Stop Being Modest
Maya Angelou once said,
I have no patience with modesty. Modesty is a learned adaptation. You don’t want modesty. You want humility. Humility comes from the inside out.
You can spot fake humility, sometimes known as “modesty,” a mile away. Modesty, like “being nice,” is an act people adopt in order to influence the opinions of others. When you care more about how people perceive you than living according to your values, tricksy little manipulative behaviors like false modesty and sugary sweet niceness creep into your repertoire.
I do value humility, which may come as a surprise since I write and speak so frequently on confidence. Many people think these two attributes are mutually exclusive. They couldn’t be more wrong! It takes great confidence to be truly humble. And it takes humility to be truly confident. They are two sides of the same coin; you cannot have one without the other.
You probably know people who can’t admit their mistakes or flaws. (Perhaps you’ve been that person on occasion. I have.) You also know people who won’t admit their strengths. (Maybe you’ve had those moments, too?) And you know both types are equally annoying and off-putting. Why? They don’t acknowledge the truth. You can’t trust someone who isn’t honest, whether they’re hiding their problems or their success.
That’s why true humility (or confidence) does NOT do any of these things:
- Humility is not berating yourself. Whether it’s in your own head (aka “negative self-talk”) or in front of others, true humility doesn’t put people down. It doesn’t verbally abuse people. Including yourself.
- Humility doesn’t minimize what’s good. It doesn’t ignore or downplay contributions or achievements, because it is based in reality. Humility accepts thanks and praise graciously, honoring the giver in the process.
- Humility is not poor self-esteem. A humble person, because they are grounded in confidence, doesn’t think or worry about the self a whole lot. People with low self-esteem think about themselves all the time. Am I good enough? What if I’m rejected? How can I make myself look better? How do I compare? What is that person thinking of me? Humility is not self-focused in a positive or negative way.
- Humility is not letting others trample you. Overextending yourself, making yourself small, or ignoring your own needs has nothing to do with humility. Letting others put you down, overlook you, or take you for granted is not humility either. Humility is simply “freedom from arrogance.” You can stand up for yourself and maintain boundaries without getting anywhere near arrogance.
Confidence and humility go hand in hand because they are based in what’s real and true. Confidence also doesn’t do any of these things, or their opposites: Confidence doesn’t boast or brag. It doesn’t elevate the self above others. It doesn’t shirk responsibility or blame others.
Both confidence and humility see the full scope of the self within the broader framework of the world. Confidence accepts the truth about how marvelous, intelligent, beautiful, valuable, and important you are. Humility puts that truth in context:
First, you aren’t the only marvelous, intelligent, beautiful, valuable, or important person on the planet. Humility sees everyone else as just as worthy of existence and love and respect as you are.
Second, you aren’t perfect. It sucks to really face that, I know. We know in our heads that we aren’t perfect, yet it always comes as such a shock when you suddenly see your flaws and faults in brilliant HD clarity.
You are lovable and wonderful just the way you are, yet it is also true that you don’t know everything, you haven’t done everything, and you sometimes make mistakes. There are people out there who are better than you at certain things, who know more, and have accomplished more. You still have a lot to learn. (Just like everyone else.)
And third, wherever you are and whatever you’ve achieved, you didn’t do it alone. No matter how brilliant, resourceful, or hard-working you are, you are a product of innumerable influences, experiences, and contributions. Others have supported your success, often in ways you aren’t even aware of.
Most people lean habitually toward either false modesty or arrogance. It shows up in your nonverbal communication:
- Slumped shoulders and “pulling in” to make oneself look smaller
- Cast-down eyes
- Quiet voice… or no voice at all
- Hangs back to avoid taking up time or space
- Puffed out chest
- Looks down on others (literally, by tilting head forward)
- Loud voice that often talks over others
- Takes up time and space that are not theirs
Humble confidence is balanced. When you’re operating from this place, you stand up straight and tall, neither shrinking from others nor intruding upon their personal space. You make eye contact, demonstrating that you see value in both yourself and the other person. You speak loud enough to be heard and listen carefully enough to hear. You honor yourself by taking up the time and space you need, while also honoring the time and space of others. Because of this balance, you earn the trust and respect of others.
Confidence and humility can never be divorced from one another. If you consider yourself humble, but you have no confidence, it’s a false humility. If you think you’re confident, but you have no humility, you’re fooling yourself. When you truly value yourself, you free up space in your head to consider others. Humble confidence is a practice—a practice anyone can learn.