What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Judging by how much Paul cussed me out after filling his toolbox with cement, I accepted the possibility that I might not be cut out for a career in construction. Thankfully, I had other opportunities in the area to earn an income.

Located on the shores of Lake Huron, my hometown of Port Albert is in prime cottage country. As a result, I often found seasonal work with local cottagers. Usually that meant cutting grass, cleaning out boathouses or trimming hedges.

But there was also the time I got asked to be a valet. One of my regular lawn-mowing clients was throwing an anniversary party, and they needed someone to park the cars of their guests. 

My employer’s cottage was situated at the bottom of a long, narrow, steep road with very little room for vehicles. So the plan was for me to greet guests as they arrived and then drive their vehicles back to a large grassy field at the top of the hill. 

I quickly accepted their job offer, leaving out a minor detail regarding my qualifications: I had no idea how to drive stick. But seven bucks an hour was nothing to sniff at back then. And besides, how hard could it be?

I wouldn’t wait long to find out, as the first customer of the day drove a car with manual transmission.

I waited until the couple was inside the cottage before putting my grossly undeserved confidence to the test on the luxury vehicle. The sounds that emerged from that beautiful piece of machinery were grotesque. I sat in front of my boss’s cottage, sweat pouring off me, making the poor car scream in protest as I ground the gears to a pulp. 

Somehow, I eventually got the car into first gear and started creeping up the steep hill. At the top, I pulled into the parking area, inconveniently located next to a steep embankment. However, as I approached the edge, my brain got confused by the extra pedal at my feet. And as a result, I stomped on the accelerator instead of the brakes.

I started screaming as the car sped toward the edge of the cliff. A second before Thelma and Louise-ing the car into the woods, I managed to find the brakes. The car slammed into the lawn chair I had brought and sent it flying. I threw the car into park and hurried down to attend to the next guest … who was also driving stick.

For humans, overconfidence is one of the biggest cognitive biases we face. Consider one study, which revealed that 93 per cent of U.S. drivers believe they’re better drivers than the median — a statistical impossibility.

An inflated sense of our abilities can create bigger problems than a mangled lawn chair. Overconfidence in the accuracy of your beliefs can make you less open to other points of view. Overconfidence in your investments can result in buying a house beyond your means. And overconfidence in your navigating skills can lead you down a dangerous back alley that you’ve convinced yourself is a shortcut.

Overconfidence can have impacts on a much larger scale as well. Hubris put the “unsinkable” Titanic on a collision course with the iceberg. Armchair experts who thought they knew better than scientists flouted pandemic lockdown measures. Arrogant assumptions that downplayed the threat of climate change delayed action for decades.

Confidence isn’t a bad thing. Far from it. But when you’re facing an obstacle, be sure to temper that confidence with a healthy dose of humility. Accepting that you’re a work in progress and don’t have all the answers creates space to learn and grow, while reducing the sting when things don’t go the way you planned.

Humility definitely played an important role while I was fighting leukemia. This was all new to me, so I never pretended I knew more than I did. That meant being okay with asking “silly” questions. I also reminded myself not to get too cocky when my blood counts were looking good. Appreciating how precarious things were helped me deal with bumps along the way. 

Excessive certainty about something is asking for trouble. At best, the rigid expectations that come with overconfidence will leave you disappointed. At worst, you’ll end up driving someone else’s car over the edge of a cliff.

Next: Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience