“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.