When I think of confidence vs. arrogance, I think about this speech Mike Tyson gave, where he talked about how he felt before fights.
He said he was always terrified before he entered the ring. That fear was justified. He was, after all, stepping into a confined area where another large man could literally kill him.
As he was walking up to the ring, fear.
Once he stepped into the ring before the opening bell, fear.
There would often be a moment, however, where his fear would disappear completely.
He’d look across the ring at his opponent. Of course, the other guy would have his mean mug on, trying to look as tough as possible, but he’d often notice a teeny tiny chink in the armor. His eyes darted away briefly or he’d display a subtle twitch in his facial expression.
If Tyson saw even a centimeter of doubt in his opponent’s eyes, he knew the fight was over before it started. His adversary was trying to look like he was ready to fight.
When Tyson saw this, he’d remind himself of how much he prepared, how hard he had worked, and everything he’d done to that point to reach this level. His fear drove him to train. Once he saw who the real pretender was, he’d remember that he was the most lethal man on planet earth and then proceeded to knock out his opponent.
Arrogance is external. Confidence is eternal.
Arrogance is fear in denial. Confidence is fear harnessed.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the subtle differences between confidence vs. arrogance.
Confident people can utter these three words
Confident people are aware of their limitations. They’re also okay with them. Arrogant people overcompensate and act as if they have no limitations at all. This is known as theDunning Kruger Effect. They’re too dumb to realize they’re dumb.
You’ll see this with people who have an answer for every complex problem in the world—geopolitics, the economy, and in recent times epidemiology. They’re uncomfortable admitting a simple truth confident people have no problem confessing:
“I don’t know.”
Confidence comes from earned competence. When you know you know what you’re doing, you’re confident. The belief in what you do know removes the need to validate yourself by pretending to know things you don’t.
Often, the arrogant person lacks truly earned competence, so they fake it to fool others around them. This further enforcesimpostor syndrome, making them double down, worsening the problem.
You don’t need to have an answer for or be good at everything. There’s too much to learn and too many skills to master. If you stick to your strengths and harness them, you don’t have to worry about your weaknesses. You also know that you can rely on others to fill the gaps.
This leads to the next key difference.
Confident people are not “lone wolves”
Confident people don’t try to do everything on their own. They know how to work with a team, delegate, andput their trust in others when it makes sense. Arrogant people often “bite off more than they can chew” and fall into the “lone wolf” myth that you’re not successful unless you do everything yourself.
This reminds me of a quote from Henry Ford:
Let me remind you that I have a row of electric buttons in my office. All I have to do is press one of them to call the person who can answer any question on any subject I wish to know, relative to the business at hand. I take care of the business, they take care of the questions. Now would you be so good as to explain why, just to answer your questions, I should have a brain stuffed with general culture, when I am surrounded by employees who can supply any information I might want to know?
Putting trust in a team makes you a real leader. Real leaders have confidence in their ability to manage not just themselves, but the entire team around them. Arrogant people lack real conviction and confidence in their plans. Or else they’d be able to share their goals with others and teach them how to run the system.
Doing everything yourself is also an easy way to create excuses. You can say you tried your best and wore yourself too thin when really you sabotaged your projects from the beginning by carrying the entire load.
Confidence draws inspiration from the proper source
Confident people seek validation from within. Arrogant people seek validation from others. Their overcompensation is a tool they use to get other people to believe in them because they don’t believe in themselves.
Think about the type of person who goes on and on about the things they’ve done. A confident person knows what they’ve done is impressive. It’s self-evident and they don’t need to tell anyone.
This doesn’t mean they’re quiet. It’s completely natural to share your life and accomplishments because you’re excited and inspired.
But if you find yourself going out of your way to impress other people, you’re not as confident as you think. We all care what other people think. We all seek external validation. But you want to derive your main source of validation from yourself.
You achieve the goals you want to achieve because they’re important to you.
Don’t make decisions to impress others, do the things that will make you feel good about yourself. All of this is subtle, and the line between confidence vs. arrogance can blend.
It’s all about mastering the degree of where, how, and why you seek validation for your effort.
When you’re confident, you do more than (just) talk a big game
Confident people will tell you what they’ve done. Arrogant people will tell you what they’re about to do. There’s an interestingTED talk from Derek Sivers where he says that saying your goals out loud reduces your chances of actually achieving them.
His theory is that the dopamine hit and the feeling of achievement come from talking about your goals. Which causes you to avoid completing them because you already have the subconscious sense of accomplishment in your mind.
It’s pleasurable to talk a big game.
You get this wave of emotion that maybe you will pull it all off. But feelings fade and you continue to be the person who has a ton of ideas but zero execution.
When you only talk, you get to bathe in the idea of your potential. When you actually try, you find out whether or not you were right about your assumptions. There is a distinct possibility that you can try very hard and still fail because you’re not cut out for the journey at hand.
That’s what most people are afraid of, and—deep down—fear drives the arrogant person to talk a big game. They’re trying to psych themselves up into becoming a better version of themselves instead of just becoming better.
Confident people tend to keep their plans under wraps and reveal everything once it’s already done. While there’s nothing wrong with being positive and trying to speak things into existence, there’s a right way to do it. There’s the way that inspires and the way that’s hollow and naval gazing.
Confident people are authentic
Confident people are vulnerable, while arrogant people are terrified of vulnerability.
I have a very specific definition of vulnerability. I don’t use it in the sense that others do—vomiting all your emotions 24/7. No. To me, real vulnerability is exposing yourself to potential pain by being authentic and aiming for what you really want.
When you’re honest about what you want from life and you go for it, you’re simultaneously powerful and exposed. Arrogant people instead try to create a facade to protect them from injury.
It’s the emotional equivalent of the loud guy at the bar who yells and puffs out his chest at someone else because he’s afraid to fight. If he knew how to fight, he’d seek to de-escalate situations, but he also knows he can handle himself if “it” hits the fan.
Confidence is the ability to know you can handle what comes your way. You don’t guard yourself against pain and failure. You resolve yourself to handle it. Instead of needing all the answers upfront, you trust yourself to make good decisions even when you don’t have the answers.
Ultimately, arrogance boils down to a faulty protection mechanism. A way to keep yourself from getting hurt is by pretending you’re above it all. And it almost always backfires.
Arrogant people end up in situations they’re unprepared for by overpromising. Even if people buy into the fake facade, the pain of feeling like a fraud will be worse when they eventually get found out.
Arrogance is the fear of being yourself. Playing a character to get what you want actually communicates that you aren’t worthy of what you want.
So what’s the answer to confidence?
A quote from Mark Manson sums it up really well:
The only way to be truly confident is to simply become comfortable with what you lack.
When you know who you are and who you aren’t, you can proceed accordingly. You don’t need to overcompensate because even though you might not check off every box perfectly—intelligence, talent, beauty, charm, status—you realize you don’t need to.
Most people, inherently, are good enough at enough things to build an amazing life. But also? Most people never get close to maxing out their potential because they’re too worried about what they lack.
Get better, yes.
Learn, of course.
Level up your skillset, great.
But do it from the mentality of enhancing who you already are instead of becoming something you’re not.