There's one major reality in life. None of us wants to be seen as less than what we might be in any form. Sure, sometimes we come to grips with certain things that just aren't going to happen. For instance, I'm never going to be able to dunk a basketball. I'm never walking into a room and having women sigh. And I'm not going to be getting younger any time soon.

notice I'm leaning
away from others

Sometimes I think I'm a humble guy, and other times I'm not so sure. I'm fairly self assured with things that I know I'm good at. When you work for yourself, you have to overcome being too humble about your talents because you need people to want to hire you. If you keep putting yourself down, it'll sound like you don't have confidence in yourself, and thus they're not going to give you the chance to potentially help them.

Yet, overall I like to think I'm fairly humble. I've had a number of successes that I keep to a minimum when I'm talking about them. It's been quite a wild ride in the years I've been an independent consultant, and I'd have it no other way.

I've tried never to flaunt when things are going great, just as I try not to look miserable when things aren't going as great. There are always ups and downs in life, and if you can weather the bad then the good will eventually come. And if you treat the good times well, they'll stick around for as long as they can.

Where I think I fail is in the same place many other people fail. I'm not necessarily all that close to "humility." Just to be clear, one of the definitions used to describe humility is being humble. But one of the antonyms used for humility is "pride".

Pride can be tough to overcome. Pride is the thing we have to choke down when we think we've done well and someone comes by and wants to correct us. Pride is the thing we do when we've received a lot of accolades because of our performance, then one person comes by and says something that negates everything that other people said.

Pride is that thing when you question the qualifications of someone who's questioning you, even as you try to tell yourself that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, even if they're about you. And pride is that thing where someone says they have to check you out, and seem to make you go through hoops when you have years of experience, lots of references, and a background that's seen you do some amazing things, only to have to prove yourself again to someone new.

humble me

I talk often about opening oneself up to having other people critique them if they're in a leadership position. The truth of the matter is that it takes a lot of guts to allow people to do this, especially if you're allowing responders to be anonymous. You can feel that you're dead sure of how people are going to respond, then learn after the fact that you weren't close to being correct in how people thought about you as a leader. It can be a crushing blow; you might feel like people don't like you.

Truthfully, that's how most of us take criticism; it feels like it's a personal invalidation of who you are. In most instances, it has nothing to do with us as individuals at all. In some cases people might not even really know us, yet still have criticisms.

When I wrote my very first newsletter back in 2003, I sent it out to a lot of people I knew to get their opinion on it. I think I sent it to 20 people as a feeler. The responses were interesting to say the least.

Half the people said they loved it and nothing else. The other half all hated something about it. The funny thing is that they all hated how it looked, and their criticism about it sometimes countered each other.

I mean, the background was either too dark or too light. The font was either too big or too small. Some people felt I should highlight one logo over another; it was rare that even with a lot of responses people agreed on anything specific.

What was the strangest thing? No one who offered negative criticism talked about the article at all. That means they either never read it or they were fine with it, but hated the aesthetics.

You know what? I went ahead and sent out my very first newsletter as it was. I didn't do it out of pride, and I didn't do it out of humility. I did it because I realized that there are times when you just have to go ahead with the best you can offer at the time, especially if you can't get a consensus on what to do, and be proud that you actually did something that probably no one else is doing, or has done.

Ah, but we have to come back to this point about humility; here's the reality. If we're in business, we have to be ready to get over our humility every once in a while. It's certainly not easy to do; trust me on this one.

I remember being irked about something at the time, and decided to call my friend Kelvin to see what his thoughts were on the situation. Even though he agreed with me to a point, his initial words to me were "It does no good getting irked over something like this; it's a wasted emotion that doesn't do you any good and doesn't hurt the person who's irking you." At the time it hadn't sunk in, but in retrospect it made a lot of sense.

Most people aren't out to hurt you, especially if they know you. If our first reaction to everything is to get our defenses up, nothing ever improves. If we were all perfect then we'd stop looking for anything else because who can improve on perfection.

A phrase I remember every once in a while says it best: "The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything." If you find yourself fighting your pride here and there, try to take a step back, take an extra breath, remember that they're not out to get you (unless they're out to get you; that's for another day), then at least listen to what they have to say. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you could learn.

By the way, it's not going to be easy to do; as President John Kennedy said, to paraphrase: "...not because they are easy, but because they are hard". Think about it.