What is it to believe?
The short answer is that to believe, is to have confidence in something, to have faith in its existence. To believe might also be thought of as an understanding, an assumption that comes from impressions or facts. Belief is our respective realities, the conviction that holds us to our chosen values and goals. However you may choose to define it, without belief to act as a catalyst, there is little to move us forward.
All too often, I encounter students who have lost faith in themselves and what they had once hoped to accomplish. At the beginning of their educational journey, they are usually a bit nervous, but their enthusiasm and hopefulness tends to quell the nerves enough to allow them to develop their own rhythm. They slowly begin to feel comfortable, gradually gain momentum in their studies, and the pride begins to grow, filling them with a careful confidence. Then, the job search begins, and with it comes the trepidation of sending out countless résumés, sometimes receiving no response, and, just as discouraging, getting the interview but not getting the job. A few weeks may creep by, which turn into months, and with each rejection the student believes less and less in a positive outcome. No matter how many encouraging words they are given, no matter how many times they are told about the successes of other students, they begin to doubt themselves more and more, becoming disheartened and cynical about what their future will hold.
For some, belief is a luxury they feel they cannot afford. It doesn’t pay the bills, and it lacks the practicality to provide the means to an end. Or, does it?
My personal philosophy is that if what you believe makes you happy and won’t harm anyone else, it can be an invaluable tool. Without becoming too spiritual and throwing a dozen namastes into it, I will say that believing in something that will enhance your personal experience is vital to your success and happiness. I’m not talking about unrealistic goals (I long ago gave up the dream of becoming a Sports Illustrated cover model; I’m fine with this and I’m over it). I’m talking about believing in the magic of possibility. Of course, blind faith is incredibly difficult. As someone who needs proof in order to believe something, I understand what it is to constantly question, to be reluctant to accept an idea without some kind of tangible explanation, but then I remember a time in my life which made everything seem possible, and then I understand what it is that compels me to keep the faith.
When I was eight, some of the more “worldly” kids at school started to spread around that Santa Claus was a total fabrication. I was mortified, and also embarrassed, because I had believed whole-heartedly in that wonderful elfish being, and not only was I saddened to the core to think he wasn’t real, I also felt foolish for believing in the first place. The other kids were far too delighted to be part of dismantling my childhood, and I was devastated. The very idea that Santa was a lie felt personal to me, and I recall stomping into the house after school, throwing my school bag on the floor, and basically pointing a finger at my mother and exclaiming “J’accuse!” before dissolving into a puddle of tears. My mother, used to my histrionics by this point, simply told me that the other kids were non-believers, and that Santa never comes to non-believers. Maybe their parents had to provide the Christmas gifts because no one else would, but that isn’t what happened in our house because she believed, and so should I. I appreciated her effort, but the cynic in me had been animated, and because I didn’t want to ruin the illusion for my younger sisters, I decided to go along with the charade. Also, there was a strong possibility that my mother still believed in Santa Claus, and I wasn’t going to ruin it for her. I was dramatic, but I wasn’t a total killjoy.
Christmas Eve arrived, and my parents had several of their friends over for a party. My sisters and I tried to fall asleep in our room, but the noise from the other side of the house, and the anticipation over ripping through gift wrap, had us all twisted in knots. Suddenly, I heard a noise, and my sisters heard it, too: a very distinctive sound of tinkling bells, followed by a deep, resounding, “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
I flew out of my top bunk in a flash, my youngest sister clinging to me, while the other sister dove under her blankets, terrified. We peeked around the corner and into the living room and to my utter astonishment, there was Santa Claus, in the flesh. I must have gasped because he slowly turned around and gave us a big, cheeky smile, whispering that we should go to bed. I was not having that, and I immediately started naming my parents’ friends one-by-one, certain that one of them was the imposter. As I did, each of the friends came around the corner, telling me that it wasn’t them. By the time I came to the end of the list, my heart must have been beating through my chest, because I truly could not come up with any other theory as to who this could be. He just laughed heartily, patting his enormous belly, before reaching into his sack and pulling out present after present.
I ran to my bedroom window, looking out for signs of reindeer, but instead, through the feathery falling snow, I saw an old-fashioned sleigh with a snowmobile at the front of it. I went back to living room, and demanded an explanation as to where Rudolph and the others were. He laughed again and said that the snow was too heavy for them, so he decided to bring a snowmobile instead. After some careful consideration, I decided that this was plausible. Following a short conversation with the man, which I really didn’t want to end (How did you get here from China on a snowmobile, anyway?!), I was coaxed back into my room, where I watched as he hopped onto the sleigh, and drove out of sight. I knew I would never be the same again.
Was he real? Of course, he was! I had the Polaroids to prove it, too, which I made sure to show all those horrible dream-crushers at school. Aside from the sheer magic of the experience, what I took from it was the realization that believing is essential, that the best experiences have their roots in faith, and come to life through effort, imagination and determination.
Every day, I see more and more proof that belief is the vehicle to get you where you want to go. By holding on to it, by working with it toward that seemingly intangible goal, there is always that moment when everything comes in to focus. With absolute certainty I will say that any student who has remained firm in their belief that they can have the job they want has eventually done just that. Success is not an illusion; it’s very real, but it never comes without the belief, and then the effort. Believe in yourself and what you can do. It is the only way to move forward and to keep the magic alive.
I still put out cookies and milk every Christmas Eve. They’re always gone the following morning, and I’m never surprised by it.