Humility: Do you know who I am?

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My first job out of college lasted just two weeks. I had been hired by a friend of my parents to write copy for a catalog – a strong application of my studies in Business and Writing. After two weeks piecing together alliterative phrases and quippy metaphors, my boss called me into her office and asked me how I liked writing copy. In truth, I couldn’t stand it – no windows, a cubicle, staring at a computer all day, and it seemed my best writing was never on point for what the catalog needed. I told her that as much as I appreciated the work, I hated writing copy. She smiled, “great, because it seems to hate you too.” She handed me a check and I left wondering what I really wanted to do with my life. As the saying goes, experience is the best teacher. Our success and failures – when we take stock of them – offer great personal insight.

One of the greatest things you can offer your employer is accurate self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is a critical skill in the workplace, and surprisingly it’s a great way to cultivate humility since knowing who you are tends to draw out who you are not.

Humility has a lot to do with getting comfortable in our own skin.

For me, the process has taken many turns – and it is definitely a process “in process” – but over time I have learned much about what makes me tick, like the ways I build relationships and interact with others, the roles and tasks that make long days fly by or drag, and the chinks in my armor that frequently lead me to places of fear, insecurity, or defensiveness. The process has been challenging, but the more I get to know myself, the more liberated I feel. Recognizing who I am - and who I am not – helps me get through life a bit lighter, more energized, and generally more fun.

Socrates loved the maxim “Know Thyself,” and for good reason. As it turns out, confidence is closely linked to humility. People – at work and at play – appreciate someone who knows who they are and they are not; someone comfortable in their own skin. It’s a gift you can offer your organization, friendships, your family, and yourself.

How do you cultivate humility? Keeping in mind that it’s a process, here are three practices that have helped me cultivate humility in my own life:

  1. Moments of Solitude. In our loud and busy world it’s important to unplug – even for brief moments – daily. These are beautiful opportunities to sit uncomfortably in silence and introspect or listen. Being present in a moment is powerful.

  2. Moments of Gratitude. Our days tend to steer us toward dissatisfaction, but there are ways to intentionally shift our minds toward thanks. Take a 3x5 card and write out 5 things you are thankful for – big things – and place it by your bedside. Every night and every morning read the list. You’ll be surprised how quickly your posture begins to shift toward gratitude.

  3. Moments of Praise. Identify 2-4 people who live, work, or play in your circles and are difficult to like. Intentionally seek out positive attitudes or behaviors in those individuals and find simple ways to share that praise with them. You will find yourself valuing others more, and you may make a few unexpected friendships along the way.

What practices have helped you cultivate humility?


© 2013 by A.R.MARSHALL, PhD