Humility vs. Self-Confidence

I find that the humility/self-confidence line is a hard one to straddle.  I have been taught that to have both characteristics is virtuous, but the reality of balancing the two is frustrating.  Does humility prevent self-confidence?  Or does self-confidence automatically prohibit humility?  Maybe I merely use humility as an excuse to not be over-confident?

Does anyone else struggle with this?

While I may appear to give the vibe of being very confident, in reality I doubt myself much of the time.  Self-confidence is an issue that comes up frequently in my field of work, being a woman in engineering.  Additionally, humility is not a character trait respected in academia.  Its almost as if you emit humility, you emit fear, and they seek and destroy.  Before I left for college my dad gave me these words of advice.

“If you learn anything, learn to have these two things:  patience and self-confidence.”

Those words have echoed in my head for the past what, almost 10 years now?  Unfortunately, so did another comment my dad made to my in high school.

“Do you think anyone would like you if you weren’t tall and blonde?”

You mean they wouldn’t still like me for my charming personality?  Not to paint my dad out to be a bad guy, he’s definitely the opposite and was usually very encouraging of me, which is probably why I took those words to heart.

It seems I am either extremely confident in what I do to the point of over-confidence or I doubt everything and fall back into thinking that the only reason I’m where I’m at is because they needed to fulfill a “tall, blonde girl” quota.  Middle ground in confidence is hard to come by.  Usually I get there by accepting the fact that I don’t need to be the absolute best at something in order to be proficient, my worth is not determined by what others think, and gloating is never appropriate, even as a response to gloating.


So, how do you maintain humility without losing all self-confidence?

11 thoughts on “Humility vs. Self-Confidence

  1. This may sound simplistic, but I think that TRUE humility (as opposed to false humility) goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence. If one is truly humble (meaning, one knows his place in the world and his place with God), then there is great confidence going forward. There is little chance that the truly humble would think that their talents and gifts, etc. came from anyone but God. So, they can be confident, because they can take credit for nothing. It’s all God’s doing, and God’s gifts. Does that make sense?

  2. I used to work in commercial real estate so I totally get how detrimental it can be to a woman who projects anything other than self-confidence or even bravado. That said, work isn’t everything but I suspect you’re well aware of that. This is my take: since humility is often a thought more than action, I find it helpful to be compassionate and show a great interest in other people’s problems in social situations. That doesn’t diminish your neat-o skills or personality, but shows one can put other’s before oneself.

    I’ve always projected self-confidence and I don’t think I can do anything else but I have received feedback that I appear conceited. I say keep up with believing in your goodness, but thank God for blessing you with talents. God made us the way we are and I find it helpful to thank Him in all good things. Go out and be fabulous!

  3. Great thoughts! I have often tried to figure this out. I think that it’s important to be confident, but I think that I big part of humility, speaking in the work force, anyway, seems to be willingness to listen to what others are presenting. At least, in my field anyway. Two thumbs up for Leila’s response!

  4. I like Leila’s response and do think that humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive and can and do go hand-in-hand. However, I do think people can and do use their God given gifts in less than humble ways. So I do not believe it is enough to just say my talents are from God so everything I am doing with them must be good. Does that make sense?

    In professional life, you have to pick your battles and it is a fine line. Professionally, your humility comes into play when you are willing to respectfully entertain everyone’s ideas and thoughtfully consider them (not just flat out rejecting them even when you initially think your course of action is better.) When you are wrong, admitting it without harping on it or beating yourself up. If you find that you are *never* wrong in your estimation, reflect on that a bit more if everyone else seems to think the opposite. Or, when you do have an accomplishment that was assisted by the work of others (and in my line of work, most accomplishments were team efforts), acknowledging that you “couldn’t have done it alone” and are appreciative of those who worked on it. (FTR: maybe all of this is specific to my former line of work, but I was a lone female in an all male firm and I often got that feeling that I was there to “fill a quota” or at least add more diversity.) At the end of the day and when you have done all those things, I do not think you can harp on “am I being humble enough” for too long or else you will lose confidence and confidence is necessary to be effective in almost any job. Being humble doesn’t mean you are supposed to be a punching bag or that you aren’t meant to stick to your guns.

    Like I said, all of this is maybe too specific to my line of work and may not be helpful here at all. ;) I do think this is a common problem that people have. I had Rudyard Kipling’s If poem in my office and it, for some reasons, always make me reflect on this stuff. Love that poem!

  5. Wow I can’t believe what your dad said. No wonder you have self-confidence struggles!!!

    I like comments 1 and 3 above.
    I understand your struggle but I think you are not putting the right idea under the word “humility” humility is not to be self-diminishing. In my mind humility is the opposite of self-centered. There is no shame in taking the credit for your accomplishments or being proud of a work well done, as long as you don’t boast yourself about it. Humility is to let Love shine through.

    ” Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
    it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
    it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
    It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    Love never fails.”
    Now just switch Love for your name and you’ll get a pretty good description of humility and self confidence.
    “rejoice with the truth” would be the key sentence to remember for your concerns. You can, and maybe should, really rejoice for the work you do, it is worthy of praise, it is good. And then balance it out with “not pompous, not inflated”..

    Jesus said ” I am meek and humble of heart” but he also said ” I am the Truth, the Life, the Way” how arrogant does that sound? Yet he is infinetly humble because he speaks the truth.

  6. I too struggle with this. I often think to myself ‘if they only knew…’ in regards to how much I worry and second guess myself. It has been hard to find a balance between the 2 in a supervisory position – how to be self-confident without coming across as snooty or a ‘know-it-all’ and how to stay humble when there are times I have to insist it is done my way.

    I wonder if men experience this struggle as much as women do?

  7. Wow, you guys have some great suggestions! Its comforting to hear that I’m not alone in this issue and Leila, I really like thinking of it from that angle! Thanks for sharing!

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