You’re Arrogant If They Say You Are

June 4, 2012

Shockingly, the word “arrogant” has haunted me my whole career – and really my whole life. I’ve looked up the definition of “arrogant” more times than I care to admit, trying to contrast it with “confidence” and “humility”. I’ve been told more than once that I needed to work on being “humble”, and have genuinely tried to be so. Tried and failed. In terms of personal soul searching, “arrogance” has occupied a disproportionate amount of my staring-at-the-ceiling-trying-to-fall-asleep time. I don’t want to be arrogant – I don’t like the very idea of it, and am ashamed and confused that I seem to attract the description with alarming frequency. Ironically, an aspect of arrogance is an abundance of unwarranted confidence, yet I have no confidence that I can conquer the label of arrogance.

In helping me plumb the depths of what could potentially be the character flaws that may have lead to my arrogance, my close friends are no help. They are made up of doctors, lawyers, successful business owners, wealth managers, physicists, architects, programmers, hackers, executives, ex-military personnel and athletes; and either they don’t find me arrogant, or are labeled as arrogant themselves. “You’re just extremely confident,” they say. If extreme confidence can be labeled as arrogance, then I don’t want the characteristic. But then how does one “tone down” confidence? The strategy that has worked best for me is to avoid conversation with people who don’t already know me, which has lead me to being perceived as socially awkward at best, and anti-social at worst. I often worry that this strategy of avoidance leads to the label of being too arrogant to talk to regular people. It seems I can’t win.

Faced with the empirical evidence of arrogant people finding me not to be arrogant, yet everyone else (forgive the hyperbolic paranoia) finding me to be so, I am forced into the conclusion that I fear is nothing more than a cop-out: Maybe being perceived as arrogant is entirely dependent on your audience? Perhaps in certain circles, you are considered having the appropriate level of confidence, while in others as having so much as to be labeled conceited or condescending. I would like for this to be true, as everything I have tried to be broadly accepted as non-arrogant has failed for so long on so many levels that it would alleviate the persistent guilt and self imposed shyness that has come to define my adulthood. I can only hope that my worst fear is not realized: that the contemplation of one’s own arrogance is the epitome of arrogance in and of itself.

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I would like to point out that if we work together today, or have in the past, my opinions may or may not have been influenced by working with you. Most likely they have been, but I have to say that to avoid offending people. You're so vain. I bet you think this site is about you.