Suppressing Demons: Finding the Balance Between Confidence and Arrogance
Suppressing Demons: Finding the Balance Between Confidence and Arrogance
Have you ever felt like your life is walking a tightrope between insecurity and arrogance? One day you wake up feeling on top of the world, like nothing can stand in your way. If you quit your job, you’d have it replaced by the end of the day. If you wanted to be the President of the United States, it could be accomplished with a single tweet.
Then the next day, you wake up and wonder how you’ve been able to “Forrest Gump” your way this far through life. Surely, it was some lucky mistake and the bottom is about to drop out. You know that you aren’t good enough for anything that you have and you don’t deserve the love of anyone who would give it.
If this daily pendulum shift description sounds familiar, guess what, you’re not alone. We’re such fickle beings and our mental state shifts like a blade of grass blown by the wind. One minute, we view ourselves with too much esteem and the next with too little. Finding that balance is one of the most challenging things a person can do. In this article, I’ll be discussing how to identify when you’re on one side of the dial or the other, as well as a couple methods for pulling yourself back to center.
Imagine an old fashioned scale, balanced at the middle with two suspended bowls to place items in. Something that the English would have used on a ship in the 18th century, you get it. If an item is placed on each end, the heavier object will lower to the max flex of the scale providing immediate feedback. Now imagine that one side represents our mental state when we’re depressed, down on ourselves and functioning with a low self-esteem. The other represents when we’re overconfident, blissfully ignorant and our ego is running amuck.
If you wake up from a bad dream where someone you trust disappointed you, or your boss was telling you how worthless you are, then you might find yourself immediately on the low end of the spectrum. Your scale is tipping too far in the negative direction. The same is true for the person who gets a big bonus with a promotion and is snapping their fingers singing Frank Sinatra’s, “I’ve Got the World On a String,” on his way out of the office and to a bar with an attractive co-worker, instead of going home to his family.
This person’s scale may be tipping too far in a direction that will prove painful when it snaps back the other direction. Simply knowing where you exist on that scale currently will give you the edge moving forward.
The Low End
Believe me, I’ve been down in the dumps. When I was contracting in Afghanistan, I injured my back and had to get a spinal fusion surgery. This meant that I’d need to find a new career and endure a great amount of pain through recovery. During that year, I experienced some major lows. It was very challenging financially and I gained weight from having to lie down all the time. As I watched my bank account lower and my fat content rise, I felt like a loser.
The classic demon from the old cartoons showed up on my shoulder and started whispering harsh words in my mind. “You’re the shell of a man that you once were,” the demon would say.
Adding to my stress was the fact that my wife was pregnant with our third child and babies aren’t cheap. While we’d been living in our RV and traveling the country, with the pregnancy and new baby coming, we had to get a home. Obviously, I couldn’t afford it and for some time I had no idea what to do. “What a loser,” the demon growled.
Around this time, a good friend of mine offered me an opportunity to come live in his company apartment in exchange for working as a project manager for his specialty construction company. This was a great thing for my family, “Charity Case,” although it meant that I’d be working through the painful recovery process. “Wussy.” At least I would be off the couch. “Still fat.”
We got settled in and I really enjoyed working with my friend. It was a great office environment and we took regular breaks to throw the football, which is my favorite thing to do. My wife had a decent pregnancy and in the spring we were met with a beautiful baby girl.
While this was all great, I didn’t feel well at all. I was lethargic and tired all the time. I knew it was bigger than my surgery recovery, so I went to the doctor to get tested for low testosterone.
While I was there, I did a CBC blood test and the results were less than encouraging. My blood platelet level was 969, with the normal range being less than 200. I remember seeing my newborn baby’s face in my mind’s eye as the doctor told me that I might have leukemia.
The next couple months were a nightmare and I’ve never felt such a strange brew of emotions.
My life had gone downhill so quickly that I wasn’t prepared for what I was experiencing and the demon bellowed with laughter. Despite the bad news, I was committed to staying positive, “You deserve death,” praying to God for strength, “He’s abandoned you,” and trying to shine what little light on this world that I could.
That’s when things began to change. I was at a golf tournament helping my brother from the Teams with his non-profit, the SEAL Future Fund, when I met another Team Guy, Morgan Luttrell. He told me I didn’t look so great and asked me if I could use some help. He offered to send me to a clinic in Florida where they take athletes after bad injuries and get them back on the field. They had a tactical athlete program as well and he said I was the perfect candidate. It gave me something that had been absent from my life for some time, hope. I’m not sure why, but the demon didn’t show up on that one.
A little while later, about 2 months after hearing the bad news from the doctor, I got a bone marrow biopsy and it showed that I did not have leukemia. Instead, it was my body reacting negatively to major surgery; a condition to be mindful of moving forward, but not life threatening. A couple months later, I was at the clinic in Florida and for the first time in a year I was able to touch my toes.
That was one year ago. Right now, I’m sitting in a large house, doing what I love to do, feeling great and training for a marathon. The demon still shows up from time to time, but his voice is beginning to carry a little less weight. The reason I shared that story is to pass along the lessons I learned from when the scale tips to far in one direction.
The lessons are as follows. The demon isn’t your friend! You’re not the voices in your head, they’re just trying to have a say. Know when to listen and when to hit the block button.
We’re all going to die. This life is short and it doesn’t owe us anything. This is part of what makes life beautiful. Enjoy the people who love you, play with your kids, call your friends and tell them how much they mean to you. Have sex with your wife, I mean, hug your wife. Find God and hold on tight.
Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive. A little bit of levity goes a long way. I know for a fact I can laugh my way through anything. It’s hard to illustrate how powerful a dynamic this is. The harder things get, the funnier they can become.
Take everything one step at a time. We’ve all heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” You have to make the bigger things in your life more manageable by setting smaller, more attainable benchmarks. I may not know what’s outside, but I can find the front door.
The High End
While the low end is terrible, the high end can be equally perilous. It causes us to be reckless and to rely on getting lucky. The greeks call it hubris, the belief that your greatest strength will eventually be your undoing. Remember when Achilles’ mother dipped her half-god son in the river Styx? It was said to have great power to protect him.
Unfortunately, she was holding him by the ankle, which left that small area as the only chink in his armor. Achilles believed he was next to immortal and forgot his weakness until he was struck by an arrow from the bow of a much lesser man. This is a cautionary tale for the high end of the scale. When we forget our weaknesses and shortcomings entirely, we’re left vulnerable.
I can look back at my life and see how every time I got a little cocky, the universe had a way of smacking me back down to size. When I was in SEAL training about 14 years ago, I asked my wife to marry me. We planned our wedding to take place only a week after I’d graduate training. Yup, I got cocky.
On the last timed evolution in BUD/s, I failed a 2 mile ocean swim by 10 seconds. Since I’d historically struggled with swimming, this was my last fail. I ended up getting rolled back into another class and missing the graduation date that my wedding and honeymoon was dependent on. Instead of the stress free wedding of our dreams, I had to fly out after training ended on a Friday, get married in Texas and fly back through the night; only to meet the members of Class 255 for land navigation in the mountains of Southern California. What a honeymoon it was!
So Where Does Confidence Turn to Arrogance?
This is a fine line. We all want to be confident in everything we do and we should want that. However, when that confidence goes too far, we find ourselves too arrogant to know we’re staring hubris in the eyes.
We need a simple way of measuring which side of that line we’re on, because self awareness is our best bet at staying balanced. When you find yourself tipping to the high end, just tell yourself the following:
Confidence is knowing that you’re up to the task. Arrogance is thinking that you’re above it.
If you’re killing it at work and are finally getting the recognition you deserve, but start thinking you’re too important to take out the trash, be careful, your scale is tipping.
Remember, arrogance is the high end of the scale and confidence is the balance. You can achieve confidence through proper training, exposure and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Arrogance comes when you deny those things, thinking that you’re somehow exempt from the rules of this world.
Don’t forget the ancient proverb, “Pride comes before destruction and an arrogant spirit before a fall.”
Join me in the effort to first identify what end of the scale we’re operating on and taking the necessary efforts to either remove the weight on the low end, by not being so hard on ourselves, or from the high end by remembering where we came from and where we want to be. Let’s do our best to work for the confidence that comes with achieving a more balanced life. One day at a time.
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Nick recently left the Navy after serving for 10 years as a Navy SEAL with multiple deployments, having been awarded the Bronze Star for operations in austere environments. Nick’s been with us since the beginning here at ITS as a Features Writer.