Think about someone you admire most. What are the characteristics they possess that draw you to them? Let me guess, you believe them when they tell you something, you feel they are telling the truth, you know they have your best interest at heart, they listen to you and understand you, they are selfless, self-aware, and appreciate others. Am I close? Also, they do not brag or pretend to be more than they really are, right? Put simply, they are humble.
What is humility?
Webster’s dictionary defines humility as not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive. I like Richard Carlson’s definition in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff, “Being humble means accepting your limitations and making an effort to make the world a better place without wanting to take all the credit.” Let’s start with the first point, a humble person is self-aware. They know what they are good at, as well as, their limitations. If a humble person is aware of their limitations, they appreciate other people and their strengths.
I believe the second point is key to why we like and admire humble people; they try to make the world a better place. This can take so many forms; giving to those less fortunate, building innovative products to improve society or simply brightening someone’s day with a smile or words of thanks or encouragement. Bringing the best out of others can help make this world a better place.
Lastly, Richard stresses doing all this without wanting credit. This may be one of the hardest things to do. In truth, we do very little by ourselves. There are always others contributing, directly and indirectly. How do you feel when someone else remembers to share the credit with you? This should motivate us to credit others when we can, because it feels good.
Think back to the person you named when you started reading this blog. I bet they surround themselves with others and have a passion to make this a better place. They believe, “the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts”. Each individual’s contributions will have results, but when accomplished together, 1+1 = 3. These are the people we are drawn to, the people we want to spend our time with and support.
What is the antithesis of humility?
Sometimes it is easier to recognize the opposite of humble; the arrogant jerk in the office or the neighbor you can’t relate to. I am sure you can all quickly name some of these people. They are quick to cut you off, in traffic or conversation. Everything revolves around them and what will serve them best. These are the type of people that I prefer not to spend my time with. I often ask myself, “What am I getting from this?” All that I am doing is feeding their egos and feeling empty myself.
I am currently reading How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, an adaption from the original. A key take-away regarding humility was, “we all have an innate, unequivocal desire to know we are valued.” I can tell you, I don’t feel valued when someone continues tooting their own horn and forgets to ask what motivates me or how I am feeling. How can someone make it a better place for all of us if they never ask the question, “what makes the world go-round?” or simply, “How are you and what makes you happy?” I prefer to spend time with those that appreciate me.
What does this all have to do with not sweating the small stuff?
This topic started because of my summary of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. One chapter talked about practicing humility and its importance in helping take things in stride. I called out this one chapter by itself because I strongly believe that humility is a key personality trait to being a good human being and ultimately a strong leader. At the time, I did not see how it related to all the other key topics until I sat down and thought more about humility.
Here is what Richard Carlson had to say in his book, “Humility and inner peace go hand in hand. The less compelled you are to try and prove yourself to others, the easier it is to feel peaceful inside.” Interesting, I hadn’t thought about it in that context before. I agree, it is easier and less stressful to focus and appreciate others, make it a better place.
He continues, “Proving yourself is a dangerous trap. It takes an enormous amount of energy to be continually pointing out your accomplishments, bragging, or trying to convince others of your worth as a human being. Bragging actually dilutes the positive feelings you receive from an accomplishment or something you are proud of. To make matters worse, the more you try to prove yourself, the more others will avoid you, talk behind your back about your insecure need to brag, and perhaps even resent you.” Now I can see where the stress comes into play. If you have an inner belief that you are doing the right thing, if you focus on sharing the outcomes, rather on what YOU did, you can enjoy the results and ultimately rewards. I must go back to my father’s belief which he instilled in me, which I talked about in my blog, 5 steps in the journey of inspiring loyalty, “Don’t worry what others are doing, work hard and do what you believe is right, cream rises to the top.” He has been teaching me humility for years.
Richard goes on to say, “Ironically, however, the less you care about seeking approval, the more approval you seem to get. People are drawn to those with a quiet, inner confidence, people who don’t need to make themselves look good, be ‘right’ all the time, or steal the glory. Most people love a person who doesn’t need to brag, a person who shares from his or her heart and not from his or her ego.” I am not sure I can say it any better. I now better understand how being humble can bring more peace into my life.
I have also realized that humility does go hand in hand with much of what we have already talked about in my blogs discussing Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff; Make Peace with Imperfection, Lighten Up, Live in the Present, and Fill your life with love. If you practice these (as well as a few others to come soon), humility will come naturally.
Humble does not mean weak
There is a perception that if you are humble, then you are weak. This could not be further from the truth. I believe it takes more strength, confidence and resolve to be humble and not shout your accomplishments from the mountain tops to gain validation. You need to look inwards and appreciate what you have accomplished, be grateful for those that helped you accomplish it and highlight the results that everyone will enjoy. This is true strength.
Mother Teresa was the epitome of humility. She was dedicated to serving the ‘poorest of the poor’. Stepping out on her own, she worked hard to make it happen; gained Indian citizenship, petitioned the church to allow her to leave her order and start a new one, obtained medical training, solicited donations, and opened up homes for the dying, providing all her love, devotion and compassion to those in need and those that others did not want to touch. As a result, 30 years later the Missionaries of Charity had almost 4000 sisters working in 610 foundations, in 450 centers in 123 countries across the six continents. It takes strength and resolve to accomplish all this. Although she was recognized far and wide for what she accomplished, she remained humble throughout. When she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she refused the traditional Nobel honor banquet and requested that the $192,000 budget be allocated to help the poor in India. When Pope Paul VI came to meet her in 1965 she informed him that she was too busy with her work among the poor to meet with him. She did appreciate the recognition but she knew that she was not doing this alone, she was supported by God and many others, 4000 sisters in fact.
No one would call Mother Teresa weak and many people aspire to have her courage, dedication and stamina to help others. I am confident she had peace in her life because of her focus to make this a better place, despite the difficulties.
I think about this in the context of our everyday lives. There is a fine line between accepting praise and bragging. I have often heard friends and colleagues shrug away from a compliment or dismiss their accomplishments because they don’t want to brag. I believe this is where the perception of weakness is created. We would all be better served to accept the praise with, “Thank you, I appreciate it. It did take a lot of work (or it wasn’t easy).” Assuming you did not act alone, it is also the perfect moment to give credit to others as well. Be strong and own it, but, be humble as not to boast and forget the others that contributed.
It’s interesting, all this research and discussions on the humility from the past week kept bringing me back to leadership. Harvard Business Review, Catalyst, Forbes and Washington Post are just a few of the articles that talk about humility being the cornerstone for great leaders. Next week I will explore more on this topic.
In the meantime, may this post inspire us to practice humility by accepting and being grateful for the life we have, admitting we are not the best at everything and striving to bring out the best in others to make this a better place to live in.
“Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity, and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent.” – Mother Teresa