Ryan Daniels | The importance of being arrogant
Daniels, Straight Up | Being humble is an impediment to great undertakings and great accomplishments
October 1, 2013, 6:21 pm · Updated October 1, 2013, 11:36 pm·
Daniels, Straight Up
Is it really so bad always being told you’re the best?
A New York Times column from last week certainly thinks so. Citing alarming statistics about our country’s bloated trophy industry that demonstrate our habit to make every child a winner, it urged parents to be more blunt with their children.
Recent research has shown that children made aware of their true strengths and shortcomings — as opposed to perceiving themselves as ceaseless medalists — learn how to cope with failures and become adept at handling future ones. It thus instructed Mom and Dad to be more honest: Give praise only when it’s due, and abstain when it’s not.
The ability to overcome failure is no doubt essential to success, and being realistic about oneself (and one’s screw-ups) is a good way to learn how. Self-awareness also checks ego and is the first step toward self-improvement.
However, to prosper, sometimes it is just as important to be unrealistically confident about oneself.
The key to success, we’re told, is to take risks and try new things. But these scary steps — think of applying to that job you just know you’ll never get — are often stifled by inhibition. Overcoming this is made much easier by a denial of actuality.
Accomplishments require strategically straddling a line between deliberate self-unawareness and critical self-awareness.
This summer, I connected with one of New York’s best professional networkers. We met only briefly in May, but for the last few months, I have been occasionally awoken by her early-morning phone calls. They begin with a nonchalant, “What’s up?” and continue, inexplicably naturally, into half-hour updates on our lives.
At first I was deeply perplexed, having unsuccessfully tried to reconcile the unusual conversations with social or professional norms. When a friend finally told me not to worry, that this was quite simply effective networking, I was relieved.
Then I was intrigued. This networker’s utter disregard for norms and her own self-image — an intentional refrain from reality — paved a path to meet people she otherwise would not, creating, as she would coyly admit, her best career opportunities.
The intrigue she inspired was essential to my decision to write a column this semester. I’d filled out a columnist application many times before, but eventually, so weighed down by prospective reader response, I’d doubt myself and neglect to press submit. This time, I neglected self-awareness instead and blindly reassured myself to take a risk. Seems to have worked out.
Recently I’ve found the ability to induce overconfidence, even shamelessness, incredibly useful. I’ve more readily introduced myself to keynote speakers and afterwards was less reluctant to follow up with emails. If only I had figured this out sooner.
Psychology confirms the benefits of denying facts. It tells us that people less connected with reality — and more with an irrationally positive concept of self — are happier and more accomplished. Individuals deeply aware of their objective situation tend to be depressed. Our tendency to view ourselves through rose-colored glasses has scientifically-proven health benefits that aide success.
Another way of looking at this is through Albert Hirschman’s “Hiding Hand” principle, which posits that we tend to naturally underestimate our own true abilities — oftentimes, our creativity — when deciding to take on a new, difficult project. We take on projects anyway because, luckily, we also discount the project’s actual rigor.
Once a project has begun, and it’s too late to back out, we will utilize previously undervalued skills to overcome previously undervalued obstacles.
Seemingly unfounded confidence in oneself can prove a good thing — it’s probably not unfounded after all.
On the other hand, experience tells us that an unbound ego can be embarrassing, isolating and dangerous. It will lead to repeated, uncorrected mistakes and an inability to get along with others.
Obviously the answer is striking a balance between these costs and benefits. But this balance — moving back and forth between self-confidence and self-consciousness — is incredibly difficult. I’ve found a sequential process very helpful.
First, intentionally suppress actuality and act — take that risk. Second, snap back to reality and critique — self-correct retroactively. It’s better to ask for forgiveness later than for permission first.
Being risky separates the good from the great. Next time you’re about to shy away from something, don’t get brave, get cocky.
Ryan Daniels is a College senior from Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Daniels, Straight Up” appears every Wednesday.