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April 15, 2024

Healthy And Unhealthy Humility

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Something that most people would label as a positive characteristic trait is possessing humility. When someone is humble they’re known to be more conservative in their lifestyle and choose not to be self-promotional about their achievements.

However, you can arrive at that same endpoint behavior in two different ways. The first is “humble minimizing”, which is an unhealthy way of discrediting yourself, and the other is “humble assured” that comes from a more grounded and self-confident place.

Let’s dive into each.

‘Humble minimizing’ is a symptom of having low self-worth. In the face of success, you choose to deflect the attention because you feel like an imposter for having it. You speak humbly about the circumstances and factors that lead up to certain accomplishments, and while it comes off as modest and grateful, it’s actually an unconscious influence to limit your role in it. As the term suggests, you use humility to minimize yourself in the face of achievement.

‘Humble assured’ is a more genuine expression of humility. You fully recognize the role you played to be successful, but you don’t find the need to make it known. You find quiet confidence in your own ability but would prefer to make it about other people, and other things, to be in service of the moment. You accept that other things contributed to the end-result but it doesn’t threaten you because you know you had a hand in it as well. It's a more certain, self-assured energy where you genuinely know that it wasn’t a fluke, and that you have the skills and know-how to succeed again.

To make this concrete, let me share a personal example. A moment in my life when I was ‘humble minimizing’ was when I got my first job out of college. I spoke about the conditions that led to me getting the job, which included a lot of past relationships helping to open doors. It was a prestigious job in medical device sales, and I credited getting it to those factors. If I'm being honest, deep-down I believed that I wouldn’t have gotten the job had it not been for those relationships.

Having a more ‘humble assured’ perspective now, I can absolutely see how this opportunity was only available because of these relationships. But I also know that I wouldn’t have been a candidate for it had I not graduated with honors, with a degree in neurobiology, and being a really good communicator. 

I point this out because on the surface, both ‘humble minimizing’ and ‘humble assured’ create the same outcome. The difference is the intention and energy behind it. Knowing the distinction here, you can reflect on moments where you choose to be humble and better understand what’s motivating them. 

It’s not binary and there’s a lot of gray area between the two, but the core question I’d ask is “Do I feel lucky or do I feel like I earned this?” Continue to be humble and elevate others, but don’t do so at the expense of your own self-worth.

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