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Humility in the Workplace

Humility in the Workplace

‘Humility’ is a widely understood word. It’s not one of those words people will pause to look up the meaning for. Generally, people love the thought of humility. It’s one of those ‘good’ values we strive for; one we admire. Yes, most people feel they know what it means to be humble.

Demonstrating it however, is a whole other matter.

For instance, a person distracted by their Blackberry or cell phone, unable to focus on the conversation you are having with them face to face, is so filled with self-importance, they cannot possibly claim to be humble. Humility is the lack of self-importance, is it not?

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The person who impatiently shakes their head as you explain a new idea you are presenting to them, finally breaking in to say, “We’ve tried that here before, and it just doesn’t work,” cannot claim to be humble. Humility is being open-minded, and realizing that no matter how long you’ve been around, you couldn’t possibly have experienced everything there is to experience, right?

Then there’s the person who just got a promotion, and the first purchase order they write is for new business cards, despite the fact that the have a box left of the old ones with the same mailing address, email address, and phone numbers. Never mind that they mostly attach v-cards electronically these days, and that’s why the old box lasted so long.

In new product development, there’s a discussion going on about complaints customers have with existing products, and someone says, “Well, they wouldn’t have that problem if they followed the instructions in the first place.” That can’t possibly be humility, when we stop listening to what our customers are asking for, and assume they just don’t ‘get it,’ right?

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If some of our common behaviors in workplaces are an indication, we don’t understand humility very much at all.

Those who are humble, feel the rest of us are pretty interesting. Those with humility have a genuine desire to discover what other people can offer. They are intrigued by how others think, and how others feel differently from them.

We can be confident, and we can be self-assured; humility does not call for us to be meek, or consider ourselves lower in stature. We do not require less of ourselves, and we take our role and our responsibilities seriously. However what humility does, is create a sort of receptacle of acceptance in us, so we are open to being filled with the knowledge and opinions of others. Humility is a kind of hunger for more abundance. The greater our humility, the greater our fascination with the world around us, and the more we learn.

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To have inner drive, to want to be successful is a good thing. I do believe that part of humility is believing in those possibilities which presently may be larger than life for you. However humility also speaks to the demeanor and attitude we must have as we seek our success, so that our inner drive and desires are in balance with our composure, and our conduct with those who interact with us. After all, they could factor into being a big part of the success we eventually will enjoy.

One of the best definitions I have ever heard for humility came from one of my employees when I was still in corporate management. Short and sweet, it’s one I have never forgotten. He was talking about a new supervisor we’d recently hired into the department, explaining how she listened to everyone on staff in such a great way. Like they mattered. Like everything they did and said mattered. He had said she seemed very humble to him because as she demonstrated it, “Humility is an act of courtesy.”

I like that.

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We were not put on this earth alone. Frankly, others have to live with us, and our own practice of open-minded, fill-me-up humility can make it a much more interesting and pleasant experience for all of us.


Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership.For more of her ideas, click to her Thursday columns in the archives; you’ll find her index in the left column of www.ManagingWithAloha.com

Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: What are the Rules? Hopefully, none.

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Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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