Each month at Balanced Achievement, we explore a variety of personal qualities that are exhibited by the world’s most successful, happy and fulfilled individuals. In this ongoing series called ‘The ABCs of Personal Qualities’, we not only highlight individual personal characteristics, but also explain why they are important and provide definitive steps that you can take to cultivate the given attribute within yourself. Today, we look at the personal quality of humility which is vital for sustaining meaningful success over the longterm.
When John Wooden was introduced as the men’s basketball coach at the University of California Los-Angeles (UCLA) in April of 1948, few would’ve predicted the unrivaled levels of success he’d sustain over the following 27 years. Not only was the Bruins basketball program permanently stalled in a state of mediocrity before Wooden’s arrival, going 287-283 since playing their first game in 1919, but the man taking over the helms was a soft-spoken midwestern whose demeanor couldn’t possible be suited for the bright lights of Hollywood. Of course Wooden had excelled as a player at Purdue University and enjoyed some brief success as the coach of Indiana State University, but no one thought the 39-year-old who came from the humblest of beginning would leave behind the type of legacy that he did.
Looking back, an outsider can only wonder how the modest man who grew up in a small Indiana farm town was able to take over a fledgling basketball program and amass a record of 620-147 while winning ten national championships. For those who knew the man best, however, there is little doubt that it was his character, which was was built upon honesty, hard-work, an obsession with getting the small details right, a selfless team first attitude and a steadfast commitment to become better than his previous self, that allowed him to achieve the unthinkable throughout his coaching career.
While the accolades and adornment would certainly go to the ego and head of most people, especially in a loud and proud city like L.A., the Hall-Of-Fame coach never once wavered from the values that made him a true champion of life. He wasn’t boisterous after winning his first, second or third titles, he wasn’t egotistical after achieving winning his tenth, but steadfastly commitment to being a student of life who was primarily focus on positively impacting those around him. It was assuredly these traits, this unwavering sense of humility, that allowed ‘The Wizard of Westwood’ to create and sustain incomparable levels of success in a profession where the best of the best don’t stick around for long. As the legendary coach himself once said:
Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
What is Humility?:
To fully understand what type of humility is needed to sustain meaningful success over the longterm, the type of humility that allowed John Wooden to achieve immortalized status, we can compare the personal quality with its negative opposite of egotistical pride. Where as a humble individual thinks of themselves as a never-ending work in progress, understands that they don’t know all there is to know and is constantly looking for ways to improve themselves and the processes they use to accomplish their goals, an individual soaked in their own pride thinks of themselves as the the world’s greatest gift, believes they have the answer to everything and assumes that everything they touch automatically turns to gold. Moreover, while individuals who exhibit true humility put their own acclaim second to team focused endeavors and tie their success to something bigger than themselves, egotistical individuals are concerned primarily with their own personal greatness and will do anything and everything, including undermining their peers, to make themselves shine.
It’s important to point out that although the put your head down and get to work mentality of humble individuals is often misconstrued for a lack of self-confidence, the truth is they operate this way because they fully understand that there is always an opportunity to learn and improve themselves, especially when faced with a challenge. While the show-boat is devastated when they inevitably get knocked of their pedestal, the individual veiled in humility cherishes the opportunity to take something from their mistakes so they can be better the next time around. The celebrated English Quaker and founder of the state of Pennsylvania, William Penn, so adequately tells us of the difference between humility and egotistical pride:
Humility and knowledge in poor clothes excel pride and ignorance in costly attire.”
Why is Humility Important?:
To gain an understating of why humility is so important to develop for an individual who want to sustain meaningful success over the longterm, we can turn our attention to one of the most iconic business books to be ever be published. It was in 2001 when celebrated management expert and author Jim Collins released Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, in which he illuminates seven distinctive characteristics of 11 sustainably great companies. Throughout the book’s pages, which is based upon findings from over five years of research by a team of 20 plus, the author not only dissects the reasons why some companies are able to sustain great results over the longterm but also makes mention to a variety of surprises he and his team encountered along the way.
When discussing the characteristic of Level 5 Leadership, Collins talks about how he was bewildered to discover the attributes shared by the men who lead the truly great company. While the research team expected to find egotistical yet charismatic leaders at the head of each great business, what they actually discovered was that the individuals most responsible for their respective company’s great results always put the organization’s goals ahead of their own, willfully went to work while shying away from the limelight and acted with a stoic yet humble resolve. Collins tells us of the great companies leaders:
Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious–but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”
While each and everyone of us assuredly isn’t the leader of a major corporation, it is certain that we all have desires to create sustainable levels of success and the concepts of From Good To Great, which can easily be applied to our own personal lives, shows us that humility is a must. By cultivating an attitude of humbleness, we’ll be able to better foster important relationships, stand tall in the face of adversity, patiently forge ahead on the path towards true success and modestly aim higher after we have achieved whatever it is we set out to achieve. The late great Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore reminds us:
We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility.”
Sustaining Meaningful Successful of Humility:
Regardless of what your exact goals, desires and vision for the future may be, it is certain that you can accelerate the process of manifesting your dreams by committing yourself to living with humility. Now that we’ve examined what the personal quality is and illuminated the reasons that it is vital for sustaining success over the long-term, we can shift our focus to look at a variety of undertakings that’ll help us cultivate an attitude of humbleness within. Just as the individuals who’ve achieved truly historical success by developed and maintaining humility with various practices and ways of thinking, we can all but assure ourselves of lifelong prosperity by committing ourselves to the following strategies:
Based upon the wide variety of scientific and spiritual benefits that naturally come from meditation, it would be foolish for us to not commit ourselves to maintaining a regular practice. While these benefits certainly aren’t limited to the development of a humble attitude, it is certain that we will begin to live more humbly by stilling our minds in meditation practice. Because meditation naturally results in increased levels of self-awareness, we can become more adept at finding flaws in ourselves and our success strategies while also becoming more tuned into and in control of our egotistical side. Additionally, because the practice of meditation naturally purifies the mind, we’ll begin living with a healthier outlook on life.
Commit Yourself to Lifelong Learning & Growth:
While there is obviously some variation in the activities practiced by the many individuals who’ve humbly achieved iconic success, there is no doubt that each and everyone of them committed themselves to lifelong learning and personal growth. In fact, because it is often at the exact moment we become complacent, thinking that there is nothing else to learn or that we’ve become all that we can become, that our opportunities to create meaningful success begin to stall, there may not be a more important humility-related activity to undertake. Furthermore, because the methods, practices and activities for creating success in the ways we desire are continuously improving and evolving, making the commitment to lifelong learning and personal growth is unquestionably vital to stay on top.
Make Your Life About Something Bigger Than Yourself:
In the western world, many people forever remain unsatisfied with life because they falsely assume that the fulfillment they crave at the core of their being can be found in externals successes, monetary wealth and material possessions. The truth is, however, that because these things and the pleasure feelings they supply us with are impermanent in nature, we’ll never be able to find satisfaction by achieving externally. It is for this reason, that truly meaningful success is only possible when we make our life about something bigger than ourselves. Fortunately we can do this by aiming to achieve our deepest desires and focusing on making a positive difference in the lives of others.
Understand The Importance Of Relationships:
If anyone of us is to sustain meaningful levels of success of the course of a lifetime, it will be imperative that we understand the importance relationships play. Not only is it vital to focus on positively impacting the lives of the individuals we come in contact with, but also to realize the massive benefits that come from cultivating relationships built upon openness, honesty and respect. By coming to understand how important relationships are for our own happiness and success, while also realizing that our perspective is limited in nature, we can actively seek to communicate in search of understanding, input and feedback, all of which can be used to improve ourselves as individuals. To foster the most beneficial types of relationships, it’ll be extremely important to put team aspirations before our own, refrain from egotistical seeking praise and refuse to take negative criticism as a personal attack.
Aim For Excellence While Searching For Improvement:
While each of the previous four strategies will certainly help us develop an attitude of humbleness, what is truly most important is to live with the motto of aiming for excellence while searching for improvement. If we do this, with the understanding that success is created in the attention to details, we’ll be able to produce the best possible results while continuously improving our abilities and skills. By keeping our heads down, putting in the work and doing the little things that lead to big results, all while searching for ways to improve ourselves, we can assure that we’ll humbly become the best people we can become.
As you can now hopefully see, there is a variety of ways that we can cultivate humility within ourselves. By undertaking a meditation practice, committing ourselves to continuously learning and growing, making life about something bigger than ourselves, cultivating meaningful relationships, and continuously aiming for excellence while searching for improvement, it is certain that we can naturally infuse ourselves with the type of humbleness that leads to sustainable levels of meaningful success. Now, to end this article, we can return to the wise words of legendary coach John Wooden who tells us:
Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”