“Humbled”

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my laptop and go-to study playlist and began my first ever practice GRE exam. I was THAT jerk in high school who never even looked at an ACT prep book, yet rolled into the test and got a score I never dreamed of being able to get, so naturally I was pretty confident in my abilities to whip out a killer score with minimum effort. I finished the test under time and excitedly clicked “View my Score.”

So…I viewed my score. My incredibly, painfully low score. Ouch.

There I was: my ego crushed, my spirits low, my stomach craving ice cream. I went into the test expecting the absolute best, and left feeling utterly embarrassed that I thought I could conquer the GRE in one unprepared shot. In a word, I was humbled.

Which brings me to what this is really about:

There are three words that I absolutely abhor seeing on social media. Typically accompanied by pictures of nature, non-candid laughter or engagement photos in fields, these words are: “blessed,” “thankful,” and “humbled.” They are words rich in meaning, and when used properly, convey beautiful emotions. But sadly, their proper use is not the norm.

For years I’ve suffered through reading about the world’s hashtag blessedness and thankfulness, but the recent trend of self-proclaimed humility has sent this [perhaps overdramatic] writer over the linguistic edge.

The first time I cocked a snarky brow at the word “humbled” was senior year of high school. I had just lost an award that I really wanted and was egotistically convinced I was going to win. I sent a congratulatory text to my friend who did get it, and she sweetly responded with her thanks, noting that she was “so humbled to have this opportunity.”

Wait, what? If anyone was “humbled” in this situation, wouldn’t it be the girl crying in the bathroom because this was her first taste of real rejection, and every experience leading up to this moment had conditioned her to think that because she was “so amazing” there was no way she couldn’t win? Sitting on the edge of a toilet wiping mascara off your face while reading bathroom stall graffiti…now THAT’S humbling.

Maybe it’s just me being judgmental. Maybe my respect for the English language and admittedly annoying dedication for its proper use makes me hypersensitive to cliché words. But maybe—just maybe—my judgment is warranted.

Let’s get to the basics. Being humbled is, by definition, to be “lowered in dignity or importance.”

I went ahead and replaced “humbled” with “lowered in importance” to see this definition in action:

  • “I am feeling so lowered in importance by the amazing internship in a cool city I just got!”
  • “I have been truly lowered in importance by being crowned Homecoming Queen.”
  • “I am so lowered in importance to announce the thousands of dollars I’m spending to study abroad for a semester!”

How could accomplishing something that you’re bragging about on Facebook possibly have humbled you? If you’re humble––if you’re “showing a low estimate of your own importance”––then why are you making an effort to actually broadcast your own importance? (Hint: it’s because being legitimately humbled doesn’t result in likes on Facebook/it’s a trendy word to use.)

Being humbled is important. Being humbled means you’re grounded. But being humbled should not be the buzzphrase that makes you feel less conceited while writing self-serving Facebook statuses.

I was humbled when I lost that competition my senior year of high school. I was humbled when I didn’t get hired for four jobs my freshman year of college. I was humbled when 10 agencies didn’t respond to my internship resume I sent out last spring. And let me tell you, I was damn humbled when I received my GRE score.

I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t announce on Facebook––I’m just an easily annoyed bystander with free time to write about it. I’m simply throwing it out there (read: begging) that if you’re proud of yourself, leave it at that. If you’re posting it on social media, share your excitement! But for the love of Merriam-Webster, don’t hide your happiness behind a thin veil of humility.

And hey, if you share this post, I would be INCREDIBLY humb—, nope, excited that you agree with me.

106 thoughts on ““Humbled”

  1. Great article, effing important reminder, I’ll leave you with a quote from the sun magazine.. “don’t be humble, your not that great”

    Again thanks!

    Elosjoaolio aka Drow

  2. I notice that a lot in sports, when athletes say they are “humbled” to be elected to the hall of fame, for example. It makes no sense, if you know the dictionary definition of the word. But when enough people use a word incorrectly, its meaning changes, and the dictionary eventually changes too.

  3. Brilliant piece as a whole. However, your assessment of the term ‘humble’ is entirely judgemental.
    But I like the theme you have touched upon of constantly updating Facebook profiles with ‘achievements ‘.

  4. “But being humbled should not be the buzzphrase that makes you feel less conceited while writing self-serving Facebook statuses”.
    This should be in a modern dictionary somewhere. Love this post.

  5. and what about the word ‘gay’ – that too has evolved into something so different from its first use in the English language (circa 1325) in the poem, Blow, Northerne Wind.

    It’s funny (would it be appropriate to use that word here, in this context?) how language is evolving – arguably being ‘dumbed down’ by social media and texting… we live in interesting times.

  6. You are so funny Lily. of course, many times, we, people, use ‘HUMBLE’ or pretend to be to cover up their fat pride. Okay. I have another definition for ‘humbled’ by Saint Josemaria Escriva in his book ‘The Way’. ‘You are humble not when you humble yourself, but when you are humbled by others and you bear it for Christ’. Tell me what you think about it.

  7. Reblogged this on thecheekyhousewife and commented:
    “There are three words that I absolutely abhor seeing on social media. Typically accompanied by pictures of nature, non-candid laughter or engagement photos in fields, these words are: “blessed,” “thankful,” and “humbled.”” And that’s just the beginning.

  8. I like your use of substitution as a rational test of word usage. I have found substitution is powerful also to espose bias: for example, substitute “he” for “she” (and vice versa) to expose sexism in just about any statement of conventional “wisdom.”

  9. I do like your post! Here is the second point I especially like: the use of a Jimmy. For several years now, we have been blogging using alter egos (our version of Jimmys) in our travel blogs. “They” are so much more open in their writing, so innocent, so easily impressed. We would never be able to say what they say. It’s nice to have our approach “validated.” Thank you.

  10. I don’t think that I have ever used the word in this way. However, I think that the emotion that some people are describing when they use the word is not pride. I think that they are feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed; perhaps not feeling worthy of the recognition in question. Or it might be that they realise that although they are recieving the accolade as an individual, they are only a symbol for all of the others who are equally deserving. So, although I definitely hear what you are saying and mostly agree with you, I think that a lot of people who use the word may be grappling with an uncomfortable feeling of not being worthy rather than a feeling of pride.

  11. You wrote this so well, sharing from your own experience. The misuse and overuse of “humbled” drives me crazy. My pastor defined humility as rightly understanding who I am in light of who God is. It’s not the same as humiliation, nor is it a response to accolades for achievement, when gratitude or surprise may be the more accurate response. I related to your epiphany of lowered importance while dabbing away mascara and tears in the bathroom stall. I felt the moment with you as I recalled similar moments in my life.

  12. I DO agree with you, and though I understand that they are expressing a sudden awareness of their unworthiness in proportion to the magnitude of the blessing God has just bestowed upon them, its usage still kinda’ bugs me.

  13. Yup i am humbled that i got to share this on FB because i agree with you. And let’s add that being humbled is exactly the opposite of what its users do online– hype themselves rather than sit in their bedrooms pondering the nature of this ‘exaltation’. I’m confused by how words can be so bastardized, i really am. And i’m equally glad you’ve written about this in a way i couldn’t have.

    well said.

  14. totally absolutely and phenomenal way of putting the Over Hyped n Over Used Word In Its Correct Perspective is What You have Done…Loved your article…Needless to say…Gonna Follow You…;-)

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