Thursday, February 2, 2012

The physics of humility

When two identical objects are launched from an identical point, with identical initial velocity and at identical angles, in identical conditions, they will follow an identical trajectory and land on an identical final point.  Vary any of those elements and the objects will follow different trajectories and land in quite different places. 

And that is all you need to know in order to stay humble.

We don’t all start from an identical launching point in life.  Date of birth, place of birth, gender and family of origin vary to a great extent from person to person. We don’t all have the same identical initial velocity either. Our DNA is unique and our personalities, gifts and socio-economic backgrounds also vary widely. We don’t have identical trajectories at the start of our lives. For some, it is a major achievement for a child to be the first in their families to graduate from college. For others, the expectation from the beginning is to be yet another doctor, lawyer or PhD.

I once told an audience, “The 19 year-old woman named ‘Maria’, working in a flower factory outside of Bogota knows something that you do not know about yourself.  She knows you are lucky.  She knows she is just as smart as you.  She knows she works just as hard as you do.  But her point in her trajectory and her final landing point in her career will be very different than yours.”

Embracing the advantages and disadvantages of our starting place, our initial velocity and angle of launch creates gratitude in our hearts and makes us realistic about our successes and failures.  Hard work and good stewardship of those things creates a good sort of satisfaction in our souls.  Gratitude and satisfaction are the antidotes for narcissism and they create abundant humility.  Embracing those same elements in others creates an environment of empathy in the workplace where people are less concerned about titles or the division between cubicle or corner office people.

When a workplace overflows with humility, people are able to celebrate everyone’s victories, accept their share of the responsibility in failure, recover from failures without blame, improve performance, and grow closer together.


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