Today’s issue should be fun — we get to talk about being better than people!
OK — for those who know me, you know that’s a little tongue-in-cheek. A little.
To get anywhere in life, I think you have to have a nice little mix of arrogance and humility.
Wanna make it in the expert business? Wanna make it as a skilled service provider? Wanna make it in pretty much any competitive field (and nearly every field is competitive, even when they claim not to be)?
You have to simultaneously believe that you’re hot s*t. While also not treating others like sh*t.
It’s confidence. Confidence EARNED, through lived experience.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Reminder: It’s Mailbox Monday. Which is my weekly essay where I answer YOUR most pressing questions. About business, marketing, selling, copywriting, life, whatever…
Send me your question here for a chance you’ll get it answered in an upcoming Mailbox Monday.
Here’s today’s Mailbox Monday question…
Have you ever found yourself thinking you knew better than your mentors?
It’s an ego management question.
Have I ever felt like I knew better than my mentors?! All the time…
But here’s the most important part of that: I was often wrong.
That’s tricky business.
Because you won’t get respect in life if you don’t stand up for your beliefs, especially when they conflict with what others say.
However, in standing up for what you believe, you will invariably run into two outcomes that I’m sure you’d love to avoid:
— Others will disagree in the short term whether you are right or wrong. And…
— You will actually be wrong.
Not all the time. But even if you’re skilled at what you do, you will be wrong sometimes. And probably often.
That’s a fact of life. We are eminently fallible.
Even with the best knowledge and wisdom and experience, the best people in any field are still wrong — often.
“The World’s Greatest Copywriter” Gary Bencivenga could beat as 9 in 10 controls. But that still meant he would write a failure, sometimes.
Einstein, one of history’s greatest physicists, went to his grave disagreeing with quantum mechanics, insisting “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”
And “Home Run King” Babe Ruth ALSO held records for the most strike outs.
You don’t become great by all the things you get wrong. But you will get a LOT of things wrong on the way to being great.
You MUST be willing to put yourself out there.
How to develop “humble greatness,” the attitude of success…
People who do not believe they can and will do great things tend not to. In other words, if you don’t have confidence in your ability to change the world, you won’t.
Biography after biography of amazing people (inside and outside business) repeatedly show an almost irrational belief in their own ability to do something great.
If you don’t have this belief, you won’t take action toward it. If you don’t take action toward it, you won’t start to make an impact. If you don’t start to make an impact, you won’t achieve it.
And so it starts with belief. You can’t leave out the other things, either. You can’t only have belief. You need to have the belief, take the action, create some impact, then snowball your success into whatever great thing it is you want to do.
But it all starts with that belief you can and will be GREAT.
But at the same time, you MUST recognize the journey. And never think you’re ahead of where you actually are, and that others can’t help you.
Arrogance is an interesting thing. It’s kind of like alcohol. It can make you feel good in the short term, and in very controlled quantities isn’t that bad and can even have benefits. But it can quickly get out of hand and then you’re just creating trouble for yourself.
Arrogant people often dominate a room. But it’s a short-term gain at the expense of their long-term success. You can create smaller successes through arrogance, but it’s very hard to create the kind of bigger successes that rely on the goodwill of others.
There is a middle way. It’s recognizing that you can and will fail. But being confident in your own ability to get back up, correct your mistakes, and keep moving forward. Taking responsibility and ownership of both your successes and failures. Always knowing that whether or not you’re able to achieve your greatness and your goal, you do know that you can keep taking steps along the way to get you closer to it. And, importantly, knowing that everybody else is in the same boat — their thoughts and opinions and beliefs are true, but partial to their own lives and experience. That’s humble greatness. And it comes out through being confident and assertive in moving through the world, being you.
Confidence vs. Arrogance…
Let’s get really clear on this distinction.
Because I think most people confuse confidence and arrogance.
Arrogance is blind faith in your own ability to achieve things, even in the face of massive obstacles or shortcomings. It’s a “my way or the highway” attitude without any real justification for the superiority of your path.
Arrogance can get compliance. But it’s more a matter of luck than superiority when things actually go your way — even though most arrogant people will believe that it’s clearly their own superiority that led to whatever positive outcome they wanted and got. When they don’t get what they want, the arrogant person will crap on those around them, and blame, blame, blame.
Confidence, on the other hand, comes from experience. Either from a “been there, done that” experience in the task at hand, or enough experience confronting the unknown that you can know you can figure it out.
Confidence is open to feedback, support, others opinions (even when they conflict) and in general will look for the best path forward. Confidence doesn’t need everyone to agree. But the confident person will speak their mind about what they believe to be the best path, trying to gain agreement without forcing it. They will reason with others, have a conversation, and decide.
And, critically, when you are confident (but not arrogant) you will take responsibility for being wrong (even when others may have contributed). A confident person will not defer responsibility or ownership of a problem. A confident person will also not simply take all credit, but make sure it is shared with everyone who was involved in the success.
Arrogance comes through having a weak ego (or sense of self) trying to gain strength through either direct or passive aggression. Confidence comes from having a solid sense of self and healthy ego.
So how is this applied in a disagreement?
Challenge, then listen, and be willing to change your mind…
So let’s say you have a disagreement with someone.
It might be a superior, a boss, or a mentor. Or, it could be a peer, a friend, or a loved one. Or it could be an employee or a child, or someone else whose situational status is lower than yours.
It doesn’t matter.
If you’re confident, you want to get to the truth and the best path. And it doesn’t have to be yours, although you will happily adopt it if it’s truly th superior way.
For this to happen, you should clearly state what you want, believe or think. Back up WHY you’ve taken this position. (This is a critical lesson for marketing and selling: always give a compelling REASON WHY behind anything you’re asking someone to think, believe, or do.)
Listen to others, and make room for them to disagree or challenge you. It’s best if can actively solicit disagreement, staying calm to let them know it’s welcome.
Lightheartedly: “Am I wrong about this?”
If you’re willing to ask it, and you can actually take others giving their good reason why you’re wrong, they’ll appreciate it.
Then, hash it out. Seriously consider what the options are. Seriously consider each participant in the conversation’s position. And make sure, when doing so, to consider their source.
Billionaire investor Ray Dalio has a concept called believability-weighting. This is basically saying that someone who has done the thing you’re trying to do 50 times should have their perspective given more weight than the mail carrier who you ask for their opinion when they swing through the office. It’s certainly worth — in certain situations — asking any random stranger for an opinion. But experience should ALWAYS be given more weight, even if you disagree with it.
Get all the reasons why for all the positions on the table. Consider all possible solutions or paths.
Be willing to change your mind. But only do so — as much as you are able within your fallible and fickle human mind (we all are fallible and fickle) — when it’s based on solid reasons. Try to separate trying to be right with trying to do what’s right. It may seem subtle linguistically, but there’s a world of difference.
Then, depending on your power and status in the situation, make a decision.
If you’re a junior with almost no situational power, you will have the opportunity to clearly state your decision, but you may still have to act on someone else’s.
If you’re stuck in the middle, advocate strongly for your decision, and try to get the primary decision-maker on board.
If you’re at the top of the hierarchy, state your decision firmly while making sure dissenters know their perspectives were considered thoughtfully.
In all cases, remember: this is NOT about YOU…
You have to stick to your guns. You have to be clear about what you believe, and what your decision is. You have to make your side or perspective clear.
And you should do it from that perspective of humble greatness. You believe you have the right way, but are willing to be responsible for the consequences if you’re wrong about that.
Stand up for yourself, in that context.
But recognize, how people react will likely come from all of their own baggage, preconceptions, and biases (as is true for you).
While people will react to you (sometimes favorably, sometimes not), they will always be doing things for their own reasons.
Back to the original question:
Maybe your mentor had a bad day. They’re looking to be right about something, and a mentorship relationship is one where they have situational authority. So they slam what you’re doing, and tell you you’re wrong.
If you disagree and respond with calm confidence, in line with the above, you may diffuse the baggage they bring to the situation, and join you in your perspective.
Or, they could give you a clear reason to change your mind, and the superiority of their perspective would be undeniable.
Either way, you’ll be in a better place to not make it about you, and instead make it about finding the truth and the best path forward.
That takes a strong ego, but when you do it successfully, it’s powerful.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,