Just typing that word in the title makes me physically uncomfortable. All the energy in my body goes right up to the surface, like my skin is lifting up to be on the lookout. And that leaves a hollowness in the center of me. All from invoking the word “arrogant.”
I’ve been wanting to write this post and explore these feelings for a couple of weeks now, ever since Seth Godin sent this little ponderable to my inbox:
Do you care enough to believe in things that seem unreasonable?
Do you believe in…
your endeavor so deeply that others find your belief arrogant now and then?
If your standard is to never be called arrogant, you’ve probably walked away from your calling.
Gut punch. That word was used to hurt me twenty something years ago and it burrowed under my skin and festered there ever since, making me continually question my belief in myself.
It was Thanksgiving, back when I was in grad school, so I already had one degree in English and I was working on a second. The whole family gathered at my grandparents’ house for lunch. My cousin and I stood in the hallway outside the kitchen. We were teasing each other and I said something along the lines of, “There ain’t a thang in the world we can do fer y’now!” in the heaviest country accent I could muster.
Behind me, I heard my grandmother scoff. Then she grabbed my upper arm and interjected: “AIN’T? All that fancy college education and you don’t know any better than to say ain’t?” She was smiling when she said it.
I answered her, my arm still in a pinch, and I was smiling too: “I think of it as poetic license–I’ve proven that I am thoroughly familiar with English and I certainly know how to speak it properly, so now I’m free to choose words for their effect when I want to.”
Her face changed instantly into a furious snarl. “I have NEVER heard such arrogance!” She shoved my arm away, turned on her heel and stomped off.
And every bit of my tender heart wanted to say, “You started it.” But I didn’t. My cousin and I exchanged shocked looks with lifted eyebrows then wandered off to another part of the house.
That should have been that, but it wasn’t.
So if I speak up for myself, I’m arrogant? If I use words from my new life back in my old one, I’m arrogant? My grandmother was furious in that moment that I had sassed her. I stayed quietly furious for twenty five years because she had insulted me.
The problem with a poisonous fury like this one is that the poison stayed inside my own head. I’ve been living my life with the fear of being called arrogant. I can’t even claim the things that I HAVE achieved because I’m afraid I’ll be called arrogant. I’m working on it but it’s a process (Year 15 and we’re making some progress…).
Earlier this week, I was offered an opportunity to do a speaking engagement. It tooks some chutzpah to accept it and I’m really excited about it. Then my imposter syndrome flared up. Who am I to talk to a crowd of strangers? Are they sure I’m qualified? This must be a mistake.
I had to send a few snippets for my bio. I wrote:
- I handle internal communications for a healthcare system.
- I serve as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association, the nation’s oldest alumnae association.
- My blog, Baddest Mother Ever, is part of the BlogHer publishing network and I was selected as a 2014 Voice of the Year.
Before I could hit Send, I stared at the list and thought, “Huh. Maybe I am qualified to go talk to some people about some things.”
I stared at the little list until I felt CONFIDENT instead of arrogant.
Like Seth Godin says, you have to be so confident, so audacious in the pursuit of your dream, that some might call you arrogant. That’s on them, not you.
My therapist and I talked about this old story and she pointed me toward the idea of external validation and internal validation. Back when we met, she reminded me that I put most of my energy towards external validation–finding someone to tell me I was OK. The longer I live and the more I work on being comfortable in my life, my focus moves towards internal validation–I can tell me that I am OK.
On that Thanksgiving day, I was a young adult. Just getting my own legs under me. Growing confident in the work I was doing–teaching writing and studying linguistics. When I defended my poetic license, my grandmother could have said, “Well ain’t YOU fancy!” and acknowledged it as banter. She could have said, “That’s true. I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and met me as an equal. Instead, she reacted to my temerity by cutting my legs out from under me.
It seems that once you integrate all the wisdom and experience of growing up, you can let insults and misunderstandings bounce off without letting someone else’s idea of you become your idea of you. I believe this school of thought can be summed up in, “I’m rubber, you’re glue…what you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” That will be $150.
So I hereby release the word “arrogant” back out into the universe. It holds no power over me.
Good riddance, because I got things to DO. Big things. Bold things. Scary things. Growing things.
In other words, I ain’t got time for narrythang what wants to hold me back.
Do you have a word that rankles and festers and burrows? (Those are some damn fine words right there, huh? I know my synonym shit.) Share your word in the comments!