On arrogance

Speaking with one of our Listers recently, we discussed a situation involving an incredibly arrogant performer who just wasn’t fitting in. Sometimes this happens, and sometimes there are reasons. After some careful discussion, it was clear that the behavior was a significant issue. But it also seemed clear to the teller that this performer believed that arrogance to be a strength, making the situation all the more difficult to resolve.

This has had me thinking quite a bit about arrogance itself, and both it’s functions and its drawbacks in the work we do as artists.

I know quite a bit about arrogance, not because I’ve studied it or spent hours researching that particular characteristic. I’m not a psychologist, and do not claim to be a clinical expert. But coming from a large family of very smart people, arrogance is in abundance. I have quite a store of it myself, and grapple with that every day, in the hope that it doesn’t run amok and become my defining trait. (Heaven help us all!)

What I have learned is this: that feeling of assuredness that you are right and that your instincts are trustworthy can be invaluable. It can give you the confidence and the ability to move forward in things that may seem impossible. Confidence and arrogance are not interchangeable, of course, but they are related, and the tipping point can be subtle.

But in order for arrogance to remain functional, and hopefully tolerable, it must be tempered with a sense of the collective. You are not an island. You must continually remind yourself that you are part of a community and that your work needs to serve the greater good. This will not only enable you to do better work, but you can enjoy it in a different way, because it can be shared. Staying connected to the people who are working with you and the people you work for is critical, lest you lose sight of the big picture and allow your own ideas and needs to eradicate the sense of context that makes your work valuable, and hopefully remembered. If you want to be a star, you have to contribute something. It cannot be all about you.

Of course, if you’re not ready to hear this, this post has been created in vain. But maybe you’ll be ready for it later.

For now, ask yourself this:

  • Why does this work matter?
  • Who cares about this work?
  • How will it change their experience, regardless of what it does for me?

Keep the faith, and keep going. Good luck.

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