Muhammad Ali said that he doubts that a humble person could ever be successful. Rickson Gracie is soft-spoken, empathetic to his opponents during the fight, and never brags about his 400-0 record.
Abraham Lincoln religiously avoided speaking ill of anyone. Teddy Roosevelt was jarring, controversial, and rambunctious.
Madonna is unapologetic and relentless about feminism and women’s sexuality. Emma Watson champions the same ideals with humility and levelheadedness.
Conor McGregor emphatically declares that he is cocky in prediction and in preparation but humble in victory or defeat. What does that mean?
In my first article about confidence, I set the interpretation that arrogance is a form of confidence and differentiated the two by stating that the confident but non-arrogant individual establishes his or her intentions while offering the audience the freedom to disagree and disengage with no personal repercussion.
This article discusses two polar attitudes: cockiness and humility. I believe that cockiness and humility is not black and white, neither being bad and the other good. I believe that the same confident individual can employ both cockiness and humility as interchangeable states to accomplish different goals without being disingenuous.
Note that English dictionary definitions are limited when discussing the topics of psychology, especially confidence. A dictionary may define cockiness as a synonym of arrogance but a philosopher or a psychologist has a more specific and colorful palette to work with.
In essence, please adopt my interpretations:
Cockiness: An unapologetic external and/or internal projection of assertive confidence
Humility: An external and/or internal projection of masked or suppressed confidence
Arrogance: attitudes or patterns of behavior that communicates to others, “get with me, shut your trap, or fuck you”.
To recap, by my definitions, cockiness, humility, and arrogance are all different states that can all be expressed by the confident individual. Arrogance is usually for jerks. Cockiness and humility, on the other hand, are more fluid. Let us take a look at how these two traits can led to higher self-growth and better leadership.
One of the great rewards of humility is liberation. You don’t feel the need to prove anything, giving yourself more freedom to grow and to learn. How often do you see proud individuals involved in very heated arguments stop and say, “That is a great point, I have never thought about it like this”?
Overconfidence in your abilities and beliefs will make you feel compelled to prove it to others and to yourself. The more emotionally invested you are and the more outspoken you are, the bigger the hole you dig yourself into. There is a reason why individuals whom join radical ideological groups lose the ability to be reasoned with. That person has already put the entirety of his or her self-worth into certain beliefs.
The growth mindset required for exponential self-growth becomes very difficult to employ when you are constantly staked to defend yourself. The more you find the need to defend your pride and worth, the more you are susceptible to bias and selective perception.
Einstein said it best: “the more I learn, the less I realize I know”. Keeping a default humble attitude gives you the freedom to expand on yourself without getting stuck with having to prove something that is not worth proving.
On the flip side of the coin, cockiness fosters commitment. The question is: can an individual be truly devoted to a goal or a belief without emanating assertive confidence in some shape or form -whether internally or externally? When you put your goals out on display for the world to see or when you make yourself believe without a shade of doubt that you will succeed, you leave yourself no choice but to commit beyond what you believe possible.
I would like to share a personal example. On May of 2016, I landed an interview at Facebook and posted a personal Facebook status assertively declaring –Ali and McGregor style– that I had absolutely no doubt that I would succeed. The status garnered sizeable support.
The following week, I got rejected on the same day that my contracting job was unethically rescinded. I spent the next two days on the couch in bleak frustration. On day two, I had an idea. I drove to Facebook HQ early on a Friday and spent the day observing employee behavior and security procedures. uh oh….
The following Monday I drove back and stood at the entrances, from 7:30 am to 11:00 am, and handed out free breakfast to anyone whom would take my resume. People were touched. Security evolved from open hostility to asking me if I was drinking water to walking by to say “they [Facebook] would be lucky to have you as an asset”. I got a second interview for my efforts. heyyyyy
If I had not laid my goals out for everyone to see, it would have been far easier for me to simply take the rejection as defeat and move on. Instead, with my pride on the line, I kept pushing forward. I remember being in a huge state of frustration and hopelessness. However, because I was so cocky about my chances of success, rejection was only a setback, not a failure.
I would like to make a note here. Noticed how I kept pushing forward but I was respectful and empathetic to not only the Facebook employees but to Facebook’s third party security guards as well. I made sure to study their security protocols and guidelines before I attempted my breakfast trick. Had I been a jerk about it, they could have easily called the cops and have me arrested. You don’t have to take no for an answer but don’t be a jerk or a creep about it.
Employing a cocky “I believe and so it will be” attitude requires one to be able to deal with the consequences. Wins and losses must be accepted with the same graciousness. If you are cocky in your prediction and you suffer a loss, you’ll only hurt your character in the long run if you act like a jerk about it. Take it with class and learn from it.
I once read, “humility is insurance against humiliation”. As I stated above, the proud overconfident person is constantly forced to prove him or herself. It is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens. When it does, the people who have resented that person’s might for so long will finally get to feast.
Humility helps others around you feel safe. It assures people that you are not there to benefit at their loss. Being humble communicates to others that you are receptive to criticism, easy to work with, and not an ass to hang out with.
Most importantly, humility conveys empathy towards other people struggling with their lives and their goals. You are far more likely to build relationships with others when they can trust that you are not full of yourself.
Cockiness, on the other hand, rallies and inspires supporters to your cause while keeping the hecklers at bay. Cockiness projects the belief you have in yourself and instills it onto others. It depicts boldness, novelty, ambition, and sex appeal.
Imagine if General Patton said to his third army, “If we work hard and we fight smart, we should be able beat the Nazis. Now let me check my plans with Bradley.”
Imagine if your favorite artist or inspirational figure never bothered to raise their voice and turn pain into art, and was instead content to simply stay quiet and misunderstood.
You must be willing to mark your territory in this world if you wish to have an impact in it. If you are ignored, treated with willful ignorance, or you are backed into a corner, then you must play offense. Cockiness is a statement of dominance and a demand for a rightful seat at the table.
You ask, “But isn’t it better to avoid conflict all together and let your abilities do the talking?” Ideally, yes. However, you must be able to adapt and adjust towards less idealistic cases.
In my dealings with difficult people, I have learned that having a hard bite but no bark (the way of the traditional martial artist) means that all you can do is bite. Bites are really, really messy. Save yourself the trouble and learn how to bark.
Rigid interpretations of humility and cockiness may lead people to choose one over the other. Too often humility becomes an enforced social norm and loses its meaning, which is to promote learning, collaboration, and empathy. When humility becomes status quo and meaningless tradition, then the humble person should to be challenged by the cocky maverick. Likewise, when the cocky person becomes excessively self-serving, then he or she will face the inevitable fall and humiliation.
A fluid interpretation of humility and cockiness can open up endless opportunities in self-growth and leadership. Being cocky with good intentions can instill personal belief and commitment and rally others to your cause. Being humble while having reasons to be cocky, can allow for learning, get you into less conflicts, and make you more approachable.