On humility…

On humility.  Are we ever truly as humble as we portray ourselves to be?  Even when we say, “humbly speaking…” or “with the greatest of humility” or the more coarse, “I don’t mean to brag…,” can we ever be that which we say we are: humble?  I am really struck on this because I study those whom I believe to be successful, and some of them claim humility.  But I wonder, can one be successful and remain humble?

To be in the spotlight, to be under the scrutiny of many, to know that you have ‘arrived’ and have been found successful, it must be a dreadful hard place to be.  Because the temptation would be to give in to the pressure and believe that you are truly as wonderful as everyone else says you are. Or worse, as wonderful as you might also think yourself to be.  And thus, think that you have invented the wheel.  That your words are worth repeating.  That your very presence has honored the world.  That you are a wee bit better than the rest of us.

Is anyone ever that worthy?

I read blogs of writers far more eloquent than I.  One writer I read is tremendously gifted with poetic prose and descriptive voice.  It is a delight to read her essays.  But I am often put off when she makes reference, often, to how many weeks she has been on the bestseller list for the New York Times.  Is that really necessary? Particularly when it is all about, in her words, grace and humility and gratitude?

I think it should be very hard to be in her shoes.  And that is why I suppose, I cannot judge. For I have not walked a mile in her footsteps.

Humility is to me, the naivety of knowing how extraordinary you are and yet, believing it does not matter.  For, those who are truly humble see in others greatness.  And likewise, see in themselves, weakness.  Weakness not borne of inability, but of imperfection.  For, we know that we are strong when we are able to pull back the curtains and reveal our inadequacies.

And humility does not kiss and tell.

However, one does not need to be an overwhelming success story so as to be humble.  The best example of humility I have known was my that of my grandfather.  Grampie MacLean was neither successful by public standards or great according to his own measure of personal achievements.  He was average in many ways.  What stands out about my grandfather was his humility.  He was a great dad and grampie.  He was a wonderful carpenter and mechanic.  He was a great listener, a modest gardener and a patient friend.  He was calm and quiet, and he never once raised his voice.  Above all, he never gave himself any accolades.  And yet.  He was an expert at humility.  He might not have even known.

Those who are great by human standards could learn a thing or two from my grampie.  And they need to be careful that they do not call themselves a name that is not their own.  Humility is a label that must be earned through quiet perseverance.  And in general, if you tell people you are humble, nine times out of ten, you are probably not.  Humility is not modesty.  It is understatement and grace.

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Outliers and JOY…

I am procrastinating tonight.  It has taken me all night to sit down here to this open page and just write.   Proving how far I have to go to become a blogging superstar.  It is amazing how one can find so many reasons to delay that which is inevitable.  That is, to delay writing when one realizes it is the discipline to which one has committed.  But, this I must write about: my husband and I had a conversation this evening about a high school student and in particular, we talked about this student’s caliber of dedication to his passion in life, sports.

The student I am referring to spends three hours per day shooting hoops and running drills, as well as sprinting laps around his house.  Lest I forget to mention, countless hours on the court or field with personal coaches as well as years of team practices under his belt, all done so as to achieve his dream of one day playing for the NBA.  Impressive for a fifteen year old.  This kind of dedication and phenomenal commitment is exceptional in our current cultural milieu where most of us want immediate results that require minimal effort.  But there are certain common qualities shared by true superstars. Most are not just born to be stars.  They are made to be stars through years of conditioning.  Why then are not more of us becoming superstars?  What does it take to really make it big in a chosen field of expertise?  What are the essential qualities one must have checked off the list so as to become true outliers?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Outliers:The Story of Success that many of the geniuses of our time in history have the advantage of putting in long hours of practice- 10 000 hours worth, to be exact.  Not to say this is a guarantee, but it sure does make someone an expert in their chosen field of interest.  And experts tend to get noticed more often.  However, for every Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, there are the fast-trackers who win big on shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent.  So obviously there are outliers within the outliers.

Since I am neither an athlete nor a computer wizard, I was interested to find that there is a blog for those of us who are interested in becoming blogging superstars.  The keys to success are vaguely familiar.  Along with being risk-takers, superstar bloggers write 1000 words seven days a week.  Minimum.  And we are not talking about just your average diary entries here, this stuff needs to be content driven as well as sizeable in quantity.  Readers are looking for someone who writes in such a manner that they are drawn to read on, virtually sucked into the story through the creative mechanisms of the writer’s craftsmanship.  Steep criteria, when you also consider that superstars in the blogosphere also are driven, passionate, interactive, focused, organized, discerning, technologically savvy, curious, relentless, self-starters, and on and on we go.

For me, the true factor in what really grabs an audience’s attention, whether that be an audience of one or one million, is their ability to emotionally connect with key game players.  And by that, I mean all those people involved who have a vested interest in what you are doing to become an expert.  If you can make connections, I believe this is the truest measure of a person’s success.  One can be an expert, but without connections and without emotional attachments secured, success can be denied for that given individual.

The student in mention at the beginning of this essay was a bit misunderstood by some of his teachers in school.  In particular, one teacher could not understand this boy’s growing disinterest with school at the expense of throwing himself full-tilt into the sports world.  However, in a personal mock job interview, this boy was able to explain his life story in such a way that allowed for vulnerability and honesty, and it gave one teacher a new appreciation for why he was so driven to succeed in sports in the first place.  The emotional connection was secured. And success in this particular high school course was a direct outcome of that revealed vulnerability as it was shown in the conversation with the teacher being noted in this anecdote.  It was the personal connection that made all the difference. The turning point for him as it pertains to his success inside the classroom.

A key measure of success is the ability to connect with your audience in such a way that secures your positioning on the ladder of success.  As it pertains to this student, I have little doubt that he will become successful, but it is not due to sheer talent alone.  Nor is it all the hours of hard work he has invested.  In my view it is his ability to leave an indelible impression on his audience.  Even when it is an audience of one.