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Humility: Here’s Why You Need It and How to Get It
It can be difficult to find humility in everyday life.
Just watch any NFL game. You’ll see braggadocious dances in the end zone after each touchdown—and sometimes, gestures after gaining only a few yards. It’s easy to dismiss these displays by saying, “Players should be able to celebrate their wins,” or “What’s the harm in a little fun?” But at the end of the day, chances are you aren’t looking to these players as role models.
Chances are, these types of people don’t make effective leaders. While braggadocious wide receivers might enjoy success on the field, it’s hard to translate that type of leadership to success off the field.
After all, would you really want a guy like Odell Beckham Jr. on your board of directors? Or would you rather have a guy like Derek Jeter—quiet yet assertive, humble yet successful?
The Seemingly Dueling Concepts of Humility and Ego
In common parlance, ego is generally equated with conceitedness. If someone brags about his accomplishments, you might say that he has a big ego or that he’s egotistical. In contrast, the quality of being humble is generally perceived to mean poor self-esteem or a negative self-image.
The College of Charleston did a survey in 2016 that revealed that 56% of 5th and 6th graders thought that people who are humble are lonely, sad, shy, and embarrassed. So it would seem that humility and ego are diametrically opposed. But actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
If you ask a psychoanalyst what ego means, you’ll learn that the scientific definition of ego is the concept of self that connects and interacts with the external environment. It’s the part of your personality that consciously makes decisions.
If you ask any humble person what humility means, they’ll likely tell you that they aren’t embarrassed, and that they are perfectly secure and well-adjusted.
The scientific understanding of humility involves taking an objective look at one’s strengths and weaknesses. Humility works in tandem with ego to develop a broader understanding of exactly where one fits into the universe, and how one can experience personal growth and contribute to the world.
Here’s Why Some of the Most Successful People Practice Humility
A humble person’s successes might not be as visible as a braggart’s, but they are achieving them nonetheless. In fact, some of the most successful people in history have practiced the fine art of humility. For proof, take a look at Gandhi. But why exactly is humility part of a formula for success?
Humility tends to lead to the following:
- Stronger teamwork: Companies with humble leaders tend to be more successful, in part because humility breeds cooperation and teamwork. Humble leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and so they delegate tasks accordingly and build teams with complementary skill-sets.
- Continual personal growth: People who are humble will open-mindedly consider the feedback of others, rather than simply denying any potential criticisms. They are open to revising their positions when confronted with new evidence.
- Never-ending learning: If a person stops learning after graduation, that person will never realize their true potential. Humans have an amazing capacity to learn throughout their lifetimes, and humble people take full advantage of this.
In addition, humble people understand the capacity for “more.” Not buying more cars or acquiring more dollars in the bank—but “more” in terms of personal growth. Because they don’t brag about what they’ve already accomplished, humble people have their sights set on the next achievement.
Consider this example: Umberto Eco was a legendary writer who possessed about 30,000 books. Eco didn’t use his vast library as a tool for bragging (“See how many books I have?”), but instead as an investment in future knowledge and research. By surrounding himself with more books than he could possibly read in a lifetime, Eco was continually reminding himself of everything he had yet to learn—and that kept him humble and hungry for “more.”
Here’s Why Lots of People Struggle with Humility
Unfortunately, simply understanding the value of humility isn’t always enough to cultivate it in your own life. This is due in part to cultural conditioning. We live in a culture that praises success and celebrity. People who accomplish goals—and even people who do questionable acts (think Odell Beckham Jr. proposing to the kicking net)—are the ones who get all the attention.
For better or worse, it’s human nature to crave that attention.
People want attention because it serves as external validation for an intrinsic accomplishment.
Let’s say you’ve worked long hours for a whole year to write a novel during your down time. Are you going to try to get it published? Of course! You want the recognition it will bring you—even if only your closest family and friends purchase it. You crave validation that those long hours of hard work were meaningful. And somewhere along the way, you might have crossed the line between announcing your accomplishment and bragging about it. It’s an easy transition to make, even if it was unintentional.
How to Actively Cultivate Humility in Your Own Life
Fortunately, there are ways to actively cultivate your own humility. You’re already taking the first step by reading this article—an act of humility in itself, because it suggests that you’ve acknowledged you might not know as much about humility as you should.
First, remember the definitions of ego and humbleness? Ego, as defined by psychology, is simply the concept of the self. Humility is the act of knowing yourself, and all of your strengths and weaknesses.
Find a quiet corner and a time in which you won’t be disturbed. Spend it thinking about yourself. What are you most proud of? What are you good at? Perhaps you’re good at public speaking or maybe you’re a black belt. Take your time and think of as many strengths as you can.
When you’re done, do the opposite. Honestly and openly acknowledge your weaknesses. Think about the skills and characteristics that you admire most in others, as there’s a good chance you’re worried those are missing from your own life. Truly knowing yourself is an important step toward humility.
You can also do the following:
- Ask questions: It doesn’t make you look inferior. It simply means you acknowledge that you don’t know everything.
- Actively listen: Active listening reminds you that other people have as much value to contribute to the world as you do.
- Solicit feedback: Everyone—no matter how accomplished they may be—can always improve. Sometimes, it takes a fresh set of eyes to show you the way.
- Ask for help: A humble person understands his strengths and weaknesses, and knows when help is needed.
How to Remain Humble Despite Success
Humility is something that requires ongoing work, just like relationships. When announcing your successes, be aware of your language choices and avoid crossing the line between being proud of yourself and bragging about it.
You may find it helpful to find a “hero” you can look up to. The hero you choose should be someone phenomenally well-accomplished and humble about it. It should also be someone whom you will never meet, since meeting one’s heroes tends to dispel the illusions about them.
By looking up to your hero, and comparing your successes to their greater successes, you can remind yourself of how much you could still accomplish.
In addition, remember this: Every human being has had some sort of success at some point in their life. If you pass by a homeless person on your way to work, there’s a chance that individual was a war hero, a former entrepreneur, or perhaps an opera singer.
One way to remind yourself to retain your humility is to consider that it just takes one bad decision or one streak of bad luck to end up on the streets just like those formerly successful individuals. And in doing so, you’ll also remind yourself to continually press for “more”—more personal growth, more accomplishments.
If you’ve stuck with this article to the end, there’s a good chance you’re craving a change in your life, but perhaps you’re not quite sure where to go from here. Even the most successful and most talented of people need a blueprint for success.
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Amy White, is an author, blogger and personal finance expert with a love of personal development and healthy living. Amy has over 20 years of entrepreneurial experience and loves anything related to building and developing long term business growth. You can follow Amy on her blog Daily Successful Living.