In November, we are focusing on humility, which is defined as a modest view of one’s importance. We think humility is a crucial trait to be good mothers, daughters, and contributing members of society. This week, we share our thoughts on the challenges of being humble and set intentions to work on this trait:

Ellen…

I define humility more by what it’s not than what it is: It’s not bragging or being arrogant. It’s not being proud or self-impressed. I don’t think I’m over-confident or think of myself as being better than others, but I think I could use some self-improvement measures in the area of being proud of my accomplishments.

I have always been driven to accomplish, to do well in whatever endeavor I take on.  When I was school age, my focus was on getting “A”s, and I would not settle for less. Now, my impulse to excel is expressed differently – I want to be a “good” wife, parent and grandparent, I want to give to others, I want to do great work for my clients.

While I think these are worthwhile things to work towards, why do I feel the desire to tell others about my accomplishments? Sometimes, I think it’s because I’m proud and excited and want to share my successes with friends and family. But other times, I wonder if I have a need for praise and question where that is coming from. Is it an underlying lack of self-confidence?

If I were truly humble, I would not need to tell people the great things I’m doing; I would just do them. Truly humble people recognize their own talents and achievements but don’t take credit for them – in fact, they wonder whether they have used their gifts to their full potential.

So, my intention for the month of November is not to tell others about my accomplishments and observe how it feels. I liken it to giving anonymously to charity and not letting anyone know you gave!

Jenna is also very accomplished and often gets kudos for her successes. Does she struggle with the same desire to share her achievements with others?  If so, did she get that trait from me? Of course, Jenna tells me about her triumphs…but I’m her mom, so that’s okay. As long as I don’t share them broadly with others because I don’t want to be a bragger!

Jenna…

To answer my mom’s questions above, the answer is “yes” to all!  Similar to my mom, I am often really passionate about projects I’m working on and want to share them with the world. But as I continue to grow as an adult, I notice the fine balance between sharing things I am proud of and running the risk of appearing boastful.

I think this is an interesting tension, particularly for women, and one that is especially apparent to me in business school. When men appear confident and share their strengths, they are looked up to and praised. When women appear confident and talk about their successes, they are often thought of as overpowering and arrogant. I think what underlies this perception difference is that we as women often compare ourselves to one another. One woman’s success tends to make another woman feel inadequate.

At the same time, I feel ridiculously grateful for so many things in my life, and I never want to let that get to my head. I have so many blessings that I had little impact on: my health, amazing family and friends, education and job opportunities, just to name a few. While I think I have maximized many of these gifts through hard work, I recognize many aspects of my life are just lucky – and that’s a very humbling thought.

In Judaism, humility is considered the highest character trait a person can embody – which is probably why its’ so complex and hard to achieve on a daily basis! This month, I have a few intentions I want to work on to be more humble. First, when I am feeling frustrated or angry by my circumstances, I really want to pause and put things in perspective. I am a very lucky woman and I want to remain humble and recognize that life can’t always be perfect. For me, I want to focus on these thoughts during meditation and when I journal at night.

Second, I intend to place importance on others’ needs over my own. To me, this is the epitome of humility and requires lots of other traits, such as empathy, compassion, and active listening. In practice, I want to focus more on listening than talking when I catch up with loved ones on the phone; I want to look at daily interactions from others’ perspectives and understand where they are coming from; and I want to demonstrate my love for people around me by putting their needs before my own.

But most of all, I want to apply this trait to my mom. I want to make sure I’m listening to her and prioritizing her needs too. I think these things are natural for a mother but much harder for a daughter, since we are often the receiver in the relationship as a child. But now that I’m older and we are equals, I think this is a good time to recognize that my needs are not always the most important and I can do more to make her feel valued in our relationship.

At the beginning of the year, we chose 12 character traits that we both wanted to improve – individually and in how we relate to each other. In the first post of every month, we discuss one of the traits and set intentions, and at the end of the month, we share how we did. This week, we’ve set our intentions for the trait of humility.If you’re interested in reading our posts on other character traits, here are some blogs on PatienceSpirituality Compassion Listening Self-Confidence Mindfulness Health Creativity  Optimism and Generosity.