Humility and Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wouldn’t it be lovely if humility smelled like warm chocolate chip cookies, so we could easily find ours when we lost it?

A small group of us were sharing comeuppance stories—times when we’d gotten too big for our britches and had taken a big fall from grace.

Betsy’s fall was the most dramatic. She’d been off-the-charts successful in her marketing job for a cosmetics company. Another company recruited her for their CMO job, complete with huge salary, signing bonus, and jaw-dropping perks. Betsy enjoyed her amazing perks for only five months. The CEO who’d recruited her fired her, saying Betsy was overly self-righteous, too self-important, and unnecessarily scornful of employees who weren’t executives.

“Go. Now. Be gone,” said the CEO as she made a sweeping away gesture with her hand. “I want you out of here immediately.”

Betsy said the CEO’s office had glass walls. So, while the CEO’s words were unheard by others, she saw everyone watching the dismissive gestures. And smiling.

It took Betsy five months to be able to say she was glad the humiliating experience had happened. Without it, she said, she would have remained too big for her britches, believing the myths about herself. She said she might have even become more unbearable.

“I got what I deserved. I let my success go to my head,” she said.

As do too many others.

"The endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is." ~Anne Lamott

Not letting success steal our self-awareness is at the heart of staying humble. We control whether that happens or not. Either we let success go to our head and become self-important jerks, or we don’t.

Success isn’t a sentient being that inhabits our bodies and takes control, miraculously making us someone new. Becoming successful or powerful or rich only shows what we really were all the time.

Hubris is an accessory we acquire.

If we were kind before being successful, we stay kind. If we were thoughtful, we stay thoughtful. If we were open-minded, we stay open-minded.

How could Betsy and the rest of us have stayed grounded enough so we didn’t have a comeuppance story to tell? A smorgasbord of choices and options exists. Take a look at the list below and think about what could work for you.

To make sure we don’t get too big for our britches, all we have to do is be self-aware. Then, use whatever practices work to keep hubris from becoming our latest accessory.

Things to do to avoid having a comeuppance story:

  • Practice gratitude
  • Admit to being wrong, don’t double down
  • Accept challenges with grace
  • Adopt a beginner’s mindset
  • Focus on the effort, not the outcome
  • Ask for feedback and really listen to it
  • Confront your prejudices
  • Choose purpose over passion
  • Be curious and ask questions
  • Kill your pride
  • Appreciate others
  • Accept good enough
  • Understand your weaknesses and faults
  • Be gentle with the weaknesses and faults of others
  • Keep your abilities in perspective
  • Don’t fear failure
  • Accept others as they are
  • Don’t measure yourself by material possessions
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Live your values and do so with grace
  • Let others live their values with grace, too
  • See happiness as a by-product of purpose
  • Give credit where it’s due
  • Connect deeper than generalities
  • Don’t evaluate others by their position or status
  • Accept criticism as a gift
  • Laugh at yourself
  • Forgive
  • Be mindful of the expectations you set for yourself and others
  • Listen more, talk less
  • Serve someone

Humility is a quiet gift we give ourselves and others.

Quiet-anything easily gets lost or overlooked in today’s hurly-burly pace of life. But, as with most good and worthwhile things in life, we have to want quiet humility. Have to work at having it. Have to never lose sight of its importance. Owning the responsibility makes all the difference.

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