For years, I’ve been given the advice to “be humble.” Usually applying to work situations, whether in job interviews or dealing with co-workers, because, it seems, “humble” is the other side of the coin from “arrogant,” and we certainly don’t want to be that.
And to be honest, I’ve struggled with that, because I’m damn proud. Not only of the work that I do but of the work that I did to learn what I know that allows me to do the work that I do.
David Gerrold wrote a Facebook post recently that resonated with this struggle. In it, he asserts that “arrogant is OK. Here’s are the salient parts:
In one of the interviews cited, I was enthusiastic about my love of writing, what I was discovering about the craft, my ambitions for my books (I want readers to have a great time) — and a couple members of this particular comment thread decided I was arrogant.
…about that arrogant thing? Yeah, I plead guilty. It’s hard to be humble at a keyboard. Honest.
In fact, it’s hard to be humble in any kind of creative endeavor.
I want the writers I read to be enthusiastic about what they’re doing. I want the artists and the editors and the painters and the sculptors and the quiltmakers and the model-makers and the inkers and the songwriters and the composers and the whoevers to love the magic of creation, to be enthusiastic and joyous and ambitious and ultimately triumphantly satisfied in the work they produce — because when the creator is excited about the work, the work is exceptional, and we all benefit from the expansion of human experience.
Here is the whole post: https://www.facebook.com/david.gerrold/posts/10224328083602066
And that’s the thing: I’m incredibly enthusiastic about technical writing, about the opportunity to do technical writing, and do it well. Sure, he’s talking about science fiction writing in particular, because that’s what he does (and to many, does it pretty damn well), but it’s true for all writing.
It’s hard to be humble at a keyboard.
So I ask, why then be humble? Yes, arrogance can bring out the worst in us:
So, yeah — I might very well be the horrible, arrogant, no-good, very bad person that some fans have decided I am (and maybe even based on some actual misbehaviors on my part) — but over here, even if my feet are still in the mud, my eyes are still on the stars.
I, too, have not always been at my best. But some seem to interpret confidence as arrogance juuust a bit too quickly. And don’t you really want someone who is confident they know what they are doing — and can prove it — on your team? True, you don’t want assholes, but absent assholery, arrogance can sometimes be the only thing that pushes us through the most difficult of times, that convinces us that we can do it in the face of seemingly intractable obstacles.
So, really, is “be humble” the best advice when you want to aspire to excellence?