How I Learned To Be Humble

The single most important lesson I learned from a decade of burning bridges and eating crow, and how I learned it

Cal Chan


Photo by Hisu lee on Unsplash

“I know you won’t care,” she told me, “but now I know why nobody likes you.” These were the parting words of one of my few friends in college, to whom I lost contact with, and to whom I am eternally grateful.

Those words marked a watershed moment for me, where the armor I wore to hide my depression broke, leaving me vulnerable and exposed. I didn’t change overnight, and after decades I still have a ways to go, but since that moment and moving forward I have worked on my personal concept of humility.

Working on humility has enabled me to continually grow. Remembering that my opinion is one of many has made me more open to critique and collaboration. Putting myself in other people’s shoes has enabled me to grow to places I couldn’t have imagined as a self-centered, negative egoist.

If there is one secret to success I can share, it is this: everything I’m most proud of has come from understanding the value of humility, and living as humbly as possible.

The Old Me: Self-Centered And Insecure

I had spent almost an entire decade (my college years and my dwindling professional design career thereafter) searching for myself, and in the process, regularly disregarding others. A lack of self-awareness, coupled with deep rooted insecurities, made me a very hard person to be around. I got my foot in the door at a number of great design firms through my relentless pursuit of success, but never got further than the audition phase because a lack of humility and a very myopic understanding of my place in the greater scheme of things.

To put it mildly, I was self-absorbed. The problem with not caring for or trying to understand others people’s opinions (particularly when you’re young) is that you’re just not that deep. No matter how many great ideas you think you have, your perspective on life is limited. In spending the time to understand others, you expand your perspective and add to your reservoir of knowledge, which enables you to live a more grounded life.