How to be HumbleNovember 30, 2011
Someone once told me that the secret to being humble is remembering that it’s not all about you.
“It’s” meaning the world, the day, the conversation at a coffee shop, the traffic jam you’re stuck in, etc.
My friend said that in order to really believe it’s not all about you, you have to believe that everyone is more interesting than you. The person who cleans your room at a hotel, the guy next to you in traffic, the businessman who sits next to you on a plane. Everyone.
I thought this was an impossible feat. And honestly, kind of dumb advice.
It sounded like the kind of thing people who are secretly incredibly arrogant say when they’re trying to pretend they’re humble. Everyone is more interesting than you? Come on. I’ve met some boring people, so have you. How in the world do you see everyone as more interesting than you?
It just seemed so silly, even when I heard brilliant minds like Jim Collins and Peter Drucker talk about this very issue. Drucker, a legend in the business world, once told Collins something like, “Stop being so interesting and start focus on being interested.” I still didn’t get it though.
But a few nights ago, on a plane ride from Denver, it suddenly made sense.
The people I meet are more interesting than me.
Well, I’ve always got access to me. I’m with me all the time. I can’t get away from me. I’m with me 24/7. But the lady on the plane who teaches special needs college students, and who is flying home to join her twin sister and the rest of her family to welcome her brother home from Iraq, where he’s been a fighter pilot? I’ll probably never see that lady again.
She’s got a really interesting story. And I’ll never, ever get to hear it again unless I ask her a few questions and admit that maybe me talking about myself in that moment isn’t the most interesting thing I could do.
Most of the people you bump into in an average day are only going to be there for a second or a minute. And then they’re gone, swept back into the rest of the day. And you’ve only got a moment to hear their story, a second to pause your busy life long enough to hear about somebody else’s. Your access is incredibly limited. They are more interesting than you. I promise.
Great, that covers intersections with strangers, but what about the people we see all the time? Coworkers, friends, family members. Why are they so interesting?
Because you already know your stories. You’ve heard them a dozen times. But the coworker who is so sarcastic he’s practically surly, you know that guy? He’s going to cry at lunch when you ask him about how he’s doing, because it turns out he’s walking away from the wreckage of a second divorce, and he’s exhausted carrying his story alone. It’s really heavy. And he’d gladly share it with you if you weren’t so focused on thinking it’s all about you.
And if you’ll ask people a question, more often than not they’ll tell you a story that will blow you away or make you laugh or cry or a million other things.
Because people are more interesting than you.
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