Over-Humility

By Jed Cartledge. Jed, 15, studies at Queen Elizabeth School, Lancaster, UK. Please read his article and leave thoughts and comments below.

Modesty is a virtue… but is too much of it a bad thing? In our country and many others, I believe society has inbred within us the heinous quality of over-humility, which can have detrimental impacts for people who practice it. Albert Einstein once told society that: ‘I have no special talent. I am just passionately curious’. Is he – one of the world’s most accomplished and decorated physicist – really speaking truthfully when he says this? Or is he just complying with an inherently pointless and old-fashioned etiquette of humbling one’s self to the point of insanity?

Observing my friends further demonstrates this point. When honoured at our school’s award ceremonies or simply complimented by a teacher, they don’t smile, they don’t seem pleased with themselves, but instead they keep their head down and look shyly around, as if to say ‘I don’t really deserve this award do I?’ The stigmatisation of self-aggrandisement means that my friends are perennially concerned that people are judging them for being arrogant.

Now, I will admit that this is not an issue for everyone. Many people have struck the crucial balance between casual modesty and and its extremer version. However, there are many more, in particular schoolchildren, who are overly humble and for whom this is a big problem.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters, I’d argue that the world isn’t kind to overmodest people. There is a phrase ‘blowing your own trumpet’ and it is, at least in moderation, a critical skill for life and one which ameliorates chances at auditions, job interviews and in other application processes. If you’re wanting to convince investors to get behind your new start-up, you can’t appear meek and unassuming. You – and excuse the cliché – really have to blow your own trumpet and have a sizable opinion of your capabilities. Else, they’re not going to think that you’re the best candidate.

When employers consider who to promote, they will be looking for the most suitable, accomplished, clear-headed and confident person for the job. With limited time and budget, they will pick the person who – and I apologise again – blows their own trumpet and makes themselves and their abilities known. It will not be the quiet self-deprecator whose only boast in life is a low estimate of his own importance.

Not just a problem for yourself, over-humility can be really annoying for the people around you. If your friend won the Nobel Peace Prize, the last thing you’d want them to say would be: “well, it was nothing really.” Just how fist-clenchingly, stomach-wrenchingly maddening would that be? Moreover, if they weren’t proud of their great achievement, how would that make you feel about your lesser ones?

Furthermore, humbling yourself to an insane degree in public can easily permeate into your private life. If you are constantly playing yourself down to other people, you are at risk of deceiving your mind that you are in fact an underwhelming person. By not accepting praise for your achievements, you deceive your mind that they are not praiseworthy enough. (You also deny yourself the great joy of celebrating them.)

Over time, such self-deceit can have detrimental impacts on your mental wellbeing. Not thinking much of yourself can cause and worsen depression, and thinking that your achievements mean nothing can make your existence feel less satisfactory. Just how many suicides could have been prevented if people simply thought better of themselves?

To solve this problem, I believe we all need to be a bit prouder of ourselves and others. Imagine the scenario: you have just won a writing competition. Are you keeping your head down? Holding in a smile? Don’t. Let a smile naturally broaden outwards and hold your head high. That’s not boastful. Or arrogant… It is a perfectly normal reaction to a piece of good news. Additionally, the world needs to develop the skill of blowing one’s own trumpet. For, after all, it’s a big world out there… and sometimes you’ve got to shout to be heard.

48 comments on “Over-Humility

  1. Jenny Wood on

    I’d never really considered this issue but now I’ve read it, I have to agree with the author. I think over-humility is a problem and I think it certainly does disadvantage people in the world of work. Really interesting and well-written – well done.

    Reply
      • Alistair on

        Is this really the biggest issue at the moment? We’ve got massive socioeconomic uncertainty and political disillusionment and all you want to prattle on about is an incredibly niche and inane non-existent problem. Come on man.

        Reply
        • Phillip Ashton on

          When compared to the topics you’ve mentioned Alistair, everything seems unimportant. But the fact is that this young lad has made a fabulous essay about an existent problem is nothing to be scorned at. I can do nothing but respect this young person’s essay.

          Reply
    • Mike Burnside on

      I looked up over-humility online and there really isn’t anything about it. Your concept is really original so a big well-done! The world certainly won’t be kind to overly humble people. I do find myself agreeing with your first point which was to say that modesty is a virtue, but too much of it is a bad thing. It’s like many things in life! Analytical but well-written essay.

      Reply
    • Mike Burnside on

      I looked up over-humility online and there really isn’t anything about it. Your concept is really original so a big well-done! I do find myself agreeing with your first point which was to say that modesty is a virtue, but too much of it is a bad thing. It’s like many things in life! Analytical but well-written essay.

      Reply
  2. Grace Cornford on

    This captivating essay enlightened myself on the detrimental effects of over-humility. After reading this I now think alike with the writer. Captured my attention from the get go- incredible!

    Reply
      • Miles Burnwick on

        I do find myself agreeing with your first point which was to say that modesty is a virtue, but too much of it is a bad thing. It’s like many things in life! Analytical but well-written essay.

        Reply
    • Mike Burnside on

      I looked up over-humility online and there really isn’t anything about it. I do find myself agreeing with your first point which was to say that modesty is a virtue, but too much of it is a bad thing. It’s like many things in life! Analytical but well-written essay.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous on

    People at QES seem rather happy obtaining their “awards” – they smile, and receive their clapping from others. However, it should be obvious that they don’t want to go around bragging about their achievements as it could easily upset those who didn’t get the awards they spent all year working for. People also don’t want to be classified as having ‘Hyper-
    Inflated Egos’ it as such. It isn’t Over-Humility but instead not being egotistical.
    Anonymous Person

    Reply
    • Jed Cartledge on

      I agree with you that there is a fine line between arrogance and celebrating yourself however I think there is a difference. What I am, I suppose, getting at here is the shyness and awkwardness which grips people in situations when they do need to celebrate themselves. Thank for your comment though.

      Reply
  4. Anonymous on

    Personally think that this piece of writing is a masterpiece. But I think that the reason that your friends don’t want to brag about their awards is because they are not big headed fools. Otherwise WELL DONE Jed I think this is great.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous on

    This piece of writing is extremely thought provoking. I believe that for things like your CV, it’s good to be a bit boastful, and if you receive an award, you should be proud of it, however I wouldn’t then tell everybody I meet for the next 2 weeks about it. Overall, stunning essay, would definitely read more from Jed.

    Reply
  6. Elliot Browne on

    Some very interesting points that I had never considered before were brought up in this article. I agree with the writer that people should be more proud of there own personal achievements and talk about them more.

    Reply
  7. Jonathan Whiteley on

    Wow Jed you are really insightful for a 15 year old. I can’t believe that such a young mind produced such an incredible masterpiece. Jed, you should definitely consider publishing your work in the future because I think that the world could really benefit from such wisdom. I can only imagine the kind of thing that you will produce in the future. Absolutely fantastic! Well done!

    Reply
  8. Lee Van Cleef on

    Really enjoyed this article.
    Interestingly sports people being awarded prizes rarely show any of this self depreciation. Imagine if England won the World Cup and didn’t show any outward signs of celebration!

    Reply
    • Brian Fishwick on

      Do you actually think that it’s bad for people’s mental health? And Do what percentage of the population does this cause an issue for?

      Reply
  9. Kath Anderton on

    A very well thought out & interesting article Jed. Your writing skills are very well developed for someone so young & I hope you will continue to use these skills in later life.

    Reply
  10. Karen Servadei on

    Well I am really impressed with your writing and how you discuss the concept of over humility.
    A very mature and thoughtful piece indeed.
    Well done.

    Reply
  11. John Allen on

    I was just wondering, do you think over-humility affects a certain demographic of people more (e.g. an ethnic minority)? And do you believe that it gets worse or better with age?

    Reply
    • Jed Cartledge on

      Hi John,
      I think that people’s confidence grows over age and thus, they become less over-humble. I believe a private school education leads to much more confidence as well, so if I was to name one group least affected, it’d be the wealthy demographic. Groups who are regular prejudiced and discriminated are more likely to be less confident so I believe ethnic minorities might suffer more from over-humility. Hope this answers your question?

      Reply

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