Arrogance or Confidence?

Last month an individual that I was consulting to tried to insult me by calling me “arrogant”.  I thanked him for being emotionally invested.

The attempted insult stung for a moment, but only a moment because while I do have immense professional pride in my accomplishments, the man misidentified why I was so secure in believing certain things were necessary for fixing his business: it was not arrogance but confidence.

Arrogance comes from believing you have no limits, often because you haven’t yet run into them.  Think of the cocky young fighter that has yet to be knocked down, or the whiz kid that waltzed through high school but has yet to be rudely awakened by college calculus or quantum physics.  I believe this is what I was being accused of because of the situation with the company.

Confidence comes from competence.  From having hit your limits before and learned from it.  The smart kid that fails their first exam out of arrogance and then learns how to learn, buckles down and does the work, and walks into the final knowing they are going to be ok because they have consistently made the correct efforts, sacrificed the time to develop, and have a strong understanding of the fundamentals for all the problems on the exam.  They might not have seen the exact problem that is on the final, but they have seen dozens or hundreds of similar problems and can use their heuristics and mental models to solve the current questions.  They are comfortable breaking a complex problem down into smaller, solvable issues that they can resolve.  The arrogance has been tempered by experience, and the potential to succeed has been translated into a high probability because of the compounded effort and experience over time.

Instead of the cocky teenage fighter, consider the retired boxer or martial arts Master that doesn’t start stuff, but can definitely finish it.  They know they can handle themselves and so don’t stress in a dangerous situation.  This is confidence, because of their capability to deal with the problem at hand.  They have competence in the field and experience so as to be unemotional in the situation, because they have “been there, done that” and so can just focus on the job at hand in a nonplussed fashion.

Confidence is being able to say “we got this” and then focusing resources (mental, financial, time, etc.) to solve an issue, even if it is under extreme conditions (think of an astronaut on a space walk) that are beyond but based upon their lifetime of training.  Confidence is coolness under pressure, keeping the emotions (especially fear) in check so that the higher brain functions of the cerebral cortex can be used and the problem solved.

Those who have well grounded confidence can recognize it in others and identify it as such.  But to those whose success has been based on luck, or political maneuvering, or inherited wealth (or any other deus ex machina), they cannot recreate the event or situations or processes of success and as such recognize and fear those who can, and label confidence as arrogance because they project their insecurities on those that earned their accolades instead of being handed them.

Are you arrogant, or have you developed confidence through your experience?