Beware of conceit…

May 16, 2015

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” – John Wooden

Wooden’s advice certainly applied to athletes, especially those with enough God-given talent to progress on to the highest levels in sports. It also applies to people in the entertainment business and to life in general. Most of us will never achieve fame, but that’s doesn’t mean that we cannot become conceited.

world revolves around meConceit is defined as excessive pride in oneself, synonyms – vanity, narcissism, egotism, self-admiration, self-regard; pride, arrogance, hubris, self-importance; self-satisfaction

I actually think that some of those suggested synonyms are OK, so long as they are not taken to excess. I would encourage people to have pride and hopefully find self-satisfaction in the things that they do in life, especially the good things that they may do for others. Often the self-satisfaction that one may feel is the only thanks that they get for their actions and hopefully they continue to find that to be enough. I’ve also written that you most love yourself before you are capable of truly loving others. In that regard synonyms like self-regard and self-admiration in appropriately moderate amounts would see also to be good.

kissing mirrorThere’s no way to spin vanity, narcissism or egotism in a positive light; those are always wrong in almost any amount. Those may also be the most common that we encounter in everyday life with non-celebrities, especially in the business world. We have a little saying in business about people like that – they are legends in their own minds. Of course there were other things that we called them, too; but I won’t repeat them here.  The people in business who attracted attention for such behavior were almost always in management or leadership roles and they almost always eventually failed, many times because they just couldn’t live up to their own hype. Remember the guy who claimed to be the smartest person in the room? He ended up with his own little room in a Federal prison.

I recently saw a little feature piece on a NASCAR driver whom everybody loves because he has remained so humble and so down-to-earth. He signs autographs for everyone, does all of the interviews that he’s asked to do, gives of his time to worthy causes and is beloved by his fellow competitors.  You find examples like that in every sport and when they do any kind of in-depth story on those people you almost always find that they had a great upbringing by a mother or family who instilled in them the messages of John Wooden’s first four sentences above. These are people who don’t have a “posse” of hangers-on following them around telling them how great they are. They are usually also people who understand the frail and temporary nature of fame and of any fortunes that they may have now.  You probably won’t hear of them having to sell off their memorabilia later in life.

The thing about conceit is that it holds itself up as a mirror right in front of you, so that all you see is yourself. You get so focused on yourself in that mirror that the other things in life, many of them important, fall out of sight. Once you begin to post your own press clipping up on that mirror and start to believe them, you lose the ability to see all of the things that you aren’t doing.

When you become so focused on the “I” and “me” in your life the “you” and “we” that you may have had with a loved onealone at sunset begin to fade away. Once your fleeting moment in the spotlight is through you will discover that having room for only  “I” and “me” makes for a lonely life. More than a few once-great athletes can testify to how quickly the adorning posse disappears once a career-ending injury has taken them out of the spotlight and the big-bucks contracts ended. Too many also discarded the wives and families that they had before they achieved that fame.

So be careful as coach Wooden said to avoid conceit. If you must surround yourself with people, try to make it ordinary people, maybe people who don’t know about or don’t care about whatever level of success in sports, entertainment, politics or business you have attained. There are people who really don’t care about all that; and, if you can find them and treat them like ordinary people, they’ll return the favor without asking for favors. If you start acting like you’re a big deal, the real friends in that group will call you out on it and hopefully embarrass you back to reality. I remember a scene from the movie Julius Cesare in which Cesare was in a triumphant parade into Rome, with adoring crowds calling him a god. Cesar had a man walking behind him whispering to him, “Remember that you are only a man.” Those who let conceit take over their lives would do well to hire a guy like that to walk around with them, instead of a posse.

celebrateSo, go out and use the talents that God gave you. More power to you. Achieve all of the success and fame that you deserve; just never stop deserving to be liked as a fellow human being. Remember where you came from; because when this ride is over, you may end up trying to get back there and that’s very hard to do over bridges that were torched by your own conceit.