Before bed last night, I was reading my new friend Glennon Doyle Melton’s wonderful New York Times bestselling memoir Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed. What really resonated with me is a chapter called “The Golden Coin,” about how confidence and humility are two sides of one coin.
“We usually think of confidence and humility as character traits. She’s so confident. He’s so humble. But these character traits are easy to fake. Insecure people hide it by boasting. Prideful people hide behind false humility. It seems the more insecure a person is, the more likely she is to behave confidently. And vice versa. Tricky.
“Then there are people like me who just get the two constantly mixed up. Like when I write an essay about humility and then spend the rest of the day wondering whether it might actually be the best humility essay ever written by anyone in the history of the world. The character trait I am most proud of is my humility. I am so humble, it’s not even funny. Seriously, just don’t try to out-humble me. I will wreck your teeny little humility with my HUGE HUMILITY.
“Even though I feel like a lost cause in regard to this confidence/humility issue, I do think it’s an important thing to explore. Because if we are humble without confidence, we miss the opportunity to become what we want to be when we grow up. And if we are confident without humility, we miss out on becoming who we want to be when we grow up.”
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Adorably humble Glennon resolves the conflict by concluding that confidence and humility are two sides of the same coin, stemming from two beliefs she holds dear.
“I am confident because I believe I am a child of God. I am humble because I believe that everyone else is too.”
As I drifted off to sleep last night, I was musing about this fine balance. Am I confident? Yes. Mostly, I have faith that I will always land butter side up. Except when I’m not confident, like at 3:00 a.m. when I wake up in the midst of a dark night of the soul and all I want to do is call my Mommy. When this happens, I feel totally insecure and freaked out and afraid of failure and rejection and disappointing people. And I’m afraid everyone will find me out and discover that I’m not really so confident and it’s all a ruse. Like when I recently filmed my upcoming public television special, the confidence was a sort of armor, something I had to don before going into battle in the television studio, because, deep down, I was a terrified little girl afraid to fail. And I didn’t know how to survive the experience any other way.
So am I humble? Not enough. When you’re dressing yourself in confidence all the time so you can feel safe even when you’re waaaay out of your comfort zone, your humility can easily get bullied off the playground by your confidence. I have a hard time telling the difference between humility and my Gremlins sometimes. Is it humility or Gremlins that say, “Who do you think you are for believing you can do that crazy-ass thing?” Is it humility or Gremlins that whisper, “You don’t get to claim credit for that book you wrote. God does.” Who is speaking when the voice in my head says, “I feel too small to try this big thing.”
Sometimes, it’s really hard for me to tell the difference, so I tend to silence that humility voice, just in case it’s a Gremlin in disguise. But that gets ugly.
Confidence without humility just turns into swagger, and nobody wants to hang around someone with a big, swollen head.
My husband and I talk about this issue a lot regarding our daughter. She is the most genuinely confident being I’ve ever met. I mean this girl thinks she’s the bomb. And she is. Like all of us are.
But sometimes this little seven year old will just go off about how she has the world’s best singing voice and how she paints better than anyone and how she knows all of her times tables (way ahead of schedule) and how everybody at school loves her. All true statements. But Matt and I find ourselves asking whether we should be engaging in a bit of esteem-dampening.
How do you encourage confidence in your child while still teaching humility? I’d rather raise an overconfident child than an insecure one (the world will knock her down a notch soon enough). But I’m sure there’s a way to parent both sides of this coin. I just haven’t quite figured out how to do this yet.
We Are All Divine Sparks
When I first started blogging, a branding expert was interviewing me about my message, and she said, “Well, really, your tagline could be ‘You’re special, but you’re not special.’” But then she told me I couldn’t say that—not really. But she was right. We’re all special because we all have within us little pieces of divinity that I call your Inner Pilot Light. And we’re all not special because we’re all One, part of a collective consciousness that makes each of us no better or worse than anyone else, so any sense of specialness is merely an illusion.
To be able to hold this paradox signals real spiritual growth. Too many people feel invisible and powerless in a big, scary world. We need to be confident in order to feel secure in the knowledge that we belong and we matter so we can speak our truth, sing the song within us, express our life purpose, and make the world a better place in our own unique way.
But we also need to be humble, because every gift, every song within us, every loving relationship, every opportunity to be of service—it’s all grace in action. We don’t own it. We don’t even earn it. It is bestowed upon us because we are children of the Divine, and the Divine loves to witness itself fully manifest in human form. So humility is paramount. Credit always belongs to the One who makes all confidence-worthy gifts and accomplishments possible. And every single one of us has equal potential to express the Divine gifts within.
The Gift of Grace
As I awoke this morning in Olympic National Park on a family vacation with my husband, daughter, and mother, I meditated on the idea of grace, and it was very humbling. I thought of all the blessings bestowed upon me that I’ve done nothing to earn. I haven’t always been a great wife, but my husband loves me in spite of my failings. I haven’t always been a great mother, but my daughter forgives me for being imperfect. I definitely haven’t always been a great daughter, and, yet, my mother loves me still.
And although I have turned my back on God many times in my life, I am ever aware of the gift of God’s grace. What exactly is grace?
Webster’s defines grace as “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”
But I like the way Glennon describes it better.
She writes, “I like to compare God’s love to the sunrise. That sun shows up every morning, no matter how bad you’ve been the night before. It shines without judgment. It never withholds. It warms the sinners, the saints, the druggies, the cheerleaders—the saved and the heathens alike. You can hide from the sun, but it won’t take that personally. It’ll never, ever punish you for hiding. You can stay in the dark for years or decades, and when you finally step outside, it’ll be there. It was there the whole time, shining and shining. It’ll still be there, steady and bright as ever, just waiting for you to notice, to come out, to be warmed.”
That is how I think about grace. You don’t earn it. You can’t lose it. It’s there whenever you’re ready to receive it. And as long as grace is there—whether from God or anyone else who genuinely loves you—it’s pretty impossible not to be humbled.
What About YOU?
Are you confident? Are you humble? Which side of the coin do you land on most often and why? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities—HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.
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