“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. Can i say that you’re an great- no exceptional writer. You have an exciting approach with a “humbling pen”. I’ll explain.

    I was going disagree with you AT FIRST but by the end you completely persuaded me to say “yeah, shut your ‘blessed & humbled’ trail up and enjoy your moment of shining glory.”

    However, as someone whose life was pretty blessed until they were humbled- you couldn’t understand how the model who (even though drop dead gorgeous) never won anything until #ANTM, Or that hard working student who won that all expenses paid tuition to Harvard or Yale (even though they come from a neighborhood were they would have been awarded a jail cell). It’s all humbling because of their faith (religious or otherwise) when their doubts are overcome. I have been humbled several times in my life in these various ways: winning a childhood beauty pageant, going to college, having a great family of my own. These were all humbling because I DOUBTED they would happen (because of the instability of my childhood, drug addicted parents, etc.) & it was like God did so to teach me a lesson. So i believe most people have grown with the word itself- as in all languages most words do.

    #humility is in the eye of the beholder.

    1. Thank you SO much for this comment. I definitely see where you’re coming from and I completely agree with your faith tie in (no coincidence that a Google search of the word humbled mostly responds with things regarding being humbled in the face of God). I’m glad I could somewhat persuade you though 😉 thank you for the follow, when I’m on my computer I will check out your blog!

      1. I am definitely a fan, you have also convinced me to soak more candidly. Something I fear doing for professional reasons but for a creative writer it is something i greatly conflict with. Who knows… just make sure to check it out!

  2. Interesting post topic…
    Though I can’t recall ever using the word ‘humbled’ or ‘blessed’ I do have thoughts on it, just like you.
    You mentioned that ‘humbled’ is being grounded. Which is why it makes sense when celebrities or successful people say it because they are probably blown away by the fact that they, a human like any other to some degree, had some really good thing happen to them.
    And ‘blessed’ should be reserved for us average joes who’s happenings are cool but not all that special.
    But then there’s the question of what makes one successful and above the others. Are we as bloggers better than someone who isn’t just because we have followers? Can we use our blogging success as reason to be humble?

  3. Hi found your blog on community swimming pool. Love the way that you write it is so beautiful and it just flows of the page. I understand your pain when words are being used like that. The word literally has been literally changed just because people literally used it wrong. ‘Like I just literally just died’, really now, please no you didnot and use figuratively I know that doesn’t flow of the tongue easy but come on. So yeah the struggle never looked so real. Love your writing seriously

  4. Beautiful wordsmithery, Lily!
    You are right in pointing out that one cannot blow one’s own horn and claim to be humbled all the same. We need to leave the onus of recognising our good deeds to others as doing so ourselves would expose us as self-important megalomaniacs.
    Now, correct me if wrong but once you frame your sentence like: ‘In a word…”
    Isn’t what follows after the comma supposed to be a word and not a phrase?

  5. You did an incredible job with explaining the actual meaning. I agree that people use that word not knowing what it means. Also I would like to read more of your post -they seem interesting- and I hope you get to see mine. Thank u for showing me this,this has really opened my mind!

  6. When people say they are humbled to be granted something, like elected to public office or something, the meaning is simply that they realize the amount of trust the populace has in them, and they recognize it will be a case of very big shoes to fill, and they don’t feel certain they are worthy of the challenge. But they will do their best. When used that way, ‘humbled’ is the appropriate word. It depends on how it’s used.

  7. I don’t do enough social media to know, but it sounds to me like it might be more a problem of syntax than vocabulary. Aren’t these people trying to say (whether it’s true or not, whether it’s borne out by their other words and actions or not) that they feel humble about the esteem or opportunity they’ve encountered, rather than that they feel/are humbled by them? If I go back to your examples, I think, “I am feeling so humble about the amazing internship I got in the really cool city,” or, “I feel truly humble about being crowned Homecoming Queen,” …I think those can work. I mean, they may not be true. If the post is made as backhanded bragging, then it is eye-roll-worthy. But I presume that’s what they were trying to say: “I never expected anything so amazing to happen, and I feel a little daunted and unworthy of it (though I will try to live up to it).” No? Like I said, I don’t see this in situ, so I may well be completely off the mark.

  8. Mister Dickens certainly agreed with your concern. Uriah Heep, one of the antagonists in David Copperfield, advanced himself socially and financially by duplicitously emphasizing and referring to his own humility. One of the most memorable creepy characters in all literature.

    “‘When I was quite a young boy,’ said Uriah, ‘I got to know what umbleness did, and I took to it. I ate umble pie with an appetite. I stopped at the umble point of my learning, and says I, “Hard hard!” When you offered to teach me Latin, I knew better. “People like to be above you,” says father, “keep yourself down.” I am very umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield, but I’ve got a little power!'”

  9. This post certainly puts the word into perspective. I’m tempted to use the word all the time but this certainly changed my mind on the topic!

  10. Etymology: humble (v.) late 14c., “render oneself humble” (intrans.), also “to bend, kneel or bow;” late 15c. “lower (someone) in dignity” (trans.); see humble (adj.). Related: Humbled; humbling.

    Implying that one can choose, in light of a great reward, to be humble.

    humiliation (n.) late 14c., from Old French humiliacion (14c.) or directly from Late Latin humiliationem (nominative humiliatio) “humbling, humiliation,” noun of action from past participle stem of humiliare “to humble,” from humilis “humble” (see humble (adj.)).

    Implying one can sit in a toilet with mascara and tears streaming down one’s face, and have that act be related to humility without choosing to be humbled by it.

    Language evolves. 🙂 We must also evolve. (And I’m sorry you didn’t win the award!)

  11. Love, love, love this! “Being humbled is important. Being humbled means you’re grounded.” Want a Bible verse to go with that burger? 1 Pe. 5:5 God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. I’ve found that grace is the sweet honey-flavored self-awareness that follows the bitter taste of being humbled. My personal definition of humility: an accurate estimate of myself. I’m following your blog right now 🙂

  12. Yes,yes and yes!! I get so annoyed at the incorrect usage of this word too. If something great happens to you, just have your moment and say how happy or even proud you are feeling. I know nobody likes a bragger, but as long as you’re not doing it every day it’s OK to admit you are excitied about your achievements.

  13. Nice post and points! It’s okay to be humble (definitely!). But if you got something and felt happy about it, own it! I think real humbleness comes before a real happening. You would probably use it properly by just doing nothing and be thankful about it.

    (hahaha) you’re right! people overuse this word.

  14. Ohh . Man !!! Love the way that you write …i am definitely a fan of yours…you always a inspiration for us… i am new in blogger i just wrote 5 blogs.. and still i am writing you are my inspiration …amazing you are …amazing writer…..

    Guys must read my blogs.. i wanna support yours….
    Adityasinghchouhan.wordpress.com

  15. As a mother whose daughter is often told she needs to be more humble, I love your post. But when I use the words thankful and blessed in my blog, I truly mean to convey those emotions, as my family has suffered much over many years. It took many years for me to learn to be truly grateful and to understand what blessed means. Keep writing, love your style. One tough mama

  16. This bothers the hell out of me, too. A Very Famous Athlete recently said he was “humbled” to make his hall of fame–and then proceeded to brag about it. Didn’t make much sense…..

  17. Great burst Lily. That false humility has floated down under and infected many an oration. I was entertaining a similar reaction to the all too common pretext of humility buy using the word, but your response perfectly states my sentiments. Allow me to add two words to your three that have become so over used that their original meaning has been lost. ‘Iconic’ and ‘Like’. No more needs to be said, regard, Ross

  18. I think dogs have the best definition of humbled. You tell them they did not get the “treat” they were expecting and their face will totally reflect the feeling of being “lowered in importance”

  19. Great idea development all around. Humility is seeming to be the number one googled topic this far in 2016.

  20. It started with ‘i dont agree’ and ended in ‘that does make sense’

    Loved it!

    If you have time, do check out my blog 🙂

  21. Thank you for such a great post! I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately. The media (and the rest of us) grab onto words without a true understanding of their meanings. I’m going to resolve to do better! Happy New Year!

  22. If you think “humbled” is overworked and underhonest, try “passion”. As in I am, we are, they are “passion”ate about something or other, in fact anything and everything that comes into their minds. No doubt they will be telling you next how “passion”ate they are about using the word “amazing”, because its “amazing” how “passion”ate they are about using the word “amazing” for anything and everything too.

    1. Lol….I totally agree. I briefly discuss passionate in my first post “A Brief Summary of an Open Book,” feel free to read it!

      Thanks for the comment!

  23. This post is awesome! People use the phrase humbled all the time, and it’s not until you look it up and replace the definition in a sentence that you realize it doesn’t truly fit!
    Love the post!…especially since I tend to annoy my friends via text about their grammatical abbreviations and jumbled sentences!

  24. Love your post and it reminds me of the Bible verse, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted” – luke 14:11 🙏

  25. Many or must times the exterior accomplishments or successes we achieve are not purely an individual accomplishment. We may have put in valuable and considerable effort, but nonetheless have had countless precursors that unfolded the opportunity to succeed. So much so, that while experiencing the high, our internal compass showing wisdom, connects to humility. If sincerely felt, humulity can be experienced with failure as well as with success. The latter being an expression of gratitude for an accomplishment that is truly bigger than the individual.

    1. I do actually agree with your statement. The writer is really asking that we not missuse it not only in meaning (for the love of Merriam-Webster) but also by being insincere with its use. I think her point is still well taken, even when use of the word is warranted in success. Only the person experiencing the emotions and making a piblic proclamation knows if they are being sincere or masking their pride-in-self with fake “humiltiy”.

  26. Thank you for saving me from using these words in wrong context. Same goes with word ‘literally’ also. Rampantly used in wrong sense.

  27. This is everything I have wanted to say. And also convicting. I just shared a link to your blog on my Facebook page. If that’s not ok, please let me know so I can take it down!

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