“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” says the legendary coach and speaker, John Wooden. It is said that humility is the solid foundation of all virtues. Along with other virtues like chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience and kindness, humility anchors the other virtues for which we strive.
Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, gifted me a watch last year inscribed with these words: “BE HUMBLE…BE HUNGRY.” What great words to live by in our daily lives! As we search for happiness and success fulfilling our life’s mission, it is important to be passionate, driven and committed. But, at the same time, it is ever critical to be humble. Humility is the grounding of our humanity.
What is humility? The definition of humility need not include timidity or becoming soft in character. Instead, humility simply requires us to think of our abilities and actions as no greater, and no lesser, than they really are. Real humility requires that we are completely honest with ourselves. We must honestly assess what talents, gifts, struggles or weaknesses we possess and the magnitude of each.
Humility is the absence of pride. We are taught to think pride is a good thing, but pride functions only when comparing others to ourselves. Don’t base your self-worth on how you stack up to others. Instead, focus on yourself and how you can improve. C.S. Lewis said the following about pride:
“The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.”
What humility is not. In our quest to be humble, we often confuse humility with false modesty. I think we’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another. When we are recognized for a great accomplishment, we act as though what we did really wasn’t that important or that big a deal. For example, we spend many hours meticulously creating an excellent presentation for a conference or workshop, and when people praise us we say, “Oh, it was just something I threw together.” We have a tendency to devalue what we’ve done under the pretense of humility. In fact, people often take on the guise of false humility for the sake of receiving more praise and adulation from others. You want people to think “Wow, he said he just threw that together! Imagine what he could do if he had spent hours on it.” When you do something well, don’t toot your own horn excessively, but truthfully acknowledge what you accomplished.
How to practice humility:
- Give credit where credit is due. The prideful person will take as much credit for a success as possible. The humble person seeks to shine the light on all the other people who helped make success happen. No person relies on just one pair of bootstraps alone. Innate talent, a supportive family member, co-worker, friend, teacher or coach, educational opportunities, and some lucky breaks always contribute somewhere down the line. We live in community with others and our community contributes to who we are and all that we are able to accomplish. Share the credit.
- Don’t name/experience drop. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who felt it necessary to interject talk of vacationing at the world’s fanciest spas, dining at pricey restaurants, knowing someone famous or wearing the finest clothes? When does name and experience dropping truly belong in any conversation? People who behave this way often have an exaggerated sense of their own self-importance and it will never adequately mask their insecurity. Resist boastful talk. Let others be the first to congratulate you for an accomplishment or admire your possession.
- Do what’s expected, but don’t make a big deal about it. My parents’ and grandparents’ generations understood the idea of fulfilling your duty. In his book, The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw made this observation: “The ‘older’ generation did what was expected of them. But they never talked about it. It was part of the Code. There’s no more telling metaphor than a guy in a football game who does what’s expected of him — makes an open-field tackle — then gets up and dances around. When Jerry Kramer threw the block that won the Ice Bowl in ‘67, he just got up and walked off the field.” Despite that game being played before I was born, I love the tenacity, toughness, and “matter-of-fact” attitude this story symbolizes. Why don’t we take a lesson from our elders? Do something because you’re supposed to do it and then go on about your business.
- Perform service and charity anonymously. Prideful men and women want everyone to know when they do a charitable act. They drop mention of the size of their donations, they speak of all the time they volunteer, and they never miss a chance to remind a beneficiary of their generosity towards them. They are obviously doing service for the wrong reason – to stroke their egos and gain acclamation. Real charity is not self-seeking; it is done solely for the benefit of others. Next time you do something nice, try keeping it completely to yourself. It’s a tough test of your humility.
- Stop one-upping people. Few things are more annoying than someone who must constantly one-up others during conversation. You say, “I once went to a Bon Jovi concert.” The one-upper says, “I once had backstage passes to a Bon Jovi concert.” Whatever someone says, the one-upper must do one better. Resist the urge to take part in these ego contests. Be the better person and let the one-uppers have their moment of glory. Stories might be re-told the next day, but good character is remembered for years.
- Remind yourself of humility. I recently saw a shirt that said, “It’s not easy being humble when you are as great as I am.” I laughed and thought it was funny. In truth however, we should work to remind ourselves of the virtue of humility. Pray for it, meditate on it, put the word on your mirror or in a conspicuous spot. As I write this article, the words “Be Humble…Be Hungry” are going up in my gym at Fitness Quest 10 to remind me and all clients and staff just how important it is to be hard-working, dedicated, driven, and hungry for success, while also being appreciative and grateful for all the opportunities in our precious lives.
As we celebrate some of our most cherished holidays, be mindful of the virtue of humility. My gift to you is one of my favorite motivational stories, one that reminds me that my greatest accomplishment is small relative to the larger world, but so is my greatest problem when I am uplifted by my community of friends and family. Click here to meet Dick and Rick Hoyt, the 2008 Triathlete Hall of Fame Inductees, and be reminded of how our own humble efforts fit into a world where there is true greatness. Earlier this year, I learned about this amazing father and son team who have together competed in nearly 1,000 race events, including 200 triathlons and multiple Ironman competitions. Theirs is a story that humbles me as a man, a father and an athlete. Enjoy the holidays and remember, “Be Humble…Be Hungry.”
Todd Durkin is a 2 Time Personal Trainer of the Year and Founder of Fitness Quest 10 & Todd Durkin Enterprises in San Diego, CA. He trains people from all walks of life, but is best known for the work he does with over 25 NFL Superstars. He trains the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Reggie Bush, Alex Smith, and Donnie Edwards amongst others. His expert staff of 30 trainers, coaches, and massage therapist/bodyworkers perform over 400 weekly sessions and help educate, motivate, and inspire the world to greater levels of health & fitness. Todd has 17 DVD’s on fitness & sports performance and has been featured in many national magazines and media outlets. His ezine newsletter “TD Times” is his way of connecting clients, trainers, coaches, colleagues, and friends from all over the world. He can best be reached via his websites ToddDurkin.com, FitnessQuest10.com, or by using the contact form below: [easy-contact]