I have been musing on the virtue of humility. I rarely hear about humility other than in a religious context, but it really can apply to any situation. If it is possible for values to be “out of fashion” I believe this one is. Confidence, self-acceptance, and self-care are very popular right now, and seem at odds with being humble. “Humbling yourself” sounds weak or powerless and right now it feels like everyone is talking about being bold, outspoken, and strong. But after thinking about this, I don’t think that confidence and humility are on opposite ends of the self-worth spectrum. I believe that humility actually goes hand in hand with self-worth and can give you even more freedom to feel confident and authentic.
This article, The Humility-Confidence SeeSaw: The Untold Secret of Great Leaders, looks at confidence and humility as opposites. It discusses how one must find balance; too much confidence leads to arrogance, too much humility leads to self-depreciation. This makes sense in practice, a big part of emotional intelligence is balancing these two concepts. But I don’t think that is all there is to humility.
I believe the power of humility lies in the concept of growth mindset. This is a concept in education/psychology where people can either have a fixed mindset, with beliefs such as “I am smart” or “I am bad at math” or a growth mindset such as “I am learning this and will get better with practice”. Growth mindset is powerful because it leads to embracing challenges, persisting, putting in effort, and taking feedback. It also opens up the world to you, you never know what things you might like or succeed at!
I struggle with having a fixed mindset because I care a lot about my identity. I identify with being a good student, learning things easily, and being able to succeed. I get frustrated when things don’t fit this identity. I never learned to ride a bike as a child because it didn’t come as easily as other things and I got too frustrated. In reality, I probably just needed more practice! Fixed mindsets are also based in fear. I can be overly sensitive to feedback because I look at things in such a black and white way. If good or bad are the only options, feedback always feels like criticism rather than an opportunity to make something better. The first step in having a growth mindset is having the humility to realize you are not good at everything and that there is room for improvement.
Another way humility has power is in social situations. Brene Brown writes and speaks about the power of vulnerability builds bridges between people, judgment shuts people out. Especially in today’s political climate, how refreshing is it for someone to say “I might not know everything, but this is what I think right now. Let me hear how you think about it.” Of course, sticking to one’s morals is important, and it is a hard balance to find, but it is so much easier to solve problems when there is less of a focus on who is right and who is wrong. Often, complex issues do not have a right or a wrong which is why they haven’t been solved yet.
Humility also makes it okay to change your mind. Especially in this time of COVID-19, we have all had to change our mindsets as information evolves. Pretty much everyone in the U.S. heard about COVID-19 and assumed it would stay in China, perhaps wouldn’t spread very easily like past pandemics, or was just like the flu and could be prevented by hand-washing. We have all had to revise our mindsets as more information has come across. There has never been school and business closings at this level before, and rather than getting stuck in who was wrong, we all must adapt. A book I read a few years ago, Superforecasting: The Art and Power of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, explains that people who are the most accurate at predicting the outcomes of events are people who consistently update their projections based on new information. They do not get caught up in resistance to being “wrong” they just continue to pivot what they think based on new findings.
I believe humility, vulnerability, and open-mindedness are key for having rich and varied friendships. I have learned there is not a “right” or “wrong” way to do life. We all simply take the options presented to us and choose which we think is best at the time. Things evolve and change and the only thing you can do is to continue to seek the best life for you. Knowing this allows me to make and stay friends with people who have different lives or different experiences than I do. To me this makes life fuller and brings love and connection to my life.
This is a much more in-depth article about humility and its role in self-actualization. This article seems a bit out of my reach, right now anyway (see growth mindset!!). It seems unlikely I will completely stop caring about recognition or the opinions of others, but I do know that the freedom to be a beginner and seeing the gray between right and wrong make life much more enjoyable. I do not want to miss out on something because I am afraid to fail or miss out on a friendship because I am afraid of being wrong. I would rather be brave, show up knowing I will be okay, and see what life has in store for me.