A long time ago a friend showed me that he kept his high school ID in his wallet.
“Whenever I get too full of myself I look at it.” he said.
I felt then and still do – that as neat as that idea was – I could never do it. I need to build myself up whenever I can, a slight drag on my self esteem can make me aware of all the other little drags on my sense of value and then I have to swim against the current to not go into a depressive spiral, even with my enhanced levels of skill and self awareness in this area it costs me a few hours or up to a day.
I’ve found the way to be humble is to be good at things. Not try to convince people you’re the best or better than they are but acknowledging the things you’re good at, accepting praise, finding things that are best done by you and feeling safe doing them. That’s internal humility.
Humility in the face of others is a little different. Whoever I’m engaged with I estimate their estimation of me and accept it. I don’t need to impose my estimations on them because it doesn’t work anyway. If I get a chance to show them something I’m good at then fantastic but I don’t need to steer the conversation that way. I never try to make people laugh, or think I’m smart. I either say what I’m thinking or I say nothing.
Back to self esteem though, I’m still terrible at dealing with drag. The worst I’ve felt in a long time has been doing these SAT practice tests. I’m doing better at everything else in my life including excelling at things that I couldn’t do 3 months ago and yet I fall into the trap of telling myself I’m worthless because math.
There’s a danger in doing the humble work of getting better at things you suck at. You spend a lot of time sucking at stuff, it not only hurts the self image I’m also afraid of it hurting my external image, my reputation, my relationship. Since people see me as smart and since I aim not to show off, all I’m doing is highlighting things I can’t do.
And I know I know, no one is thinking about you a millionth as much as you think they’re thinking about you and it’s all in my head but since that’s where I live I have to deal with the conditions there.
I’m scared to be seen not being great at things. I want to feel good and part of that is other people thinking good of me. I guess it’s odd that because I think I’m smart I’m not worried about people seeing me as smart yet because I don’t think I’m dumb I’m worried about people seeing me as dumb.
But no one’s a genius all the time to everybody. Even nuclear scientists back into fire hydrants.
Part of it is I’m not actually good at anything concrete. I skipped out on every challenge in life, I either coasted or quit. And instead I focused on much more vague, subjective, emotional things like writing and philosophy. I kind of started at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and am now working my way down.
I’ve never had a good balance of pushing myself, it’s always too hard or not at all. Often it winds up being both because I push myself extremely hard til I snap then the rest of the year is under a big cloud of fuck it.
I remember another recent time I felt below my emotional safety line. It was when I’d hurt my knees running. I assumed anyone could start running and ran everyday for a week and wound up with braces on both knees for two weeks. And I laid awake one night thinking this is it, I’m too old and broken and shitty to even use my body, I can’t even fall back on normal people shit to fill my worthless time.
I didn’t fight through the pain bravely and overcome. In fact, braving the pain is what caused me to fuck them up way more than I should have. I just did what I had to do to fix my knees and then went running again, lightly, to see if they’d recovered.
But maybe that’s the next form of humility, not telling yourself grandiose stories and just doing what you need to do. Don’t try and game your emotions just listen honestly to your body, to your capabilities, to your surroundings. Don’t worry about inflating or deflating your ego, worry about what needs to get done.