An antidote to both arrogance and low self-esteem, freeing us from resentment and disappointment.
What is humility?
Let’s see how Dictionary.com defines humility: “the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance.” When we practice humility we understand that some people are more capable than us and others are less capable. It's a great way to find our right place in the world in relation to others. Practicing humility reminds us that we are neither the best nor the worst.
The author CS Lewis sums it up beautifully in his quote: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”
Why is humility important?
Our ego often sets us up for failure. When we feel like we're not getting what we deserve, that’s a sign that we’ve lost our humility. All of us are exactly where we're supposed to be, right now. How could we be anywhere else? If you don’t agree then you need to find some acceptance. And a little patience wouldn’t hurt either.
A common trick of the ego is to switch from disappointment to self-loathing. “I’m not getting what I deserve because I’m too _____." Fill in the blank with all the unkind reasons why you’ve not been able to meet your ego’s expectations. This is a very painful place to be because we can seesaw between feelings of disappointment and low self-esteem.
When we practice humility we’re able to both keep our ego in check and also not fall into the trap of punishing ourselves for not meeting our ego’s demands. A little humor can help here.
What humility isn’t
Being humble doesn't mean allowing people to walk all over us either, though. It’s not about putting ourselves in a weak or low position. It’s also not about comparing ourselves with others and feeling that they're better than us. Humility is not a lack of confidence. You can be both confident and humble at the same time.
Whilst being self-deprecating can be a great way to practice a good sense of humor, it’s important that this is balanced with humility. There’s a time to be self-deprecating and a time to be firm, confident and resolute. Check out the humor principle for more on this.
Humility in business and life
I see business as an act of service for which one is rewarded financially. If you don’t serve your customers well, then you won’t have many for very long. Whilst it’s true that you're the expert (and that’s why someone is willing to pay you for your help), it doesn’t mean that you’re better than your customers.
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
What I love about Gandhi’s words here is that he’s taking our ego down a notch while encouraging us to do what needs doing. Our sense of self-importance is secondary to getting the job done. The serenity prayer can be very helpful when it comes to deciding what needs to be done, because it requires wisdom to work out the difference between what we can and cannot change. This is most effective when it’s part of a daily practice because we all seem to get confused about what’s important so often.
How to practice humility
Developing a good sense of humor can really help us here. It’s important to reflect on our motivations and check in with ourselves to make sure we're acting from a balanced place. Acting neither from a need to be bigger or more grandiose, nor from a place of low self-esteem and not feeling like we’re enough.
It’s easy to appear humble on the surface to others but be acting from a very different place internally. Doing lots of things for other people is not necessarily practicing humility either. This may just be a form of manipulation on your part to get your needs met or to reaffirm that no-one loves you. Remember, humility is about being the right size: neither bigger nor smaller than you are. It’s about knowing your worth and place in relation to others.
A great tool to help us connect with our motivations is daily journaling. Ask yourself this question: Am I really doing this for me or am I doing this for someone else? And if the answer is that you’re doing something for yourself, that’s ok too – just don’t kid yourself that you’re being humble.
What’s holding you back?
Our ego is the single biggest challenge to practicing humility. You may also fear being used as a doormat. If you don’t have good boundaries then learning to be humble can be a challenging journey and even downright scary. Especially if you feel the need to defend or protect yourself from other people. Perhaps you have a scarcity mindset that's holding you back from being humble? It’s hard to be humble if you fear you aren’t going to get your needs met. It’s much easier if you feel a sense of abundance in your life – but that doesn’t come naturally to most of us and requires steady, consistent cultivation over time.
Need some help?
Are you struggling to find some humility in the situations you find yourself? Do you feel like you’re battling to get your way? If so, then starting off by practicing some acceptance and humor can help get you going on the path to humility. But, working with these Concepts can be confusing at first, and an experienced coach can really help you navigate your life with a lot more skill and clarity, while holding you accountable when you lose your way.
Practicing humility goes hand-in-hand with both acceptance and humor, and it requires a little courage too. It’s also something you can get better at over time. Regular journaling can shine a light on the areas in your life that require a little humility, and working with a coach can help you get the hang of practicing it.