The difference between arrogance and confidence

Posted on Apr 22, 2019

relaxed confident woman

My first management job

Even before I finished college, I knew I wanted to be a manager. I took on all kinds of leadership roles—president of my dorm’s residents’ association, a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters, lead of the Employee Engagement Survey Action Team—but management remained a dream. Then, about eight years into my career, I was ecstatic to finally get my first management gig!


My boss just resigned, and his boss Dan wants to talk to me.

“I’ve been thinking about how this is going to work out”, Dan says. “Who goes where. Now, I’m not saying this is a done deal, I just want you to start thinking about it. What if I were to put you in charge of your team? You’d still be doing your current job, plus you’d be managing the two other BAs. Would that be too much to take on?”

“No!” I say immediately. “I mean, no, I think, It’s a lot of work, but my favorite part of my job is mentoring and coaching!” I ramble uncontrollably and close my verbal mess with, “I can handle it!”

There’s a hesitation in Dan’s voice as he speaks again. “You don’t have to answer right now. I’d like you to put some thought into it this weekend.”


A couple weeks later, Dan sends a company-wide email announcing my promotion from analyst to manager.

Right after, a coworker sends me a message suggesting I buy lunch for everyone on the company Visa. I’m so proud that I don’t realize he’s being selfish rather than celebratory.

I fire off an email to the development team: “To celebrate the best day ever, let’s go to lunch! Meet out front at noon today!”

Thirty minutes later I get an email from a different coworker. “We were just wondering if that email was serious or not? We couldn’t decide.”

I wonder why she thought it was a joke. I write back, “It’s serious!”

We enjoy our lunch out together. I submit the receipt to accounting afterwards, and it’s approved.

Two weeks later Dan calls me into his office. “We need to talk.”

“OK,” I say, suddenly realizing this isn’t going to be a joyful conversation.

Turns out, there have been multiple complaints to him about my attitude. How this power is going to my head. My entire face turns hot as he recounts a conversation I had with a senior engineer last week. I had acted like I had authority over him. It hits me how absurdly self-absorbed my lunch email was.

Did I really write “best day ever?”

The source of arrogance

What was going on here?

I’m not enough.

Under the facade, I had imposter syndrome hardcore. I felt I needed to act like someone I wasn’t—to project a sense of confidence when I (of course, being a beginner now in new territory) had no idea what I was doing. I was judging myself as not good enough in this new role.

Judgement of any kind assumes comparison. If I’m the only human on Earth, can I be beautiful? Can I be ugly? Or, with no reference point, must I simply be?

Arrogance comes from comparison and judgement.

Cultivating confidence

So what is confidence?

Confidence requires dropping all judgements. First, I have to let go of what other people are thinking or feeling about me—these are things I can’t know and certainly don’t control.

From here, I notice my true strengths, my virtues and values, my accomplishments. I notice my fear-driven behaviors, unkind actions, the habits I’d love to change. This is all me.

It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.

When I’m confident, I trust that I’m whole. That is, I trust that I have what I need, whether I’ve just received my dream promotion, or been hit in the gut with how arrogant and rude I’ve been to my favorite engineer.

But isn’t confidence about trusting that you can do something? That you’re a good employee/spouse/friend?

I keep a document of “coaching warm fuzzies”—grateful quotes and specific client results that show the positive impact I’ve had on others. I pull it out and read it sometimes to remind me how capable I am.

This is not a tool of comparison. This is a tool of true, evidence-based noticing, helpful because of how my brain works—gravitating so easily towards judgement and negativity. It allows me to notice and accept what is more true than the negative bullshit that goes on up there.

Confidence is the result of non-comparison and acceptance.

To feel truly confident, let go of everyone else, and accept ALL of what makes you, you.