if you don’t have any bootstraps anymore? What then?

Sometimes it’s a matter of finding someone to help you stitch your bootstraps back on or figuring out a way to do it yourself. They say time heals. That is bull. It is not time that heals, but how we put that time to use. Sometimes it’s a struggle of inches. Sometimes you charge over the hill and damn the guns. Whatever works, it’s your struggle and yours alone. A man stands alone most times, even when he stands shoulder to shoulder with friends; even when he is being held upright by his loved ones because he cannot stand on his one. Every man must reach down inside of himself at those moments and find the strength that God has given him to rise again and be a man.

My wife, one night while we were watching the movie, “The Odd Couple” suddenly said, “I just love men.”

Surprised, I asked her why.

The only explanation she could come up with was, “Women would never do that for each other.”

I think what she saw was that indomitable male spirit, often aloof, sometimes exhasperating and usually uncommunicative, but always rising to the crisis, stubbornly struggling on even when the odds don’t look good and fiercely loyal to those he feels he has a duty to protect.

A man who has been beaten down, who has had his inner fires beat down to ashes, if you ask him what he’s doing to cope, he is likely to tell you something vague like, “I’m working on it.” It’s because he knows that in the end, he works out his own salvation. It is a thing between himself and his God and ultimately no one else can rebuild that fire for him. His true friends understand this and do not press. All that his friends and loved ones can do for him is sit beside him in companionable silence while he strikes flint against steel again and again and again until the spark catches and the flame relights. When he can again contribute, he will rejoin the circle. Till then, best to be patient and give him time. Men are, after all, surprisingly solitary creatures when you get right down to it.

Tom King – Tyler, TX (2011)

18 Lee May 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm

I pulled two important quotes out of the article:

“He described how the job gave him a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and order to his days.”
“Shifty established this life pattern of gaining strength from home.”

Very interesting pieces of advice. I can only hope I have the strength and wherewithal to find satisfaction in my career. I think everyone needs a safe harbor.

And if I ever need it, I hope my stick is big enough!

19 Brandon May 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Taking the time to fix what is wrong.
Accelerating what you do right.
Having friends you actually trust.
Completing small goals and small skills helped me regain confidence.
And learning from the masters.

20 Kemo May 4, 2011 at 5:11 am

First off, there is alot of wisdom and strength in the posts prior to mine. Thanks to all who have served and are still serving. God bless you all.
I spent 11 years in the Army and picked up my clearing papers after watching the towers fall on 9-11. Up to that point, I was second guessing my decision to get out. I kept telling myself it was for the best. My original decision was so i could see my kids grow instead of constantly deploying- that was before the current OPTEMPO of the armed forces.
In October of 2011, I left my parents in Virginia and moved back to Germany where I had spent most of my time in service. I was depressed, scared, absolutely no confidence in myself, and I felt alone even though I had been in Germany at that point for a total of 10 years, and was married with 2 kids. The beginning of November, I got a job working on the installation here at the PX and the cloud of depression was pushed back a bit. I wasnt make alot of money, just over $8/ hr, 20 hrs/wk., but it was a start.
While working there, I also starting working at a local club as a bouncer. That commraderie, that brotherhood, is what I had needed to get my confidence back. Sure, i have had my ups and downs, and i still battle depression, but I had all the confidence in the world because I belonged to a brotherhood again. Nothing could hold me back.
Now I have a great paying job, and i am looking at troubled times in my future due to drawdowns, but I am confident that it will all work out. It all is happening for a reason. I take comfort in that and in knowing that “The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you.”

21 MH May 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Wow, what a great article. And thanks to all of you soldiers who have served and continue to serve our country.

I don’t usually comment on AoM posts but this one struck me. This is in response to the author’s question on regaining confidence from a challenge other than the military.

In 2000, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that’s basically schizophrenia and bipolar disorder rolled into one. I spent 10 years in and out of ER’s, hospitals, and psych wards. My psychotic breaks were insane and maddening. I’ve done a lot of damage to myself, my family, and other loved ones.

After a decade or so of intense personal trauma I decided to start picking up the pieces and moving forward. I admitted myself into a residential rehabilitation program for people with mental illness. I completed the program and moved into my own apartment. I take care of myself completely and don’t have to rely on others for basic care like so many others who won’t make it. I pay my bills on time, drive, and have hobbies I enjoy. I try not to take my life for granted.

Although, I’ve been stable for nearly 3 years I haven’t been able to work due to anxiety and fear despite the fact that my ultimate goal is to be economically self-sufficient. I live off SSI and food stamps right now. I’m grateful to be where I am at this point in life, especially after seeing so many others who won’t make it on their own.

The simple idea of Shifty simply going to work hit me hard. If I want to fully recover I need to add “order and purpose” to my days. Not just for the sake of monetary gain. But, to rebuild my confidence that has been shattered in early manhood.

I’ve decided that I’m going to start volunteering time at the local VA doing what I can to help veterans. And I’m going to pursue a career that will enable me to regain a sense of purpose.

I’m moving forward. Slowly. But, I’m still moving forward.

Thanks again for a great article.

22 Wilbur May 5, 2011 at 2:57 am

Hi guys,

Its great to hear stories from the AoM fraternity. I’m 33, from Kenya and my struggle is no different.

I recently returned home after being in foreign countries for several years. The adjustment was stressful to say the least. Who knew one could be so lonely while in the company of people whom you once knew?

Unexpectedly, I lost my job here and along with it my sense of purpose, self worth and identity. I hit the bottle. Hard. Chased after skirts, and made every excuse not to face up to my situation.

Recently, I began to crave for more of a life. I began to go to church and also try to figure out my man-issues. My dad has not been a great role model especially on tougher issues so I’ve had to go this one on my own. I stumbled on this website, and along with my spiritual reawakening have began to shed light on how I should live my life.

This morning I read this story and knew instantly what I need to do. Quit mopping around, quit wallowing in the cesspool of self pity and simply get a move on.

I know this may sound like empty rhetoric when one is so battered, because I’ve been there. But now I realise that manhood is about standing tall in your own essence. Its about standing across the mirror in the morning and being honest with my reflection.

Thanks for a wonderful manly website, and thanks to all who share their stories. What an inspiration!

23 Marcus Brotherton May 5, 2011 at 11:58 am

Thank you so much, men, for sharing your stories here. I read them all.

MH–thanks. Wow, what a journey you’ve been on.

Wilbur–you’ve got what it takes. It sounds like you’re doing everything you need to be doing right now. Way to go!

Kemo–yes!

So many good stories here. Thank you, again.

24 Brian May 7, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I got out of the Air Force in 2008 a bit earlier than planned due to medical issues. As it happened fairly quickly, i didn’t have much of a transition, though my first job was working for a company supporting the military and I was surrounded by fellow vets, so it helped.
Having family who understand is a big thing. My father is a Vietnam veteran (’68-69) as well as Desert Shield/Storm, and various others in my family did some time as well.

Two weeks after I got out, and 1 yr after coming back from a deployment i was now a civvie and sort of in shock on Christmas Day, coming from a combat arms unit where no matter how much you might dislike someone, overall, you’re all brothers, to…’nothing’….no schedule, no expectations. It wasn’t easy. Dad and I had a long talk. He’d done 25 years between active/reserve and he knew how it could be. It helped a lot. Still miss it some days, you remember both the good and the bad. My roommate has never served and at 25 seems a bit lost, he knows what he wants to do just not always how to get there. As someone who’s already done everything he wants to do, I find my purpose in serving as his role model in how to get things done, as well as several men i know who never served, their boys are enlisting, and at age 33, having served, traveled the world and worked many jobs, I can offer advice to them on how things work without coming across as parents do (and get ignored) at times.

Find something to do that keeps you mentally organized. Too many of my surviving brothers who’ve gotten out tend to get ‘lost’… keeping in touch helps. Makes you feel old when you realize your first new troop is now a 3-deployment staff sergeant!

25 Matthius May 10, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I moved from the US to Canada, from a decent sized college town to a less populated province. It was tough to go from “big man on campus” to “new guy from away”, but I found work in my field that kept me involved and in regular contact with the local somebodies. Now I have earned my reputation as a guy who’s got expertise and is great to work with, and the projects are slowly starting to rev up as I make more and more friends!

26 JamesG May 13, 2011 at 11:19 am

SET Goals.

I was working over 80 hrs a wk along with full time school online, but when I finished my degree and quit one of the two jobs, I found myself “sleepwalking through life.” I always felt hungry for more and could never quite put my finger on what it was. I experience joy and good times here and there, but slowly lost interest in many things I love and became unsatisfied with life.

SET GOALS

I searched for the things in the past that made me happy and wondered what had changed; but still couldnt find a reason. I finally picked a hobby and went with it. I applied myself to Networking and a remodelling project at the same time. Along with this came deadlines, and as I completed them on time and even as I had to push myself to those completions, I found a feeling of purpose and accomplishment and realized that was what I was missing.

Without goals we have nothing to look forward to. Setting goals that WE want to accomplish and then applying ourselves gives pride and CONFIDENCE when completed, and at times even during the work.

Set goals and give yourself something to look forward to. There is theme in philosophy that it is not necessarily finding the ‘answers’ but the journey in searching for them. I believe the same applies in goals. So much good (including a feeling of self worth, pride, and CONFIDENCE) comes from the WORKING towards goals.

27 Jules May 14, 2011 at 10:16 am

Guys,
Thanks for sharing all your thoughts, especially yours Mr Tom King, you put into words what I needed to read this evening.

Best wishes to all of you

Jules – Karratha – Western Australia

28 Dannyboy January 4, 2013 at 6:04 pm

What a fine tribute to a great old Warrior and man.

I would liked to have met him.

29 Brent March 14, 2013 at 11:34 am

Excellent article about Shifty, Marcus. Thanks very much. Out of interest, who are are easy company members in the banner at the top of the site? I think I recognise Shifty and Frank Perconte but not sure about the others. Anyone know?

30 Bill Lander November 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Iwas idvorced from ny highschool swet heart, remarried to quickly, and medically retired from my police job of nearly 30 years when a work related injury had me declared legally deaf. I work a graveyard shift,took a hearing test, and was awakened by a phone call at 4pm that day that told me I could no longer do the job I love. ^ months later I had a sroke, and 6 months after that a second marriage blew up. How did I recovere./ I got up every day and moved. I worked a retail job.I walked I ran, I sat and breathed good air. Then a woman friend of 40 years came into my life and said”Come to California”. So this deaf, two time loser, who was barely recovered from his stroke did just that. My life has been wonderful ever since

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