PAUL: Modesty may not be the best policy for one’s self

caroline-paul-headshotVanity is one of the seven deadly sins. Humility is one of the seven contrary virtues. Based on category alone, you might think that humility is better to practice than vanity. But humility might just be on the way out.

Think about it. You’ve probably been inundated with messages about your “personal brand” and making yourself stand out in the job market. Kind of hard to do when you’re busy making yourself seem like you have a middling to low opinion of yourself.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, humility is defined as the “state of you not thinking you are better than other people.”

If you are in a job interview, you’re going to have to think you’re better than all the other candidates if you really want the position. You can’t sit there and tell the interviewer that you’re a decent option, but no better than any of the other candidates. You have to sell yourself, not sell yourself short. And that goes for most things in life.

Professionally, you have to prove yourself in cover letters, project pitches and salary negotiations. Personally, you probably won’t lead a very happy existence if you always feel compelled to downplay your achievements and abilities. That kind of negativity can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At one level, humility is a fine thing. You probably shouldn’t just inherently believe that you’re superior to another human being. But at the same time, it’s highly likely that you’re better at something than another person.

You might be better at making mind-alteringly delicious lasagna, but the guy next to you might be very accomplished with needlepoint. So perhaps humility is more relevant when you take into account the talents and abilities of others with the aim of not just assuming you are better in every way.

We re-enter the danger zone when we think about modesty, humility’s longtime friend, defined as “not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.”

It seems a little vague with the qualification of proud and confident. One wonders where we draw the line and what “too” means. If you consider the connotative aspects of both humility and modesty, then you’re probably imagining someone who avoids excessive pride all together by just never bringing up their accomplishments, someone who demurs and does not accept praise well.

That is no way to live as you should be proud of you accomplishments. Part of self-love is talking to yourself positively. And for people who struggle with viewing themselves positively, sometimes the only way to be dug out of a hole of self-loathing is relying on a “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality.

It’s hard to fake self-appreciation if you also consider yourself bound to a “modest is hottest” societal perspective. But you are supposed to compliment yourself and celebrate your achievements when trying to boost your self-esteem.

So to add to the difficulty of unlearning internalized negativity, you also have to contend with the worry that people will find you vain for practicing your faked confidence. To be modest, you cannot be too confident. But if the only way to attain confidence is to fake it in excess until a healthy amount of it is real, then there’s no room to be concerned about being too confident.

Of course, there is a difference between healthy confidence and arrogant vanity. But imagine self-esteem as a spectrum, going from non-existent to an overabundance resulting in arrogance. On that spectrum, modesty is closer to the low extreme.

Misplaced humility can result in an estimate of self-worth that is too conservative, so go big or go home. Just learn to think the world of yourself.