Don’t let it go to your head

You feel untouchable – everything is going well, opportunities are being presented to you and everyone knows it. STOP RIGHT THERE.

Everyone knows it? One of the most interesting lessons I’ve learned in my relatively short life is that nobody likes a braggart, an “I’m soooo busy” type of person that they are now too good for others. After all, they don’t have time now, do they, because they are so much in demand?

In one of my former jobs while attending graduate school, I was working as a legal assistant and office manager. The assumption by those who reigned over the office assistants found it challenging to believe we had ideas, thoughts, feelings or achievements and successes of our own. They were too busy expounding on their own worth and wealth of opportunities. There was also another set. The set that was happy in their lot as legal secretaries and none too pleased that I wasn’t. It was not a place, where, even among my own co-workers, stories of my successes were welcomed. Many times, this was not the result of jealousy, but a simple matter of angering very kind individuals that enjoyed their position who were put off by my distaste of the same position.

I never forgot the lessons I learned in that job. Today, I share my successes with those that care, not those who are trapped by close physical proximities (ie. uncontrolled circumstances) and have to pretend to care. I also know that, while I may be extremely excited about what I’m doing, there are always others doing more – and often doing it without the need for acknowledgement.

There are some truly amazing professionals (and we’ve all met someone like this) that have accomplished and contributed so much to our profession, and yet are the most humble and down-to-earth individuals we have ever known. They ask questions, understanding that they still have much to learn.

An attitude of superiority and contempt for others only takes you so far. At some point, the opportunities will run dry and no one will want to work with you. More importantly, no one who used to care will listen.

While I think all of us can reflect on moments when we were so excited by an event or opportunity that we ran around telling everyone and enjoyed the “big head” moment for a while, we can also remember taking a step back and feeling a little embarrassed by our behaviour – especially if it resulted in a “know it all” attitude resulting in hurt feelings.

I will never forget how very small I was made to feel at times in my former work as a legal secretary. Because I chose not to share the fact that I’d published or was earning an MLIS, those “know it alls” knew nothing at all.

Whether you’re a manager, co-worker or friend, it is important to remember that being humble is also a virtue. We are all, unfortunately, replaceable and, eventually, forgettable, whether or not we like to think so. If you are doing well in your career, there is no need to hide it, but there is a need to remember that it is how you deal with your successes that determines if you’re a professional.



Filed under Our Profession

13 responses to “Don’t let it go to your head

  1. Laurel, you hit the nail right on the head – wonderful post! I just wish people would be a bit more considerate, polite, and more cognizant of what is (and is not) appropriate in the workplace.

  2. Laurel Tarulli

    Thanks Jason – I’m glad you like the post. In reality, I think most people are just very excited about what they are achieving – especially if they are on their way “up” in the profession. But I think that’s the most important time to reflect, and look at those mentors and professionals that they would like to emulate. I admire confidence, but not arrogance or conceit.

  3. I’m of the view that librarians need to let more go to their head, frankly. I’ve never heard of anyone tell of how librarians and libraries are over-promoted.

    In the real world, there are plenty of organizations, groups and individuals who would be pretty happy to see libraries close, largely because they see the print industry as out-dated, too expensive, and about to be crushed by the Kindle and upcoming tablet computers. These are powerful people with a fairly strong and substantiated point-of-view.

    Toning down your success for the benefit of others’ feelings isn’t going to do much to help libraries deal with these issues in the long run.

  4. Laurel Tarulli

    I disagree. An attitude of superiority or arrogance among your peers is not a sign of professionalism. Confidence in yourself and the profession should be encouraged, but the heart of this post is about professionalism and self-conduct. It is not about self-promotion.

    I do not dispute that we need to promote what we do and what we are accomplishing within libraries and in the real world – it’s how you go about doing it that determines if you’re a professional.

  5. If you look at the major professions (doctors, lawyers, professors), an attitude of superiority and arrogance is exactly what you *do* find among peers. Further, since these folks need to expand their practices on their own, self-promotion *is* what it’s all about.

    I also think it’s important to understand how perception plays into all this as well. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people chime on how ‘so-and-so is so arrogant’ etc. without actually holding a conversation with said person about their perceptions. More importantly, instead of thinking about what needs to happen to make things right, they complain and gossip and do their own things to hurt other people’s feelings.

    In my view, curiosity is always a better standpoint than bare judgement. Some people are just jerks, but it is also very easy to assume that someone is a jerk, when in fact they could be taking a very passionate stand on behalf of a very important issue. Sometimes arrogant people are making hard stands on behalf of someone else. It’s not particularly team-oriented to declare how anybody should act or not. There are all kinds of people and everyone needs to work together to make things happen.

  6. Laurel Tarulli

    Professionalism and self-promotion are entirely separate concepts. While you may advocate for an air of superiority and arrogance in the library profession, I will continue to advocate for professionalism that is defined by collegiality and self-assurance which will, in the end, better serve our profession.

  7. Elise Daniel

    I think greebie is right — you hear a bit too much of “I’m only a librarian.” We need to crow a bit more!

  8. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Elise! I’m all about crowing – it’s how you go about it that interests me.

  9. abigail

    Thanks for the great post Laurel. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the manner in which we share our “successes” with our colleagues. Regardless of profession, co-workers and colleagues need to learn self-awareness and be respectful to those that they work with.

    I have had co-workers that constantly talk about how busy and important they are and how they just have so much to do. Frequently this can come across to others as “I am more important than you are. My job at the library is more important than yours.” Unfortunately, this behavior usually creates unnecessary tension in the workplace.

  10. Clay Shirky has an interesting article being talked about as well ( ) about arrogance and success.

    He thinks people should let things go to your head and feels that women aren’t very good at it. I don’t totally agree with him, but there is a point there that is fairly good to remember.

  11. The comments on the “What is Professionalism?” post aren’t working so I’ll put my reply here.

    First of all, there is a problem of language. When Turgay Kivrak speaks of arrogance, I feel he is talking more about hubris – that is, putting yourself before your duties and/or your performance of said duties.

    When I speak of arrogance, I mean putting your ideas out there daring people to challenge them. I mean identifying key problem areas and stating them out loud even though it might upset others.

    In that sense, the arrogance that I am talking about is in line with “a focused, accountable, confident, competent, motivation toward a particular goal, with respect for hierarchy and humanity, less the emotion.”

    Potentially, people being concerned about otherwise jerky behavior might be its own brand of arrogance – as we worry more about how we feel about colleagues and simply forget to applaud the benefits that those colleagues bring to humanity.

    However, I do agree that arrogance can go too far – and where it goes too far is when people fail to have any inkling of self-doubt. When it’s ‘my way or the hi-way’, despite all evidence to the contrary, then there is a problem. Also, extreme arrogance can effect teamwork and can cause problems. However, as I said earlier, teamwork is a two-way street. There are lots of arrogant people thinking everyone else is arrogant. Instead, we need people to question, be curious about arrogance when it happens and ask themselves ‘what needs to happen to make things right.’

    We all play a role in how we perceive and participate in arrogant behavior. Merely saying ‘that’s not professional’ (whatever that means) is not going far enough to prevent true arrogance and worse, it may result in people ‘holding back’ when the chips are down.

  12. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Abigail –
    Thanks for your comments! I think that professionalism really causes people to think, just what does it mean to be a professional?

    At the end of the day, you need to deal with the consequences of your actions. What feels right to you? I am more inclined to gravitate toward strong-willed, confident individuals that still believe that integrity and a dose of humility are stronger characteristics of a professional and a leader than that of self-serving, calculating individuals.

    There are all types of individuals that achieve greatness, and yes, arrogant jerks are part of that group. Does success or accomplishment (by whatever means it is achieved) necessarily equal professionalism? Or, is it how you go about conducting yourself that is truly the measure of a professional?

    (*”Arrogant jerks” refers to Shirky’s terminology)

  13. Pingback: What is professionalism? « The Cataloguing Librarian

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