Confidence versus Arrogance PDF Print E-mail
Written by Adam (Vergil)   
Thursday, 20 March 2008

So I had an interesting discussion with my two of my co-workers at lunch today and wanted to continue the discussion to this space to see if anyone had any additional thoughts on it.  I don’t think you’ll find a person out there who does a lot of competitive activities for a living who won’t tell you confidence is important to winning.  Yet we find ourselves prone to hating people who display great amounts of arrogance in their skills.  We always are happy when see the underdog take down the arrogant favored in a match up.  These “Cinderella stories” sell tickets to sporting events and extra hours of broadcasting on ESPN all the time.

What I find interesting is that I think there is a line between portraying confidence and arrogance, and I think that line is not the same for everyone.  For some, any kind of self promotion and not displaying abject humbleness at all times, is arrogance, while others would take a look at an extreme case like Muhammad Ali and strive to be like his bad-mouthing when they go into a competition.

So what are your thoughts on it?  Feel free to go ahead and put your two cents in, or you can click the “read more” link to hear my take on it first.

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For me, as a kid I always hated people who bragged.  I found them annoying and tended to harbor quite a lot of resentment for them.  This was especially true for me since I grew up around a lot of kids who played basketball in some capacity.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say for a lot of the kids around me growing up, if you couldn’t at least dribble a basketball and make a layup, you pretty much were ostracized by default.   Luckily I can usually do at least that, but asking much more of me was a stretch.  It always irked me then when the way that members of these groups would “motivate” you by trash talking to you, saying things like “You call that a shot!?  My grandma’s got a better shot then that!  I shoot better in my sleep!  You can do better!” when you know you can’t and wish they’d shut the hell up (six foot tall 12 year old punk).

For me, this made me resent competition for the longest time.   The attitudes and environments that surrounded it made me want to stay away from sports, and putting up with the kind of loud mouth braggarts who played the sports well only reinforced my desire to stay sheltered in my basement with Sonic the Hedgehog and other single player games.

Tangential childhood memories aside, the result was for a long time I was hated competition, and I hated arrogant braggers and was so focused on being humble that I had no confidence in my abilities.  Even as I earned my black belt I focused more on the parts of my skills that stunk than what I had accomplished.  It took me learning to grow a back bone and have some confidence in my own skills before I became more comfortable at competing at things (something that ironically I think Starcraft helped me with again).

So since then I’ve always felt confidence is important to being able to push yourself to compete.  At the same time, I still feel like once should stop themselves from becoming arrogant, for when you have no respect for your opponent is when they will figure out how to overpower you.  Arrogance leads to complacency, which means you feel like you’re so good you don’t have to get better, while the world around you continues to improve.  Sooner or later, someone will catch up to you and toss you from your throne.  The other problem with arrogance is it tends to breed enemies.  The more time you spend trying to make yourself sound like you’re the shit, the more people will flock to prove you wrong.

So in my mind, the ideal place to strive for is “confident humility.”

What I think is interesting is how much this balance between confidence and arrogance is based off perception.  Often times when we are not as good at something, anytime we listen to someone with more skill or practice than us at it toot their own horn, it sounds like arrogance.  Once case of this was in one of my many WoW interactions, there was one player (a rogue fittingly) who was always talking about how much damage he could do with this attack or that, proudly stating his achievements, and always eager to try this or that.  Now, it seemed to me at first that this person was arrogant, wanting to lord over others in the guild what he had accomplished that they had not.  However once I got to know the guy, I realized that he just had an extremely precocious desire to test his skills against anyone and everyone who would let him.  If you indulged the guy, he didn’t lord over you that he won, he would often compliment you on what you did right, and even admit how his win to you still demonstrated weaknesses in his tactic and thank you for helping him realize it.  While I still think the guy could use a little more humility, I would certainly not describe him as out-and-out arrogant.

So those are my two cents.  Yours?

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