I recently sent this message to someone I’ve really admired for a long time:
Hey [person] I was talking to someone who struggled to accept that certain people could look up to him and I thought I would send a note to say how much I look up to you and how it’s been this way since the first time I heard you speak in1999… a few years ago.
His response was:
Wow, thanks Chad. I feel very unworthy. But thanks. I appreciate it. You are an amazing person and I’m glad we get to see each other more often.
I was surprised by his response – unworthy? – and to be honest, disappointed. I mentioned this to my mom who is an incredible person and she said he had the right response, but was it? I shouldn’t have been surprised; my mom’s a very passive minded person whose weakness is not realizing how great she is. She doesn’t like to think she’s great because she thinks that’s wrong; as she would say, “It’s not being humble.” But being humble isn’t about us not being good enough or downplaying our strengths. As a Christian, she believes God is her Heavenly Father and if He created her, as a Father shouldn’t He think she’s pretty great? I think my daughter is pretty great and she regularly screams in my face when I make her do something she doesn’t want to do – it’s fun. Being humble isn’t about being self deprecating; it’s about not rubbing your strengths in people’s faces. It’s using your talents to help the world be better and not becoming arrogant about it: “Look at what I did! I am the best.”
What was really disappointing about these messages is I’m trying to teach the importance of being self aware, yet in my response to my friend’s reply, I completely missed his compliment to me because I was so worried about him accepting my compliment to him – hello hypocrite. He wrote that I was amazing… and my response proved why he didn’t say I was perfect. It also proved that I need to be careful to see others complimenting me and not just worry about pushing my thoughts onto them.
From my experience, a lot of really good people are really good at being hard on themselves and putting themselves down, which leads to them being really terrible at receiving compliments. But if someone says I’m a great therapist (it’s happened) should I be like “Of course you’d say that; you’re crazy”? Of course not. I should say thank you and validate their kind words. I should then reciprocate with some type of balancing comment like “The fun fact is I’m only as good as my client. You’ve done a lot of great work, which makes me look good.” The truth is I’ve had some people love me, some people be indifferent about me, and some people hate me. Fortunately, the latter is a rare or I’d be doing something very wrong. What’s interesting is if someone hates me, it’s not normally about me. It’s because I’m not doing something they want (e.g. saying they’re right and their partner is wrong) or they twist what I say. Ultimately, I have strengths as a therapist, but I’m only as good as my client. At the same time, I should be able to receive compliments to role model being emotionally healthy – emotionally healthy people are fair to themselves and self accepting, which includes being gracious at receiving compliments.
Being humble is NOT about being mean to ourselves. In fact, being mean limits how good we can be to others as it reduces drive, desire, and confidence. Even worse, if we don’t accept that we’re good at something, we may not share it with others, which means the world misses out on what could’ve potentially been beneficial.
Tip: To be better at receiving compliments, it’s really helpful to write down a compliment for yourself every day to acknowledge your good side – the side God is proud of.
To take this further, being humble not only being aware of our strengths and weaknesses, it’s ultimately understanding that our strengths are also our weaknesses and our weaknesses are also our strengths. For instance, I’m very creative, but that was encouraged because I have a terrible memory. Meanwhile my friend who has a great memory never needed to work on being creative; he’s also haunted by a lot more memories than the average person. Thus, both being creative and having a good memory have their advantages and disadvantages. Neither makes one of us better than the other – just different. Humble people accept this and don’t need to show off or earn approval because they already accept themselves. If everyone was humble, there wouldn’t be anyone showing off – so annoying – or jealousy – how nice would that be. If we were humble, we could appreciate other people’s talents and not worry about feeling inadequate compared to them because we would know we had our own strengths, too.
Being humble isn’t about self deprecation; it’s about being content with who we are and enjoying what we and others have to offer the world to make it a better place.
This week may you consider how you can be more humble.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)