Jonathan Cutrell

Nonchalant Arrogance, Intellect, and Caring About Your Work


I recently encountered a demeanor that I couldn’t quite place. I anonymously overheard a conversation and, unfortunately, let it get under my skin enough to tell you about it.

I (somewhat ashamedly) tried to find some kind of a meme that described the person who portrayed this demeanor, which forced me to put it into words: nonchalant arrogance.

The “yeah, it’s a big deal, but I know you’re going to think it is, so instead of aligning with you, I’m going to downplay my accomplishment so you think it’s the tip of my intellectual iceberg” attitude.

The “if you like that, there’s more where that came from, but I’m under an NDA” guy.

The “eh, their third album is okay, but the early stuff you don’t have access to is the best” attitude.

I’m not sure why this attitude is still somehow effective in shifting perception, but it is. Perhaps it has something to do with a perceived sense of humility from the general audience, or maybe it portrays some kind of rare, cultured superiority and curation of “good ideas” that should be followed, like a good Instagram-er. Like the guy who turns his nose up at certain kinds of wine if they are paired with the wrong kinds of food, but gets a column in the paper as an expert sommelier.

I hate it, and I don’t want to be it, but at the same time I do want to communicate a sense of intellectual superiority. (For those of you who don’t want to be perceived as smart, throw the first stone.) I want others to value my opinion at a level of excellence.

The difference is, I don’t want it to be because I have some exclusive access to information that they don’t have; rather, that I have done the hard work to uncover that information, and that access is granted only to those who sweat for it.

So I have this struggle, as many others might, that I don’t have enough knowledge to properly and fully convey an idea. Certainly I feel confident in my vocabulary and in my writing style, and I truly don’t experience writer’s block very often. What I do experience is a sense of fear that once I write something out, or build something to release, that it’s going to be subpar. It’s going to be like the band’s 3rd album, or a badly paired wine.

I refuse to adopt nonchalant arrogance. If I am proud of something I’ve done, I’m not going to put on a charade of humility in hopes of you noticing - I’m going to tell you how excited I am, and show you my project. Who knows if you will like it. From my point of view, honesty and transparency are just as valuable as humility. I’m not above my own work. I’m certainly not above my own writing, or the subjects I write about. Nor am I above building for the web, or the people for which I build. I love what I do, and I’m really quite excited to tell you about it, especially if you have an open ear.

I vow never to post with a contrived ironic space between myself the creator, and my creation. I want my fingerprints all over my creations.

The chase for the external perception of intellect can be a dangerous path. That chase leads us to stop being excited when we learn something new. Do you remember when you first made a successful jQuery transition, or when you first learned how to remove something from a picture in Photoshop? The love for the work often dies when you chase a sense of intellect in hopes of an elevated position in the field. You can easily lose respect for the joys and simple highs of your craft. You begin to see the seemingly trivial nature of what once kept you up late at night, reading and hacking and intoxicated with hope of building something of personal value to show the world.

As Alexis Ohanian says in his book Without Their Permission and in the video below, I want everyone who comes into contact with me to know that I “give lots of damns.” That as a creator, I don’t want to separate myself from the work that I do for the sake of perception. I want the things I create to be so closely tied to me as a person that I fight for them like they’re a living, breathing extension of myself.

Written by Jonathan Cutrell, Engineering Manager at Guild Education and podcast host at Developer Tea. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcutrell.