Humble Up: 3 Surprising Reminders about Humility


When I flash the word “humility” in your face, what do you conjure up in that glorious mind of yours?  

Don’t overthink it, just go there.  What’s the picture that pops up?

Is it Mother Teresa in the slums of India?  Is it that sweet, self-deprecating friend who constantly defers to your clever ideas?  Is it your mother?  Is it the classic portrayal of Jesus?  

What do you see?  

My hunch is, your first thought is NOT power or confidence.  I could be wrong, but if you’re anything like me, here is where you’ve typically gone with this seemingly soft virtue called humility.   

I used to immediately envision a lowly, bowing posture; someone trying to be small or unnoticed.  If confidence and pride are the backbone of this body of virtue, then humility is surely the squishy, fleshy, underbelly that isn’t often seen. It’s always covered up.  

I was lucky enough to tag along with my husband to the Grammys in New York City.  It was a week-long, epic celebration of music, er, really the characters that bring the music to life.  As a passionate observer of people and a lover of music, it really is a feast of a week for me.  I got to peer into the glamorous, albeit tinted, windows of these talented and tenacious people doing what they do best— perform.

The ones I’m naturally drawn to, or fascinated by, are the ones who incidentally don’t draw much attention to themselves.  They are the ones who, in my slim estimation, long to make the music about something bigger than themselves and work tirelessly to do so with excellence.  

Yet, they are far from doormats.  They have had to believe in themselves and their talent so deeply, even when there was no outside evidence to back them up.  Their persistence to believe the truth about who they are and the value they offer the world informed every thought, feeling, and action, despite a slippery temptation to hide out in self-doubt.  

Alicia Keys comes to mind, as does Chris Stapleton and Kevin Moore (Keb Mo).  I know there are more, these are just a few I’ve observed over time, especially this last week.

In fact, celebrities aside, I believe the most effective leaders are truly humble.  Why?  Because effective leaders are secure enough in their identity to shut up and listen well to others.  They don’t feel the need to constantly tighten the reigns of control.

Here are a couple of simple definitions I love about this thing called Humility:

C.S. Lewis says, 

“True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Another C.S., that is, Charles Spurgeon, simply puts it, 

“Humility is to make a right estimate of oneself.”

I hear far less shrinking and loads more honesty in these definitions. I hear truth—security.

What if humility is the fundamental building block of greatness?  What if we could count on its staying power in a way that would allow for more of what we truly desire for ourselves and our loved ones?  What if embracing humility could connect you back to your truest, most loving self so that you could love others more fully, more deeply?

As you chew on this idea of humility, take these three reminders with you:

  • Humility is NOT playing small.  

This may be the biggest misconception we have in terms of humility.  In fact, we confuse the idea of “false humility” with actual humility.  You know the stuff.  It shows up in self-deprecating comments, constantly deferring to others because “They’re so much smarter or better than me” or “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just fine staying back.  You deserve to go have fun.” 

If humility is being exactly who we were made to be then false humility is downplaying, or degrading the value of who we are.  In that sense, false humility is really just the same as pride, but all dressed up in her Sunday best.  Both are forms of self-absorption and indulgence.   

  • Humility affects great change.

Humble people aren’t dependent on bravado.  They don’t need the hype, the show, and the ego.  Perhaps they did at some point, yet part of our growth curve involves being knocked on our ass at some point.  We like to call these “humbling moments.”  When we lean into these moments, muscles build, perspectives shift, and an interior wisdom sets in that makes us more malleable and effective than we were before (if we allow).

True greatness emerges when that mask of ego comes off, and we begin using our unique voice and gifts to meet the world's aching need.  It happens when we finally get out of our own way.

I love St. Catherine of Siena’s charge, 

“Be who you were meant to be and you will set the world on fire.” 

  • Humility takes courage.

It takes loads of courage to show up, use your voice, share your truth, and say “yes” to your calling, however big or small it feels to you.  It is far easier to play small and sit on the sidelines as a spectator.  We get so used to wearing the mask of personality in order to keep us safe and fit in, yet when we rely on it too heavily, we mix up our true identity, our essence, with parts of our personality that are overgrown, or false.

You were born as a pure, loving, curious being.  The world taught you fear, and for all intents and purposes, that fear kept you safe.  However, today, you don’t need it in the same way anymore. Let’s move deeper into the current of courage.  Let’s get knocked around a bit.  I can’t promise you it's sterile and certain, yet I’m convinced it’s the path of true calling—identity.  The humble path is truly a radical one.  So, let’s make some waves, my Dear.

Love & Gratitude,