Both Humble and Confident

Humility and confidence are both attributes that I strive to emulate.  But doing both at the same time can feel like a paradox.  When I try to be “humble” I come across as insecure, the opposite of confident.  And when I try to be “confident” I come across as prideful, the opposite of humble.  Is it even possible to be confident and humble at the same time?  I’ve always felt the answer is yes, but I used to think that to have both I basically needed to balance on a tightrope!  But recently, I figured out I was just approaching the dilemma from the wrong angle.  Turns out I can simplify and intensify my success through this easy formula: be bold with love.

Humility and confidence aren’t the only attributes I wrestled with.  I always strive to be a little more like Christ each day, but when I try to get into the specifics of how to do that, then I start telling myself, “Okay, today make sure you remember to be confident, remember to be humble, remember to take initiative, to be observant, to be a good listener, to be responsible, to be patient, to be kind, to be brave, to be focused, to ask good questions . . .”

No one can remember a list like that, much less fulfill it.  But if all you do all day is remind yourself, “Be bold with love,” then you don’t have to remember all the other attributes because they come automatically.

Working to improve yourself is a great idea, but being too focused on attributes like confidence and humility can actually backfire.  For example, deciding “I’m going to be confident” makes you feel like you’re the underestimated good guy and everyone else is the enemy trying to prove your incompetence.  Forced confidence can create a barrier between you and others.  Maintaining confidence causes you to “fake it till you make it” and forces you to pretend to knowledge and skill that you don’t have.  That’s why people see you as prideful, because they can tell you’re insincere.

So how is telling yourself to be bold with love more effective than telling yourself to be confident and humble?  In communication, boldness means you say it like it is.  You say how you really feel, and that’s what makes you come across as confident.  Love means you’re saying it for the benefit of others, not just yourself.  You’re saying it for the right reasons, and that’s what makes you come across as humble.

So if you want to be humble and confident, stop trying.  The times in my life when I’ve tried the hardest to be humble and confident are the time when I’ve been the worst at it.

You might think that boldness, like forced confidence, would also cause you to be perceived as prideful.  But you don’t have to be bold about just the things you know.  You can also be bold in admitting that you don’t know something, and that kind of boldness actually makes you humble.

I think most of us try at least to be “nice” and confident at the same time, and we’re only bold in extreme cases, or when we feel like we have to be.  Being bold with love on a constant basis is hard at first, but once you get the hang of it then everything because ten times easier, because everything that is complicating your life now comes from either a lack of love or from a lack of boldness with that love.

Why do boldness and love go together?  I said earlier that when you focus on being bold with love then all other attributes come naturally.  This is because all positive attributes are just a form of love.  But if love is the root of everything, why do we need to remember boldness then?  Why can’t we make things even simpler by just focusing on love?

For me, remembering boldness is necessary because it helps me remember what true love really is.  Boldness without love is pride and rudeness.  But love without boldness, believe it or not, is also pride and rudeness.  Consider this scripture:

“Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.”-Moroni 8:16

If you have love, but you aren’t bold with that love, then there is fear involved.  And if there is fear, then what you have isn’t actually love.

Take my mission, for example.  In my companionships, I saw myself as the more humble one, and so in my mind I was the designated “peacemaker.”  (At the time, I thought being a peacemaker meant avoiding conflict.)  There were many things my mission companions did that got on my nerves or decisions they made that I didn’t agree with (I’m not talking about breaking the mission rules, I’m just talking about little things like where and when to go shopping or which lesson to teach an investigator).  But in order to be a “peacemaker” I decided not to “challenge” them but instead I either hinted at what I wanted or just went along with whatever they wanted.  I thought I would generate more love and harmony this way.  I thought I was showing “love.”  But more often than not, my companions grew to resent me until conflict became inevitable.  Why?  Because they could feel that I wasn’t saying what I was actually thinking, so they drew their own conclusions about what I was thinking.  They felt like I was judging them.  They were not feeling loved at all.

Being a peacemaker isn’t about avoiding conflict, it’s about communication.  And to prevent further conflict in the future, you must use bold communication.  In trying to be “humble” by always letting my companions have their way, I was actually being prideful by assuming that I was the one making peace possible and by assuming that my companions couldn’t “accommodate” as well as I could.  Also, I was protecting myself from “failure,” because if things went wrong then it was “my companion’s fault” and not mine, because she was the one who made the decision.  My goal was my own humility and confidence.  Thus, by trying to make it all about my companion, I was actually making it all about me.

To some people, being bold comes naturally.  But the people who we normally call “bold” also tend to seem loud, rude, and unconcerned about what others think of them or how others feel.  Thus, when more quiet, sweet, and polite people are challenged to be bolder, their gut reaction inside is, “But if I’m bold, I’ll feel rude!  I might offend someone!  I might start a fight!  People might not like me!  And I don’t know how to handle conflict and contention!”

Well, maybe it would help to realize that trying too hard to avoid conflict can actually create conflict.

I recently read a book by Deborah Tannen called You Just Don’t Understand, and it helped me change my perspective about being bold in communication.  The book is about the differences in conversation styles between genders, so it focuses on comparing women and men, but I think the concept of avoiding conflict applies to many types of relationships, regardless of gender.  So when the book refers to “men” and “women” I just translate those words in my mind to different personality types.

Tannen explains that women formulate their requests as proposals and suggestions rather than orders to make it easy for others to express other preferences without provoking a confrontation.  This is why women are more indirect and “complicated.”  Men on the other hand, tend to assume that if others have different preferences then they will volunteer those preferences without being invited to do so.  Men, in the hierarchical order that they find and feel themselves in with other men, are accustomed to being straightforward in telling others what to do and in challenging others who tell them what to do.  But women, from the social structure they develop with female friends from an early age, do not learn to resist others’ demands on principle and don’t expect others to resist theirs on principle either.

“It is not that women do not want to get their way, but that they do not want to purchase it at the cost of conflict.  The irony . . . . is that the differences between men’s and women’s styles doom their efforts.  The very moves that women make to avoid confrontation have the effect of sparking it in conversation with some men.  Insofar as men perceive that someone is trying to get them to do something without coming right out and saying so, they feel manipulated and threatened by an enemy who is all the more sinister for refusing to come out in the open.”–You Just Don’t Understand, p. 155

So don’t be afraid of conflict.  There is a difference between conflict and contention.  I know it’s easy to see conflict as a threat to intimacy.  But actually, conflict (when done with love) leads to greater respect and therefore greater intimacy.

If you really love someone, their long-term happiness is more important than temporary peace.  There have been two or three instances in my life when I loved someone so much that it didn’t matter to me what they thought of me anymore.  I loved them enough to say what I believed they needed to hear for their own good—fully knowing that my bold words might cause them to dislike me or might make it so we couldn’t be the same kind of friends we were before.  It wasn’t until those moments that I knew I was capable of true love.

Being a “nice person” is not the same as feeling and showing love.  For example, when I feel like being nice to my mom (or in other words, when I have “love” without boldness) then I might ask her, “Can I help you cook dinner?”  And more often than not she’ll say, “No, that’s okay, I’m fine,” and then I go on my merry way.  But if I’m feeling true, deep love for my mom that day, then I will look past her words and see that she really does want help, and then I’ll boldly jump in and start helping her anyway.  

I distinguish boldness from confidence in that confidence is being very sure of something whereas boldness is your willingness to take risks.  Yes, sometimes being bold can go badly.  But, more often than we realize, being bold (with love!) can make the relationship ten times stronger and more beautiful than it was before, especially when the initial shock of your boldness wears away and awareness of truth sets in.

If you want to try an experiment, tell yourself at least ten times a day “Be bold with love.”  I promise you will feel power surging through you.  You will notice things you’ve never noticed before.  After a while, you’ll feel like you’re floating on air.  You won’t necessarily feel humble and confident, but that’s how other people will perceive you.

After all, telling yourself to be bold with love is just another way of saying, “Be like Christ.”

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