Sometimes I have moments you might call “epiphanies of hindsight” or lessons I didn’t realize I was learning until I reached some vantage point and looked back to see where I’d been. This is one of those.
Here it is: arrogance and confidence are not the same thing – not even close. In fact, they are practically opposites.
Arrogance is the bluster that ultimately comes from fear and insecurity. Confidence – true confidence – is quiet, calm, and difficult to shake.
Arrogance is easy, addictive, and fairly common. It comes with the adrenaline rush of overcoming challenges to your ego, and the satisfaction of proving others wrong with stinging attacks that are sure to send your enemies packing, thus protecting your fragile faith in your own intelligence worth and abilities. So long as you are successful in repelling these attacks and defending yourself and your beliefs, you feel vindicated, justified, and – for the moment – confident. As soon as the next attack comes however, your blood is pumping again and you feel threatened, indignant, and persecuted.
True confidence, on the other hand, is less common, because it is hard won through self awareness, humility, and a great deal of sustained effort. It is also a lot less visible because a person with true confidence has nothing to prove. They also have nothing to hide and nothing to fear, because they are practiced at the skill of hearing criticism, processing it, and learning from the information without taking it personally.
Arrogance is just the opposite. With arrogance, uncertainty itself is so terrifying that even the possibility of being wrong is unacceptable. The skill of adjusting to new information or circumstances has not yet been developed; our personal identity is so strongly tied to our beliefs and plans, our ego so resistant to change, that our fight-or-flight response is engaged when confronted with any serious critique of our beliefs or actions. We come up with excuses and rationalizations, or go on the attack, or even retreat to the safety of “friends” who will allow us to remain safely in denial.
Arrogance is essentially a reflexive willful ignorance of our own mistakes; but when you refuse to acknowledge your mistakes, they don’t go away. They fester and become doubts and insecurities.
The way to true confidence is facing your shortcomings learning the lessons they have to teach you, and acquiring the skills to overcome them. In this way, you transform your shortcomings into strengths. This process itself can be very painful in the same way cleaning a wound can be painful, and yet it is necessary in order to heal and strengthen our confidence (not a bad analogy, right? I totally stole it). This is far from easy, in fact it’s likely that no one has ever perfected this skill, (certainly not the author of this post). It is however, less a prize to be won and more a skill to be honed. It involves a great deal of practice, failure, embarrassment, discomfort, hard choices, and harder consequences. From this crucible however, comes the gold of true confidence. It is the muscle that comes from long hard work, the mastery that comes from years of practice, and the serenity that comes from a life lived honestly and skillfully.
I am far from free of my own arrogance. Those who know me well however, have seen my confidence grow substantially in recent years. This is how I’ve been doing it. I still have a long way to go. I have spent years sharpening my excuse-making, rationalizing, and verbal sparring skills, but have only just begun to develop my skill at honesty, true listening, courage, and self-discipline. Every day, it seems, I find hidden strongholds of arrogance in my beliefs and attitudes, but I am trying to flush them out with honesty, courage, listening, self-discipline and effort. I think I’m just beginning to understand what courage is, and as I do I’m recognizing it in others and gaining inspiration and encouragement.
Thank you, all my friends and family who have cheered for me along the way. I love you all!