Balancing Confidence, Arrogance, Ignorance, and Humility

written in career

Something I’ve picked up in my first professional job is that nobody appreciates humility. While being humble is a virtue, it’s not one that’s usually appreciated in the workplace. No workplace has an award ready for the most respectful employee. No one is going to be noticed if they complete a difficult task in a short amount of time and stay reserved about it. Humility is not a quality that is desired in greenhorn employees of any field. Despite their inexperience, they need to be confident in anything they do and say while being able to back it up. Of course I say this as if I’m the leading expert in standing tall and speaking up in new positions or situations but no I’m pretty much a hypocrite.

I’m sure I and many others suffer from this problem. How would we be able to impress when the veterans have already experienced what the newbies have already gone through? How do we know for sure that our thoughts and short amount of experience in our career have any basis or merit? How can we be so confident in an idea that may actually be grounded in ignorance? How can I give this advice to newbies when I’ve only had around three years of professional workplace experience myself? The answer to all these hypothetical questions is who really knows and should we even care so much. When I started my new job, I took the humble path where I primarily just listened and absorbed implementation strategies from meetings and mainly kept my updates straightforward and to the point. After a while my manager recommended that I take communication classes for the annual training. Although I’m not sure exactly the reason why I can only guess that it was because of my misunderstanding of what was expected of me as an employee. I think my manager wanted me to speak up more often even though I still had an incomplete picture of how the company operated as a whole much less how the technical side of the company operated. I convinced myself that I really didn’t have any good insight considering that it was my first year at my first professional position while all my prior experiences were imitations of what proper coding and design should be. Looking back on it, I think that may have been a mistake. I now believe that its important for newbies to open up and provide their insight into whatever the discussion is at hand. If the newbies insight turns out to be dumb and based off ignorance, who cares right? Can the newbie really be at fault for trying? And I believe it lets the veterans know that the new hire is working, as in he’s functional and ticking. Confidence as a newbie is tough when you’re probably the least knowledgeable person in the room but I think speaking out is a better show for the veterans than staying silent.

Of course be cautious of appearing overconfident else you risk looking like a jackass. There’s a small line to be trodden when being confident versus arrogant and honestly I feel that the line is so thin that its truly difficult to know when you’re treading into arrogance territory. I believe as long as you back your assertions with facts then I believe that gives you a right to be steadfast in your ideas. If there are no solid facts in backing your idea then I think it’s better to still suggest the idea than to keep quiet about it but be very open to dismissing it if it turns out to be not great. There was a time during a peer learning session about creating mobile responsive sites where the presenter suggested we use a grid based framework i.e. 960gs, bootstrap. After the lesson, I asserted to only use a grid based framework layout as a prototype and never in production due to how styling the grids usually leads to non semantic class naming requiring maintainers to update both the html content as well as the CSS when needing to update styles. Although not common, site redesigns would require two times as much work and any significant display change of a section of html would always require editing of the html. To be honest, I didn’t feel very good about dismissing the lecturer’s approach. I don’t think anyone really appreciated it. I honestly think I tread the line into asshole territory that day just to get my two cents out there. But I observed something about getting noticed in the workplace, its to always be the loudest. It’s usually the loudest people who share their opinions all the time that get promoted the fastest, that stay in high-ranking positions. As long as the point is valid and relative, it seems beneficial to bring it up even when it might seem like just a complaint or a counterpoint. I never really liked these kinds of people, but the workplace doesn’t seem to benefit those who keep their opinions to themselves. It’s a tough line to tread and I’m eager to try my new ideas of confidence at my next career.

When you actually have a good idea, don’t keep it to yourself, tell everyone. Don’t just share it with your friends, don’t just share it with your manager, don’t just share it with your team, share it with everyone. In order to get more exposure I wanted to propose a bunch of improvements to our figurehead desktop and mobile site. I created a document of several fixes we can apply to the site to get it to operate more smoothly especially in older browsers. All suggestions were prototyped and tested and the results with hard data were shown to improve page draw speeds. I sent the document to my manager where the initiative ultimately died. After that, I learned that it’s not the manager’s responsibility to look into your best interest. I also learned that I should have sent it to everyone, not just my own manager, but the other manager, and to product development, and to the vice president of the tech division, and to anyone who can read. I was a little disappointed that my self proposed project was ultimately dismissed but I wasn’t really happy that I knew I could do something about the terrible rendering of our mobile site and implemented some of the simpler improvements as a tag along to another mobile project. Unfortunately for me and my career, nobody really knew about the improvements except my team. I know now, that if an idea is good, its best to tell everyone.

While humility is best reserved for those who are already respected, its something that new employees in any field should really let go of. There are no opportunities to be found if a newbie is to stay silent, its best to make noise and shake things up.