If we were to think of the elements that contribute to a successful and whole individual, there are numerous things to list. Persistence, courage, generosity, wisdom. However, there is only one factor that keeps the ups and downs of life from tipping our scales either toward egotistical indulgence, or damaging self-abasement and that one quality is humility.
Humility is a very misunderstood quality. Merriam Webster dictionary defines humble this way, “Not thinking of yourself as better than other people.” Now at first sight this seems simple enough and most people would immediately say, “Well, I don’t think I am better than anyone else. I must be humble.” The true test of this, however, comes in very small day to day ways that can have a great impact on our relationships, our work and our overall success in life.
Here is a test. When someone points out a mistake you have made what is your first reaction? Is it defensiveness? Do you make excuses for the mistake? Do you argue why it isn’t a mistake? Do you get embarrassed and sulk? Any of these reactions signal a lack of humility. And the damaging aspect of this is that when you react this way you are entirely shutting yourself off from learning. Humility opens you up for continual learning opportunities because you constantly acknowledge that you are surrounded by millions of other intelligent beings who can teach you more.
Humility gives us the openness to ask for help, to allow ourselves to be taught, to acknowledge and correct mistakes, to go back after we have failed and make things better the next time. Humility is the very power behind trying again, and therefore it is the power behind true confidence.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “I have humility enough to confess my errors and retrace my steps.” Getting off track is inevitable. But it is humility that will give us the courage and ultimately the confidence to go back, start over and get it right. You can begin to improve your humility by writing down things that cause sulking, defensiveness and embarrassment. These emotions are usually triggered when our “pride” has been hurt. Make a conscious effort to react differently to these situations, and instead of being embarrassed, sulking or defending yourself ask yourself, “What can this person, or this situation teach me, so that I can be better?”