Humility shows itself in the people with whom I am connected — both online and in real life. I love the conversations about becoming better at who we are and what we do. Lately they have been about the balance between a commitment to continuous self-improvement and acceptance: of self, of others, and of life as it is. So how does one balance a desire to improve with gratitude for the way things are? I don’t know about you, but I struggle. And I seek greater humility.
I struggle not to compare myself and my accomplishments to those around me, striving always to applaud and appreciate others’ successes. Recognizing that we may have different strengths, interests, opportunities, privilege, resources, life circumstances, or abilities helps steer away from jealousy. The struggle is sometimes to recognize my own accomplishments — I’m not denigrating them, I just don’t always remember them when I should.
“Humility is truth.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus
I’m not interested in loud, brassy self-improvement like artificially adding “best-selling” to my author bio; but continuing to improve as a writer? To be recognized by my peers? That feels right — especially when I couple that commitment with the hope that what I produce lands with people who will enjoy it and, perhaps benefit from some of the ideas. It’s not a SMART goal but it’s a way of thinking about life and growth that’s meaningful to me right now.
Humility Makes us Real
Until checking the dictionary, I thought I might be trying to approach self-improvement with humility. But once there, it became apparent that I needed to discard most parts of that definition. Rejecting “a feeling of insignificance” and “low in rank” left space for “not arrogant” and “courteously respectful.” So many definitions of humility seem to ask us to present ourselves as “less than” and, to me, that doesn’t square with acceptance. What if humility is an accurate self-appraisal and an understanding that there are those whose skills are better than ours and those who know other things? Perhaps it has more to do with just being or with something our culture has rechristened “authenticity.”
Practice Radical Humility
Searching for others’ thoughts on humility led me to a pair of popular writers whose work embraced a combination of creativity, spirituality, and helpfulness. Thinking about them together makes me smile as I picture them having a cup of coffee together. I wonder if they’d enjoy the other’s company — and what the conversation would be.
My first Maya Angelou quotation places me (or “us” if you choose to join me) in a continuum. It places us in time, honoring those who came before and those who will follow. “What humility does for one is it reminds us that there are people before me. I have already been paid for. And what I need to do is prepare myself so that I can pay for someone else who has yet to come but who may be here and needs me.”
And, as is true with almost anything I’ve ever read by her, she points us to honesty. “Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘Run like hell and all of fire.’ You don’t want modesty, you want humility.”
I finally arrived at a favorite thought from Wayne Dyer. His advice? “Practice radical humility. Take no credit for your talents, intellectual abilities, aptitudes, or proficiencies. Be in a state of awe and bewilderment.”
So what can I do with this? How can I incorporate humility into my day-to-day life? Here are five simple ideas, a list that could, perhaps, be titled “Five Simple Ways to be a Better Person” or “Don’t Be Such a Jerk.”
- Turn off your cell phone. I like instant access as much as the next person but liberal use of your smart phone’s Do Not Disturb function allows us to be fully present to the meal we are eating and the people with whom we share it. (Pro tip: I didn’t know how, so I asked the artificial intelligence to do it for me!)
- Vacuum behind the furniture. I’m far (way too far) from being a neat freak but this one speaks to our place in time and doing our work completely whether or not anyone else will see it.
- Supermarket behavior. Some venues are better practice than others and for me this is it. When I can let someone go ahead of me in line or return their empty cart, my behavior says their time (and their car doors) matter as much as mine.
- Passing along a favorite book may say “I thought of you while I read this.” (Or, in the case of self-help? “I got a lot out of this, would you like it next?”)
- Saying “please” and “thank you” — frequently and in many formats. A text. A hand written note. A small gift. The more I practice this the more ideas come my way.
Please share your thoughts on humility and self-improvement in the comments. Thank you.