Humility is underrated

Earlier this year, the Harvard Business Review blog network (no threat to the Huffington Post) featured a post by Tony Schwartz that offered 12 lessons the writer had learned in his first six decades. Normally, lists like these feel pretty self-serving, but something struck me about Schwartz's piece, and I've been holding on to it ever since I read it.

I'm still a reasonably good heave from 60, but the age is no longer one that seems impossible to imagine. I suppose that's a part of the post's appeal, but its tone is also unusual. Even though it appears on a business blog, all of the advice is fundamentally personal.

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest (and I am sure that it remains so, in many places). That gave me the idea to try revisiting each of the 12 ideas over the next 12 Sundays, as lessons we all might think about. We can start with the first of Schwartz's observations:

The more we know about ourselves, the more power we have to behave better. Humility is underrated. We each have an infinite capacity for self-deception — countless unconscious ways we protect ourselves from pain, uncertainty, and responsibility — often at the expense of others and of ourselves. Endless introspection can turn into self-indulgence, but deepening self-awareness is essential to freeing ourselves from our reactive, habitual behaviors.

This theme resonated with me on a couple of fronts. While I am inclined to seek data to underpin my arguments and challenge my own assumptions, I've also been overwhelmed of late by the wealth of data that I've yet to consider. Keeping up ultimately requires energy, focus and persistence, all of which seem to come and go with little warning.

Self-awareness also surfaces a real concern I have in middle age: calcification around positions and solutions. It's nice to have friends who agree with me, and I like agreeing with my friends. But that's also a fairly cozy echo chamber.

To overcome that risk, I am trying to get out more, read differently and ask more questions of myself and others. I've taken a few small steps.

Since finishing my work on Book: A Futurist's Manifesto, for example, I've tried to change my reading a bit, spending less time on publishing and more time on books that tackle related issues. Clay Johnson's The Information Diet and Doc Searls' The Intention Economy are two examples.

Small steps are good, and I need to take more. I've learned a lot in my first five-plus decades here, but in the grand scheme of things it's just a drop in the bucket. There's always more to learn and contribute.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.