I have been a terrible example of humility in my public and private life. Much of what I’ve done has been to receive credit. It is scary as heck to admit that, especially since I’m so concerned about what others think about me. But, I want those who are influenced by me to know who I really am: flawed and human. I want anyone struggling with being humble to read this and realize that they are not alone. Kanye, if you’re reading this, hello.
I used to think that people who constantly preached about staying humble did it to be condescending or mystical. Whatever their motives were (probably to help me be a better person) I didn’t want to hear it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love being in the spotlight. It’s who I’ve always been. But, what happens when the spotlight goes to my head?
I have had seasoned folks say things about my millennial generation.They talk about how we are painfully entitled, but they complain about how we want recognition for building a webpage, getting 2,000 social media followers, or finishing the sandwich we ordered. There is some truth to that, but I’m hit hardest when they say: “It’s not all about you.” Great. Just great. What the heck does that mean? I rarely ask for an explanation. I just feel offended and want to walk away. But, I respect my elders, so I listen. They go on to tell me that other people need attention too, or that other issues are bigger than me. I begin to understand and I get over myself a bit more each time. Then they go on to tell me about how frustrated they are with my generation and all the selfies we take. The conversation becomes about social media and usually ends there. I get that. I could totally take less selfies and spend less time on social media, but humility goes deeper than that. It requires me to ask myself: how does focusing less on myself benefit others? I have spent hours helping any community I’ve lived in since I was a kid. We, the helpers, have dedicated much of our lives to help others. Why are we required to be humble if we are doing selfless work for others? Here’s the thing: anytime we want recognition for the things we have done, have our egos stroked, or receive validation from others, we are not being completely selfless. Okay, I’m getting a little too philosophical. Let me get to what I hope you take from all this.
The topic of humility has been on my mind for a long time. Recently, it occurred to me that there were aspects of humility I have not explored. I realized that it went beyond shying away when a person gives you praise. It is more noble than saying, “My team is who we should really thank for that.” I do better with lists, so…
Here Are Three Things I Now Understand About Humility
1. When people say: “It’s not all about you”, it is NOT a diss. It is time to stop feeling offended every time I hear this. This phrase is just a reminder that while I can receive recognition for each good deed I do, there are others doing good things at the same time. It all counts. I have yet to find anyone that likes the person on the team that seeks to absorb all the attention. It gets us off track and isolates said attention seeker. When one wins, we all do. It’s not all about you also means that you are not the only one suffering at any given moment. (Though your suffering shouldn’t be diminished and you deserve care and support). Someone is always going through a more devastating situation. When I can, I need to be mindful enough to shorten my sulking hour, and get back to supporting those who need me.
Next steps: Learn to be okay when others do not acknowledge the work you do, and take the initiative to collaborate and be of service to others. But do not neglect yourself. If you need help, ask for it. You can’t always help. Others can pitch in too.
2. Focus less on looking good and more on doing good for others. At one point, I sought advice from at least three people before I posted status update or Instagram photo. Okay, that is sad. While it is important to get approval on things, especially when we represent our organizations, companies, families, and selves at any moment, we can over do it. If your intentions are good and you are looking to improve the lives of others, take some of the focus off how polished you and your project will look, and put more effort into what you’re actually doing. The people you are serving are more concerned with what they’re receiving than you and your image. I recently started writing positive and uplifting letters to anyone who wants one at my institution. I put up a Google Form so people can request a kind note from me or someone on my letter writing team. One day I noticed that some of my teammates were signing each note: “from someone who cares.” I asked them why they didn’t write their name. I had been signing every letter with my first name so I could get credit for sending it. I sat with this for a few days, and realized that my ego had been getting the best of me in other areas of my life. I had such a thirst for validation that I was a loving and amazing person, that I made sure everyone knew all the cool things I was doing. I am enough without doing a thing. So, why do I try so hard?
Next steps: Get better at loving and taking care of you. Look at what you do and ask: “Am I pleased with this?” If the answer is no, switch it up, and figure out what you’d like to thank yourself for later. I’m terrible at this one. So if you are too, know you’re not alone. It feels good in the moments when I do well at loving me.
3. Invite others to join you without even trying. Whenever I try to prove myself to the world, I get ignored or make a fool of myself. It is usually when I have the courage to be vulnerable and honest with others, that people are drawn to me and what I’m doing. I end up not even noticing that people are drawn to my honesty, and I fully enjoy the conversations I have with others about how their experiences relate to my story. I’ve been trying to be a rockstar at life all this time, and all anyone wants to interact with is the real version of me. This might be true for you. I don’t know, I’m not a psychic. If it is you, I challenge you to stop trying so hard to be the Big Shot that has tons of fans. Recognition won’t keep you warm night after night. It is not your best friend. It’s a reminder of what someone thinks about you. Humility makes that recognition so much sweeter when it finally arrives, because you’ve been appreciating yourself all along, and putting your work out there with better intentions. People are either going to love you, hate you, dismiss you, or never hear about you. If we continue to base our self value on what others care about rather than commit ourselves to helping others, we are going to be miserable, alone, and the world won’t get the special flavor we bring to it. And, I know you bring something special to our world.
Next steps: Give humility a try. Be honest with others about who you are and what you bring. Put yourself out there a little – the real you – and see what happens. If people shoot you down, take time to heal, work on finding like minded people, and repeat.
Obligatory concluding sentence: there isn’t one. That would be people pleasing.