Humility: The Jet Fuel For Your Career

Humility: The Jet Fuel For Your Career

There’s a recipe for supercharging your career and it contains an unlikely ingredient that isn’t talked about very much: Humility.

Humility is the voice in our head that breaks through our chutzpah and tells us we don’t know everything after all. It helps us seek out the right mentors and it helps us listen carefully when they speak truth to us.

I grew up in a rural North Carolina in the 1960’s and early 70’s. The southern way was to respect your elders. Those values sustained me even when Woodstock and the counter-culture had different ideas.

I always had a reverence for the older men and women in my family. I knew they weren’t perfect, but I admired them anyway. Some had fought in World War II and lived to tell about it. They literally saved the world and then came home to start families, buy houses, build businesses and jump start our already supercharged economy.

We weren’t rich by any means but we always had what we needed. My people were all hard workers. They abhorred excuses. They woke up every day and they got busy with whatever was on their plate that day.

Most of them were kind to me and they cared how I turned out and what I did with my life. They bent the twig, so to speak, and I am forever grateful for that. I’m no Pollyanna, but I grew up thinking that it was right to give people the benefit of the doubt, no matter their age or position.

Sometimes I had to confront people older than me to get what I perceived as justice. Here’s one example. Upon finishing my Bachelor degree in business with high marks, I applied for the MBA program. I received a timely acceptance into the program but the request for financial aid was left unanswered.

Scholarships were being passed out, but not to me. I waited thinking surely my turn would come next. But worry set in… the longer I waited the less chance I had. Finally, with the Fall semester quickly approaching, I got in my car and drove the 100 miles to my school. On the two-hour drive, I rehearsed a number of “pitches” in my head knowing I had one shot to get this right. Once on campus, I swung by the Registrar’s office and got an official transcript of my grades. Then, I waited until the MBA Director could see me.

Invited in, as I took a seat, I politely placed my grades on his desk in his direct line of sight. I pointed to my stellar GPA and said, “I desperately want my MBA. I don’t have any money, but you do….”

After a few moments studying my grades he looked up and said, “Okay, I will give you a Work Assistantship for one semester and see how you do.” I thanked him profusely for giving me a chance. Walking out of the building, I felt like I won the lottery!

When I got out of MBA school, I owed less than a thousand dollars. I am grateful to the Director for helping me make that happen.

Looking back, I realize I should have raised my hand sooner. I’ve learned that having the goods (in this case, the grades) is not enough. Don’t expect others to find you. You have to navigate around barriers and stake your claim but always do it with humility.  In the end, the Director did the right thing. He just needed some nudging.

This lesson has stayed with me. I’ve learned to speak up for myself but to always put  myself in the other person’s shoes for a minute. Show them some grace.

I carried that attitude into my corporate life and not surprisingly found great mentors there as well that taught me the ropes and helped me rise through the ranks. Most of them were men; men who cared; men who weren’t intimidated by me; men who took the time to help me figure it out.

I had to be humble to accept that kind of help. I had to trust that they had my best interest at heart and sure enough they did.

I have tried since then to surround myself with mentors and counselors like that who will speak the unvarnished truth into my life. I have been on a corporate board since 2003 and most of my mentors on that board have been men. Very wise men, by the way, who have taught me much. I have wise women who counsel me as well. I am grateful for them all.

Success has other ingredients besides humility, of course; training, experience, education, drive, brainpower, just to name a few. But if we have all of these things but lack the willingness to ask for help and admit that we need it, we are likely to fail more often than we would if we had the right guidance.

So, find your mentors. Humble yourself and ask for the help you need. Trust these people and their motives. I have found that most people are good and they sincerely want to help when asked.

Find your people and rise.

Originally posted on Jan 21, 2020 Contributor

It is a true privilege to be a columnist at Forbes. Forbes is a community of talented people with deep knowledge in their genre.

Temper your expectations of yourself. Being “perfect” is fruitless.