The importance of being modest
If you’ve ever seen an old-school Bollywood movie, you’ll know that the heroine often hides behind her sari when faced with her true love. In India, as in many other cultures, brash and brazen behaviour, is viewed as unseemly; modesty is celebrated, especially in women. My family is originally from India. My maternal grandfather came to the UK with nothing and worked hard to reestablish himself. The achievement was staggering given his starting point. When Nana died a few years ago, he left behind my gran, six children and nine grandchildren, all of whom share one characteristic: humility. That, more than anything else for me, is my grandfather’s legacy. He believed that regardless of success or good fortune, it is important to be humble.
The flipside of humility
This week, I’ve been thinking about the flip side of humility, that is, arrogance. According to the Oxford Dictionary, arrogance is defined as ‘having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.’ But it seems to me that arrogance isn’t always a bad thing. It can have a marked impact on success. For example, research indicates that when looking for a new job, women generally put themselves forward if they meet a high percentage of the required criteria. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to go for the job even if they fall short of the person specification, contributing to gender inequality at the highest levels. So in this way, their exaggerated sense of their own worth contributes to their success.
Of course, there is a difference between arrogance and confidence. A confident person is aware of their value but articulates her achievements only if the situation requires it. In a job interview, say, or in the dating game. Or as a daily mantra – whatever. The fact is that she isn’t as ostentatious and unpleasant as Mr Arrogant; Ms Confident knows when to broadcast her abilities, and when just to get on with her life. Still, the differences between arrogance and confidence can be so subtle that they are sometimes confused with each other. A pinch of too much confidence and the scales are tipped into arrogance.
A tool for success
But if your aim is not to be nice but to be more successful, is arrogance preferable to modesty? If you are blind to your talents and do not celebrate them, why should anyone else? In all walks of life, self-doubt is a game killer. To give of ourselves, maybe we need to have a little self-love first, to be aware of our strengths and to acknowledge that we have unique talents that make us special. Now, I can hear what you are thinking right now. What is wrong with just being confident of my abilities? Why do I need to be arrogant?
Arrogance – the making and breaking of writers
This is just for my writer friends, especially the ones who are just starting out and are still finding their voice. As a new writer, there is an innate arrogance in assuming not only that you have something worthwhile to say but that you can express it in a way that readers will appreciate. Writing can be lonely. It involves long stretches of time without feedback and the road to finding readers can be a long one. Without a touch of arrogance (new writers are unproven after all, how can you be so sure of your worth?), you may find that the path of the writer is too strewn with difficulties for you to persevere. It is your self-belief, your arrogance, that propels you forward, that drives you to your computer, keeping your writing dreams afloat. So, you see, arrogance is the making of emerging writers, but it can also be the breaking of you. If your arrogance blinds you to the fact that all first drafts need editing, you will find yourself on the pulp pile. Even geniuses need a helping hand.
Strange bedfellows: arrogance and courage
I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but I’ve always been afraid to give voice to my dream or call myself a writer. Even now, when writing fiction has long become part of my daily practice, I still struggle with sharing that part of myself with those close to me. Writers for me have so much power, they are god-like. It seemed arrogant to align myself with them. But I grew tired of hiding. I began to speak more of writing to those I trust and to make it a larger part of my life. Strange things have happened since taking ownership of my writing ambitions. I have been getting more words down on paper. I feel more free to explore my creativity. I am happier. And if a little bit of arrogance is what has made this happen, sorry Nana, then it’s here to stay.
‘I’m an ambitious person. I never consider myself in competition with anyone, and I’m not saying that from an arrogant standpoint, it’s just that my journey started so, so long ago, and I’m still on it and I won’t stand still.’ Idris Elba
‘The French have the reputation of being arrogant. I don’t think it’s arrogance but a certain authenticity.’ Simon Baker