Do you pride yourself on staying humble in a world where arrogance and self-promotion seem to be taking over? Is humility right up there on your list of core values?
If so, then you’re not alone. The internet is awash with articles about how humility can improve our lives and make us better people.
And perhaps no wonder. Who wants to be seen as arrogant, with all its associations of an over-inflated view of yourself, a sense of self-entitlement and rampant contempt for others?
Humility seems so much more attractive.
A realistic view of who we are, care not to take more than our share, and a healthy respect for other people.
Yet this view of humility as wholly good is misplaced.
The downside of humility
In reality, humility can have a mean, limiting impact on your life.
As its worst, humility can be a powerful way in which we self-limit.
A value that's often given to us by parents, it can cause us to under-shoot our potential in every part of our life.
Causing us to stay quiet in meetings when we have something to say. Leading us to pass up opportunities that we are well suited for. Making us put up with situations that are damaging to us.
Negative impacts that can seriously curtail how much we make of our lives.
What can be behind the idea of humility
It's possibly challenging to consider that humility might not be such a positive character trait, after years of thinking it is.
But think about the subtle sub-conscious messages that can sit behind humility and we can start to see a different aspect to humility.
Differently expressed, humility can in fact sound like:
Know your place
Don’t get too big for your boots
Don’t dream too big
Don’t expect too much
Don’t take what isn’t yours
No problem there, you might think. All perfectly sensible and worthy things to believe.
Except they’re based on a fundamental fallacy that is as damaging as it is pervasive.
And that’s that there is a finite amount of success and happiness in the world.
That if you succeed it is at the cost of someone else. That by dreaming and achieving big, someone else has to stay small. That success for one person means suffering for another.
Interrogate your humility and sitting behind it may be a sense that you’re a good person who values other people and doesn’t want to harm them by what you do.
But wrong if what you do wouldn’t harm anyone in the first place.
Humility puts limits on the limitless
Because the wonderful truth is that success, achievement, happiness are all limitless.
You having them takes nothing away from anyone else.
No one’s life has to be smaller because you went out there and lived yours to its fullest.
In fact, quite the opposite.
By achieving your potential you get to be an inspiration to others.
By earning and creating more wealth, you get to keep it flowing to others.
By making a bigger impact, you get to change more lives.
None of it hoarding success and happiness for yourself. None of it taking anything from anyone else. None of it built on contempt for others.
None of it arrogant in any way.
But neither contemptuous for your own life and all that you can achieve with it.
In fact, humility doesn't serve you, who achieves less as a result.
Doesn't protect other people, who gain nothing from your limits.
Doesn't benefit the world, which is poorer for the reduced impact you achieve.
So if humility is a core value of yours, maybe take some time to look at what it really means to you and what you might achieve if you set it aside. You might find that you can still be a good person, even if you allow yourself to be a great one.