Humility and Insecurity Are Not the Same Thing

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I’m just going to jump right into it: This drives me friggin CRAZY!!!!!  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!  It is one of the most important distinctions in this entire friggin world and one of the ones I’ve seen most often confused.  The situation usually goes something like this:

Well-known girl goes to the front of the church to perform her well-prepared solo for that Sunday’s church meeting.  As expected, she does an amazing job, blowing the entire congregation away, even leaving some in tears.  Following her performance people are offering her accolades:

“Wow, what an amazing job; you are such a great musician!”

“I’ve always wanted to play the violin like that, you must have worked so hard.”

“You have such natural talent.”

To which, this amazing incredible gifted girl responds softly, “It wasn’t that great, but thanks.” Or “I totally missed the first part of the third verse, but I’m glad to know nobody noticed!”

And everyone walks away saying, “Goodness, she is talented and so humble.”

No…no…no.no.no.no.noNONONONONONONO!!!  And I’m not talking about the word “goodness” (what are we, Quakers?)  Okay, let me start by saying this: this metaphorical girl may very well be humble.  She may well be an incredibly good person.  My criticism is not against her and every other girl who responds to praise in this way at all, rather against our entire concept as a society that is this: To be humble means to be unaware of your talents.

Get your heads out of your asses, people!!  I spent so many years growing up, reminding myself that I’m not as great as I think, ignoring praise and compliments, and focusing on my weaknesses in order to stay in this dubious and undefined state of “humility”.  Problem is, I wasn’t building humility; I was building insecurity.

Case In Point
I recall watching American Idol with my sister many years ago when David Archuleta and David Cook were up against each other.  I remember the final show when both were standing on stage to incredible cheers of adoration, before they had announced the results.  David Cook was standing tall, smiling, waving, and thanking his fans for their support for what he loved to do.  David Archuleta, on the other hand, looked like a nervous wreck, hopping from one foot to the other, laughing and blushing, and giving waves of “awe, stop” to the crowd.  My sister said,

“David Archuleta should win, he’s so humble!”

I almost beheaded her right there.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being insecure.  We are all insecure in one way or another, about something or around someone.  It’s part of being human.  But humility is something to aspire to, while insecurity is something to overcome.  When we mix the two we actually step backwards in our personal development rather than moving forward.

What’s the Difference?
So we’ve got the point straight: humility and insecurity are not the same thing.  So how do we tell the difference?  How do they look in relation to each other?

Let’s look at humility first.  Humility means:

The quality or condition of being humblemodest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank. (www.dictionary.com)

Ok, so that’s pretty simple, right?  It means to avoid overestimating your importance or have an inflated sense of self.  You might say that it means to have modesty despite your abilities, talents, or rank.  But it doesn’t say anything about denying or belittling your abilities, talents, or rank.  You can be aware of, and proud of the fact that you are the best singer in the tri-state area (I actually don’t know where that is, I just heard it in a movie once) and still be humble enough to recognize that this does not make you more important than others.

In fact, I believe you can even believe you are the most important person in your world – because to you, you are – and still be humble (you have the responsibility of managing yourself, taking care of yourself, and making sure you are a contributing member of society.  So to you, you are the most important person in the world).  The problem comes when you believe that you are the most important person in the world.  Full stop.  And that everyone else ought to see and view your importance from their lowly ranks below you.  See the distinction?

Now let’s look at insecurity:

Lack of confidence or assurance; self-doubt. (www.dictionary.com)

See what I mean?  They are NOTHING alike!  And yet, in practice we think they look exactly the same.  So go ahead and thank people for their compliments, enjoy your moment in the spotlight, and acknowledge how hard you worked to gain the abilities you have.  As long as you’re not telling people that they’re bottom-feeders because they can’t work a kazoo like you can, I think you’re ok on the humility scale!

Insecurity Also Is Not the Same as Conformity
I’d also like to point out the insecurity and conformity are not the same thing.  Growing up, the most humble person was always viewed as the person who was most willing to give and bend to authority (guess who was the most humble person I knew?…me!!).  As you can see in the definition, humility also has nothing to do with conforming or “going along” with “what you’re told”.  In fact, we can look at humility in this context and say that humility is simply the state of being open to changing one’s mind when new information is presented (because our lack of overinflated self-importance aids us in knowing that we do not ever have all the information at one time).  But it has nothing to do with going along with any specific authority figure.  Or even going along with what someone else has said or has told us to do.  Or even keeping our opinions to ourselves!  It’s still up to us to weigh the options, consider the arguments, and come to our own conclusion.  True humility leads us to believe in ourselves and our decision-making abilities while being aware that the future may bring changes or new evidence to our opinions – so talk away!  Tell people what you think; don’t keep it to yourself.  You are not sacrificing even a grain of humility, but you are building a lot of self-confidence.

Practice Makes Improvement
Please remember this, girls, it’s so important.  The change I have undergone to implement this new way of thinking has been a long time coming, but has produced amazing results in my self-confidence.  Its hard enough to stop berating ourselves, putting ourselves down, and devaluing ourselves without this ominous goal of “humility” contributing to the problem.  Become aware of how screwed up our society is when it comes to this word, and start recognizing when you’re acting out of humility and when you’re acting out of insecurity.

Here’s an easy litmus test: if it makes you feel confidently on par with the rest of the world, it’s humility (pat yourself on the back! (don’t worry, your head won’t turn into a hot air balloon)).  If it makes you feel you are less worthy or less important than the rest of the world, it’s insecurity (change your self-talk).

Get that road block out of the way right now, and allow yourself to shine.

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