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The Thin Line

There’s something about the smell of exhaust coming out of an outboard motor early in the morning. That hypnotizing (and toxic) aroma made an imprint on me at a young age. And now decades later that smell instantly takes me back to my summers at the lake.

Getting out on the boat early in the morning with my dad was a milestone moment in my life.

I remember the day when I was finally old enough to get a spot on the boat for the early morning run. I felt like one of the men and not just a boy.

I had been learning “how to fish” from my dad and grand-dad for about ten years when I became a teenager. It seemed every time we went out, trip after trip, year after year, I would hear the same tips. Like most teenagers, however, I had an arrogance about me. No matter how many times the lessons were passed on to me my response in that season was the same:

“I know, Dad. I know. This isn’t my first day out here!”

Time and time again, however, they would always catch more fish than I would. It was frustrating, and only served to fuel my hard-headed mindset. I was beginning an education that would last well into my twenties.

There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is being sure of what you know because of your past experiences and a realistic sense of your abilities. Arrogance, on the other hand, is to have an exaggerated view of your own importance or abilities.

If confidence is rooted in experience based on history, then arrogance is based on what you wish you could do, often without any basis for reality. In other words, arrogance is acting as though you are sure of what you are capable of even though you have nothing to base it on.

It’s easy for us to spot an arrogant person, but why is so difficult sometimes to spot someone with confidence?

Confidence is inward, quiet, and not something we project onto other people. This is why sometimes it’s difficult to spot. The moment we start to broadcast our abilities in a bold or brash manner it is likely we have crossed the line from confidence to arrogance and we begin to stick out like a thorn.

Confidence, when rooted in the right place, leads to growth, success and influence. When we have confidence in ourselves we are able to make an impact on the people around us. Arrogance always leads to destruction. Projecting your abilities on others is not influence. It’s coercion. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t make others better, and it will often leave you isolated and frustrated.

There are three markers that I’ve found help keep me on the right side of the thin line between the two. They help remind me to walk with confidence without crossing over into arrogance.

The first is that confident people listen more than they speak. Truly confident people are quiet and unassuming, they ask good questions and are more interested in what others think about a topic than what they already know. Confident people realize they can always learn more, and learning comes from listening more than speaking.

The second marker is that confident people are quick to own their mistakes. A confident person isn’t afraid to be wrong because they don’t have to hide their insecurities. Confidence breeds authenticity and transparency. Those qualities are the hallmark of a person who understands that mistakes are simply lessons to be learned and in taking ownership of their mistakes increases their level of influence and trust.

The last marker is that confident people seek approval only from those whose opinions really matter in their life. In today’s culture it seems the indicator for influence is the number of “followers” that you have. Are we really placing that much weight on the opinions of people who don’t even know us? It sounds silly to put it that way, but most of us have been emotionally affected by the number of likes or views on our social media posts. This is a trap. We are letting the combined opinions of strangers outweigh the people in our lives who truly know us. Confident people know where to place the weight of opinions that they allow to shape their life.

It took a decade for me to really learn the difference between confidence and arrogance. Now that I am older I can see where my past attitudes were not healthy, and I can use the markers above to develop a healthy confidence. Confidence leads to influence. You were made to make a difference, but in order to become an influencer for good you first must learn to spot the thin line.

When I started to recognize the places I was being arrogant, I began to see where I could have true influence and make an impact. Subsequently, it changed the way I fished with my Dad and our relationship on the boat. Confidence has made me a better man and a better fisherman.


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