Since a young age, many of us have been taught the virtue of humility -- and by learning to maintain it, we’ve probably experienced a lot of benefits. For starters, when we keep a modest view of ourselves, we tend to be more open to learning from the world around us. To a large extent, any effective personal development system relies heavily on humility for honest self-reflection. Yet, so many of us tend to confuse humility with timidity, which seems altogether different.
While humility keeps us humble enough to grasp new life lessons and opportunities, timidity might cause us to hold back due to lack of confidence. In the New York Times bestselling book, The Book of Joy, written by Douglas Abrams, based on his interviews with his holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Tutu clarifies the difference between humility and timidity, “Humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts or shrink from using them.”
In a world where vulnerability seems to be the buzzword du jour, Archbishop Tutu’s statement seems incredibly relevant, especially for those of us who work within fields of personal and professional development. There is a delicate balance between accepting where we are weak in order to facilitate growth and development while also recognizing where we are empowered, strong and fully capable of making our own decisions. After all, if we don’t pay full attention to strengths, in addition to asking reflective questions that rely on humility, we’ll end up whitewashing the very gifts that will propel us forward.
I recently attended an introductory seminar with a major personal growth organization, which touts itself as a worldwide leader. Its teachings are indeed insightful, and its trainers are solid. Yet, despite my instructor’s authentic delivery of content, I left the seminar with an “off” feeling. It stemmed from the organization’s pressurized sales pitch, which heavily focused on participants buying its full weekend seminar. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the validity of asking for the sale, especially if we think we are offering value to satisfy someone’s needs or desires. Yet, the only way to really know if we are is to stop talking, start asking questions and actually listen to what others have to say. Unfortunately, this organization did a lot more talking than listening.
What was most disconcerting about this particular organization’s sales pitch was the way they capitalized on the participants’ previous acts of humility, shown during the evening’s training itself, only to later use this information as evidence for why the full weekend seminar was needed. So, what originally seemed like a harmless request to openly share vulnerabilities earlier suddenly became ammunition for an upsell. The gun was fully loaded, and it seemed like it had been turned against us.
The air of authority the instructors suddenly took on was shocking. They sat directly beside anyone not signing up, in order to give them the third degree about why they weren’t ready to “fix” their vulnerabilities by buying the weekend seminar. Apparently, or so it seemed, the only way anyone has fighting chance to succeed in life and experience “breakthroughs” was to attend their $600 seminar.
If someone intelligently questioned the reality of such a claim, she would be countered with some sort of response that seemed to question her levels of enlightenment, of course, impacting her ability to make her own choices. After all, without attending the workshop, the weakest version of our pasts would continue to fate us into making bad decisions for ourselves. So, apparently, we should allow “experts” (like them) to determine what is right for us. Seriously, these tactics are so backward it’s almost laughable, especially within the world of personal and professional development!
At the same time, I think this experience delivers great wisdom for anyone working within, or interested in, the field of personal growth. Not only is it honorable when people open up with humility, such courageous acts should never be confused with timidity. That’s right, just because people are self-aware enough to talk openly about their blind spots and moments of weaknesses does not mean they are incapable of accessing their own wisdom to speak up on their own behalves.
In coaching, there is a fundamental principle to always meet people where they are, and more importantly, always allow clients to steer their own agendas. So, the minute a personal development professional steers a client towards an outcome that only drives his own agenda, he’s officially crossed the line from being helpful to becoming manipulative. Any smart or mildly empathic person on the receiving end of this will sense the diversion from assistance, and it will always feel “off.”
So, listen up coaches, the humility our clients share with us during our sessions, webinars, full trainings or introductory evening seminars will always expose great learning opportunities for everyone. And, this type of vulnerability is a gift to each and every witness. So, we need to remember that a person’s ability to openly engage through the expression of personal humility is not an act of timidity but rather one of deep courage.
One of my favorite foundation principles in coaching is, "Each of us is greater and wiser than we appear to be," which I credit to a coaching program I am a lead trainer for, iPec. If we truly stand behind this principle, then there’s no need to convince anyone that they need anything at all, ever, simply because they were kind enough to share their vulnerabilities and humanity with us.
Better yet, if the wisdom we share as personal or professional development practitioners is insightful and genuine, then we can trust that it will align for those people it is intended. Meanwhile, we can also respect and trust other people’s ability to determine what’s best for themselves, even if it means our services are not a fit. Thankfully, everyone and everything is not for everybody, which is one of the many things that keeps our world alive and interesting.
This article and others like it can be found on forbes.com.