Soon the old movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” will be playing on at least one movie channel. It’s a 4th of July tradition, at least in this household. That’s the movie that made James Cagney one of my favorites, with his perfect portrayal of a talented, confident, song writer and performer.
All his life, at least as depicted in the movie, George M. Cohan believed in his talent and wasn’t afraid to let others know he was good at what he did—the best, in fact, in some instances. At one point a competing actor sarcastically observes that the “M” in George M. Cohan obviously stood for “modesty.”
Well, while Cagney’s George certainly wasn’t modest, he somehow manages to balance his self-assurance with charm and, amazingly, even a sense of reality. He describes himself once as a “guy who knows what the average guy likes to sing” which gave him the ability to write those songs we all remember—Grand Old Flag, Over There, and that Yankee Doodle song that runs through my head every Fourth of July or whenever I see this movie.
Somehow the George of Yankee Doodle Dandy seems to have a handle on pride. As a boy his cockiness is still a bit brash, but as he grows older the viewer sees his motivating force isn’t so much that he’s self-centered, but rather self-confident, with an easy acceptance of the talent he obviously possesses. But he’s a good son, brother, and husband because he values others even as he works so hard at his craft.
I think we can all learn a lesson from Cagney’s George M. Cohan. It was as if he was celebrating talent, and that talent just happened to be his own. Maybe that’s the fine line between conceit and healthy pride—one is centered on self, the other on the talent.
So what about you? Whatever you do, whether you’re writing books or reading one while you’re folding laundry, you must believe your work has value (because yes, even folding laundry is valuable).
If you want to see real confidence go check out Yankee Doodle Dandy. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy Cagney’s performance.