Yesterday I was in my gym and started talking to one of the trainers. I love the guy, he’s a big sack of sweetness, but he’s as insecure as they come (aren’t we all?). While chatting with him, I quickly realized that every sentence to emerge from his mouth was an effort to impress the others listening.
He talked about a road trip he embarked on last year to various cities in the US, followed by future plans he has for overseas travel. There was some talk about exercise, where he was sure to fill us in on the best tips and tricks, despite the fact (perhaps because of the fact) that all of us listening were bigger than him.
The older I get and the more people I meet, the more I am able to see through a good amount of things. What I mean by that is, most people in the world are trying to impress you. And if you’re observant and think things through, you become harder and harder to impress using the typical methods.
This next paragraph will come off as very haughty, I’m aware, but stick with me for a sec.
I can lift a lot of weight, and I’m aware that I’m not bad looking. I wear relatively fashionable clothes (all from thrift stores of course), write books, play guitar, and can talk to girls and breathe at the same time. I have been on every inhabited continent, and I was world famous for a week or two. And in that time, met a fair amount of other famous people.
In other words, I’m the ultimate one-upper at a party.
But that’s not a good thing, and when we look at the facts, it’s really easy to deflate. Let’s take a second and look at some of those things up close, not about me specifically, but in general.
For instance, my friend in the gym bragged about his travels in the past year. And for a long time I was quick to brag about my own. But realistically, travel isn’t that impressive. I mean, when you think about it, anyone who can save up some money, buy a plane ticket, and go for a week can travel. It takes no effort, no know-how, and no special skill. Sure, you become more adept and smooth at it and you, yourself get to experience amazing things in these diverse places, but is it really impressive when someone tells me they’ve traveled? Not really.
Same thing with lifting heavy weights and looking good. Anyone who looks like a Hollister billboard is simply someone who has spent more time at the gym than they’d like to admit. It’s not hard so much as it is an addiction or insecurity. It’s not necessarily something to brag about as much as it is a revelation of what your hobby is. People with model trains don’t end up with washboard abs, but it’s just as much a refreshing hobby as going to the gym every day.
So to be frank, no, I’m not really impressed by guys (or girls) who can put up heavy weight or have hulkish arms. It just means they’ve chosen to spend their time in the gym, which any of us could have chosen to do.
Stylish people may intimidate us, but deep down, they’re simply people who pay attention to styles and choose to invest their money in clothes and accessories so they can show the world how observant they are. These people may also enjoy different films and music than you too.
My personal favorite is people who love to impress others by name dropping. I met Fabio at a sushi bar one time, which is funny to me personally, because everyone called me Fabio when I had long hair. I could try to weave my Fabio-meeting experience into every conversation just to impress people, but what am I really revealing?
I’m telling the world that I am not sufficient in and of myself, but I am only significant because I am attached to this or that famous person. I am not significant of my own merits, but I am significant because Fabio is significant and I met him once at sushi. You tracking with me? People who name drop constantly feel like they have to impress people, but can only do it by attaching themselves to people more significant than they are.
The list of ways we impress people could go on forever.
Think about yourself. What is your favored method of impression? Do you try to be the funniest in the group? Are you the tallest, the smartest, or the richest?
Rather than exposing all these methods, I’ll get to my point. And that is this: What AM I impressed by? How do you really impress other people?
In a word: humility.
The ability to feel like you don’t need to impress anyone.
Relinquishing the pressure to ‘one-up’ whoever you’re talking to.
I’m impressed by people who ask questions and who are genuinely more interested in others than they are in themselves.
If we’re honest, most of our social anxiety or need to perform is due to insecurity or a feeling of being intimidated by others. We may be intimidated when someone is more hip than we are, or knows more, or makes more cash. But all of these things are simply things they’ve chosen to pursue in ways different than us. It doesn’t mean someone wealthier than me is better than me, just different. Being intimidated by others simply means we are comparing ourselves to them and through some means of calculation, they come out on top.
Roosevelt once said that comparison is the thief of joy.
Humility does not mean that you simply think of yourself as this horrid being who is a terrible friend and can’t do anything right. Tim Keller has pointed out that there is just as much pride in someone like that as someone who thinks they’re on top all the time. The problem is that in both scenarios, you’re constantly thinking of yourself and comparing yourself to others. Humility is the ability to let go of this comparison and embrace others.
You’ll feel free.
Rick Warren put it succinctly: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
I can guarantee that whoever you’re talking to will like you more when you show genuine interest in them rather than trying to impress them.
The folks who really impress me let their knowledge, accomplishments, and skills come to light naturally over time, rather than forcing them into conversation; people who ask me how I’m doing and remember what was going on in my life last time we talked.
People who care.
Because frankly, being humble and caring about others is a heckuva lot harder than all the other “impressive” things I listed above (and it’s the reason I’m not that impressive…I’m really bad at being humble…).
May we be Philippians 2 people, who “in humility, consider others better than ourselves, not looking to our own interests, but the interests of others.” May we be people who are truly impressive and ask questions, rather than quasi-impressive and steal spotlights. And may we think of ourselves less rather than thinking less of ourselves.
Great post. I agree true humility is by far the most impressive thing about someone- It’s such a paradox! Love your writings keep it up!
Very thought provoking, thanks for that. I will admit often trying to be the funniest, and that can get in the way as you can “win” that comparison but end up being mean to people…
That’s also very good point about the gym!
Wow, I’m bookmarking this essay now. Thanks, Ethan! 🙂
Thanks for writing great stuff, Ethan. I followed the trail from one of your articles in Relevant to here, now it’s been 30 minutes and I’m realizing I should probably get back to work instead of reading your blog. Heads up on one thing, though, the humility quote isn’t actually C.S. Lewis (although he says something super similar, maybe even more profound), it belongs to Rick Warren and it’s out of Purpose Driven Life. Super common misattribution, I only know of it because I published the quote recently elsewhere and was corrected. Sorry! Just wanted to give you a heads up since your blog is so well read and it doesn’t look like you’re slowing down on writing great content.