Lesson of the week – humility

This week’s lesson is humility. What is humility? Humility is the virtue of having a low estimation of your own abilities or strengths – staying humble. Why is this important? Because it can lead you to avoiding avoidable mistakes & to continuous improvement. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

At school

When I was in school, I was good at math, but not because I had a natural talent for it. It was because I had some talent, but also worked really hard to get good grades. I remember having some friends in my math class that had that natural talent. They could not study for any exam & still get really high scores, where I had to work hard for the same score.

Then I remember there were some parts of class that ended up stretching the limits of their talent. Then the exams came & these people ended up getting lower scores, where I put in the same amount of work & got the same high scores.

At work

When I am not on DFK duty, I am writing software, which essentially means I am bossing robots around, or at least I try to. In this line of work, it is very challenging to get this correct, because computers have no sense at all. They will do exactly what you tell them, even when you tell them the wrong instructions. So peer review is a big deal for us. Staying humble & knowing that your work can always be improved is key to avoiding those avoidable mistakes. Humility is also key for us to stay current with our skills. In software development in particular, the amount of knowledge grows so quickly that there is no 1 person on the planet who knows all of it.

Someone who does not have good humility could end up thinking that their code is perfect & that the scenarios that should “never happen” do not need to be accounted for in their testing. I can’t tell you how many times those scenarios end up happening & resulting in avoidable mistakes.

At karate class

In karate class, we spar each other. Often times, a student with a very high rank is paired with a yellow or orange belt. If the higher-ranked student lacks good humility by acting over-confident & complacent by believing that they will automatically win the match without any effort or preparation, then the higher-ranked student could find themselves in a surprising situation if the opponent puts in good effort & scores some points. You should always treat your opponents with respect by staying humble & preparing for them.

On the continuous improvement side of this, think of the black belt. It isn’t really supposed to be the color black. Really, the rank is “midnight blue”. The reason is symbolic. The color black is a final color. Trying to mix in other colors does not result in a new color. This symbolizes finality & perfection. In karate, no martial artist is ever final or perfect. We are all continuously improving, & having good humility is how you can keep your brain open to these opportunities.

Confidence

All of this isn’t to say that you should completely drop your self-confidence. Having self-confidence & staying humble are complementary virtues. You can have confidence in your ability to spar someone, which will help you believe that you can win if your put in the effort. You can ensure that you put in the effort by staying humble.

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