Success, Failure, Arrogance and Humility

Self confidence is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become self confident you need to do three things.  1) Become and optimist.  2) Face your fears and act.  3) Surround yourself with positive people.

In my experience, grandparents are some of the most positive people in the world.  My grandma and grandpa lived upstairs from us when I was growing up.  They were always there for me.  I remember many happy hours sitting at their kitchen table talking with them and listening to their stories – and escaping the wrath of my parents when I screwed up.

The other day, I came across some advice that Will Smith’s grandmother gave him.  “Don’t let failure go to your heart, or success go to your head.”  This is not only great common sense advice, it captures the essence of self confidence.  Self confident people have a realistic view of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. 

I discussed this idea in Straight Talk for Success…

“A healthy, realistic self image is key to your confidence. Remind yourself of this the next time you are out performed (and you will be) and when you out perform others (which you will as well).

“Don’t let yourself feel inferior just because you fail at a task or are not good at something. On the other hand, don’t let yourself feel superior because you succeed at a task or are good at something. Keep things in perspective.

“I once saw a quote from Herb Elliot that sums it up quite well. In case you don’t know Herb Elliot (and I didn’t until I read this quote), he was the world record holder in the mile run from 1958 to 1962. He said:  

"‘To be a world-record holder in the mile, a man must have the arrogance it takes to believe he can run faster that anyone ever has at the distance; and the humility it takes to actually do it.’

“To me, the dichotomies in this quote – arrogance and humility – capture the essence of self confidence and realistic self image. Arrogance: ego, belief that you can accomplish the goal you set for yourself. Humility: the willingness to do the work necessary to reach your goal. Both are present in successful people.”

Let's use some examples here. If you asked me to find a receipt from last month, it may take me another month for me to find it. The odds of me walking to the moon are greater than me successfully reformatting your hard drive, and if you are proofreading my writing, you may discover the most creative spellings ever. These are not my skill sets.

On the other hand, a lot of the people who can do these things would have their knees buckle two seconds after they walked out onto a stage with 1,000 eyeballs staring at them.  I love being in front of a crowd, sharing my thoughts on personal and professional success.

Do I allow myself to feel inferior because of the things that I am not good at? Not in a million years… and no one has permission to make me feel inferior. On the other hand, do I allow my ego to inflate because I’m good at speaking in front of large audiences?  No.  I better not.  Stop me if you see my ego getting out of control.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are self confident.  Self confident people follow Will Smith’s grandmother’s advice: “Don’t let failure go to your heart, and don’t let success go to your head.”  Remember too, that a balanced self image is a key component of self confidence.  Arrogance plus humility equals a balanced self image. It’s simple common sense.  You can believe in yourself all you want, but you have to do the work in order to succeed.  On the other hand, you can work your tail off, but if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re unlikely to succeed.

That’s my take on failure, success, arrogance and humility.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


PS: Yesterday, I watched the “60 Minutes” feature on Captain Sully Sullenberger and the crew of the US Airways flight that went down in the Hudson River on January 15.  I was surprised to see that one of my high school classmates, Doreen Welch, was one of the flight attendants on that flight.  Way to go Doreen.  I’m proud of you.  You are courageous and inspirational.  You’ve made me and all of Ambridge Area High School proud.

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  1. Humility is a virtue that many preach, but few know how to find. No man or woman can truly love, truly serve, truly persevere, truly dare mighty deeds, truly hope for the future or truly honor the past, without a humble heart. To serve well is to serve humbly.

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