Some of my clients have told me they hold back in new situations. Either they feel insecure or are concerned if they are too confident, they will appear arrogant or egotistical. What we found in coaching sessions however, was surprising. Action (or inaction) based on this concern was more likely to make a person appear arrogant than real confidence did.
If you continuously ponder whether or not to speak up or take action, chances are you are spending a lot of time thinking about yourself. You may appear self-absorbed or arrogant. However, when you are feeling confident about your self-worth, you don’t have to spend time and mental energy thinking about what your role is and if you are good enough. You can focus on the people and task at hand. We are all at our best when we know we are good enough. Don’t get me wrong, a desire to learn and improve is vital for us to thrive as human beings. However, we can be confident about ourselves while continuing with our personal growth.
Let me give an example. Six people who have never met before are given the task of building a bridge out of only paper; no glue, no tape. One of the group members, Wilhelmina, just sits in a corner with folded arms, ruffled brow, actively watching but not daring to say a word or take action. She is thinking about the fact that she has no background in engineering, or any other science that could help with this task. There is no real progress being made in the group and she does have an idea she’d like to suggest but doesn’t want to be one of those people who always have to take the lead and show off. She’s wondering about what the group thought of her one and only comment: “We didn’t get enough instruction to do this.” She’s wondering if she should go stand at the table, or stay in the chair, or ask something, or say nothing. Her continuous stream of self-conscious thoughts keeps her totally focused on herself and completely unaware of her impact upon the others.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group bustles with activity. Todd jostles for the opportunity to have his ideas heard and implemented. Frank and Susanne spar back with additional ideas. Todd thinks Wilhelmina is monitoring him and the others think she is acting as if she were superior. To them, Wilhelmina seems arrogant, as if she is too good for this silly game. Todd and the others feel goodwill toward everyone in the new team except to Wilhelmina.
This is how the vicious cycle of insecurity creates the very thing feared in the first place: being perceived as arrogant. She felt insecure and so stayed quiet and critical, only to have accidentally created an air of superiority. If she had a deep quiet belief of; “I am just as good as every other person here, and do not need to prove that to myself or anyone else”, she would have been able to fully experience the present moment and connect with the people around her.
You, as well as Wilhelmina always have a choice to respond differently to the situation. Through coaching, Wilhelmina determined next time she would:
Relax physically (instead of having a ruffled brow and folded arms)
Do the best with the given and make her best attempt (as opposed to waiting for an expert or expecting detailed instructions)
Spend energy on the task at hand and listen to other people (as opposed to the continuous stream of self-conscious thoughts)
I call this being ‘self-full’; holding the deep quiet belief that you are good enough. This makes it easy to get out of your own way and be at your best. When we are ‘self-full’, we are not arrogant, but fully engaged with the people around us.
“So, to all of you, if you remember nothing else today, remember this: You are awesome. I’m not suggesting you be boastful. No one likes that in men or women. But I am suggesting that believing in yourself is the first necessary step to coming even close to achieving your potential.”
–Sheryl Sandberg, commencement address at Barnard College 2011