humility?

In ALL, BOOK PUBLISHINGby Stephanie Klein50 Comments

ohmy

I sound jaded and scared of how unpalatable I appear to others when I link to press or speak of my own success. There’s something called humility. I’m finding I have a hard time knowing when it’s right to be humble or when it’s just destructive.

"Having a low view of one’s own importance" the dictionary defines Humble.

I’d always thought that to be humble was an admirable quality. Yet, I don’t want to raise children who have or show a low estimate of their own importance. I want them to be proud. Period. To be grand and extraordinary and to think of themselves as such. Why would we ever want to downplay who we are, speaking of our accomplishments as if they’re inconsequential or ordinary? I think it’s possible to be gracious and polite without being self-effacing. It’s possible to be out-loud proud without showing excessive pride and self-satisfaction in one’s own abilities and achievements. It’s, I hate to say it, about speaking only when spoken to. That is, only offering up such details when asked. Otherwise, you’re a conceited blowhard, and you should be given a wire muzzle.

When on book tour, a few people asked me, "Aren’t you so excited! I mean, you’re a published author; did you ever think this would happen?" Here’s the thing:

When it all began, when I was featured on the cover of The Independent, I was soaring. It’s always the case that we feel our most elated when something great happens we hadn’t at all anticipated. Good surprises lead to the most euphoric feelings, much more so than the ones we worked hard for, the ones we kept at, struggling for, which in the end never really feel as we’d thought they would. We feel proud, then, for accomplishing what we’d set out to do, but "proud" is a slightly different flavor than "ecstatic." As I’ve written before:

Intense emotion is felt when we’re blindsided by an event, when there weren’t visible indications of the sharp turn we were approaching.  He breaks up with you out of nowhere (either you missed the signs completely or you ignored them—either way, the pain is magnified when you don’t have the chance to predict how you’d respond).  Someone phones to tell you your dreams just came true, out of nowhere. You never had the opportunity to even imagine the happiness, so you experience it deeply.  There was no expectation. (read more about impact bias here)

I wasn’t just soaring. I was afraid to talk about it, worried I’d seem too boastful. I’d written:

You want to invest your luck properly, be conservative, despite being young, you want to hoard the moments and keep them. Terrified you’ll piss off the fate gods, you think before speaking, worried you’ll say the wrong thing and jinx things.  You don’t know whom you can tell, or how much telling is an overindulgence…Is this really happening? Like, can I tell the cab driver? Is that safe? What if I whisper it? It will stay closer to me if I just whisper it.

I’ll never forget those firsts. The thrill in them, and I’ll never stop being grateful. It’s why I make an effort to read every email and comment, why I try to help and offer advice when I can. It’s the least I can do. I’ll also add, though, that after a while, I sometimes forget how lucky I am. I sometimes take it for granted a little bit. I have to deal with the reality; that being a writer, whether it’s blogging, books, TV, or film, it’s a business. Negotiations. Marketing. Lawyers. Critics. Readers. Book Clubs. Cat & Mouse games. Interviews. Schedules. And all that tends to take over a bit of the day to day, where my energy isn’t spent swooning about how thrilled I am to even have the opportunity. It’s why I loved being on book tour (and why I’m heading out again in November–to Atlanta, Denver, San Antonio, and Houston). Because I was reminded, with each question, that these really are good problems to have. I feel incredibly blessed, and with that, still, comes that sting of fear… that moment when we all worry it will be pulled out from under us. When we worry we’re coming off as too boastful, when we opt for humble in place of ego. Whatever the balance, I’m still, I have to admit, pinching myself. It’s why I can’t ever imagine a day where I won’t still be blogging, even the self-indulgent posts like this one, where I struggle to find my footing on the lines we draw.

*Represented by CAA, I’m now officially writing and will be co-executive producing a show with ABC Studios and Brillstein Entertainment Partners. That’s all there is to say right now, but I’m very excited about the opportunities and am ready to kick some little Jack horner in the coochie coo.

**Only because you asked, and only because I fucking love it and feel ridiculously privileged to wear such a sentimental gift: here are iPhone photos (sorry they kinda suck) of my new engagement ring setting, appropriately enough, posted today on our second year wedding anniversary.

Comments

  1. Every job from best selling author to world famous actress has tedium and drudgery built into it, whether it's missed flights and lost luggage or hours under hot lights and endless retakes, so it's perfectly normal to bitch about circumstances which to others appears to be whiningly self indulgent.

    Regarding humility and boasting, well, since when is it news for successful women to be accused of everything from being neglectful mothers to evil bitches? Sadly, that's not about to change any time soon. In any case, boast and blog and self indulge away. You've earned it.

  2. "I think it's possible to be gracious and polite without being self-effacing."

    Amen. I was raised by a lovely Southern mama and we all knew our manners, but I don't know where in the world people got the idea that to have good manners you have to insult yourself. When someone compliments me on an accomplishment, the best (and only, really) response is "Thank you." Not, "It was nothing," not "I didn't do much," etc.

    And anyone who thinks "Thank you," is a problem can take that up with my Southern mama.

    (Congrats on all you have accomplished Stephanie.)

  3. Thank you for being so honest. Doesn't it seem like, as women, we are expected to downplay our achievements, where a man walks into a party saying he's the CEO of Blah and Blah and people just soak it up. Congratulations on your success. You should be proud, and a little humility goes a long way, too. We probably all need to work on these things! I know that remembering how lucky I am is a hard one for me.

  4. Great post. I am a very humble person, due to self-esteem issues. And I agree with your point about raising your kids to be proud.

    I also just realized that I'll be in Austin the weekend of the Book Festival. Hopefully I'll meet you there and get my copy of Moose signed!

  5. "It's possible to be out-loud proud without showing excessive pride and self-satisfaction in one's own abilities and achievements."

    It is possible, you just haven't mastered it yet.

  6. This post reminds me of what I experienced with my pregnancy. I had gestational diabetes and had to go on a special diet, which resulted in me actually losing weight instead of gaining throughout my pregnancy. I just gave birth and am about 25 lbs. less than my pre-pregnancy weight. Everyone commented on how tiny and fabulous I looked during my pregnancy and now, after giving birth, how it doesn't even look like I was ever pregnant. I felt (and feel) damn good about my weight loss, but I feel like saying so would make me sound boastful or conceited. So I would shrug off the compliments and say things like, "Oh, it's just because of my diabetes," or "I'll probably blow up like a whale in a few weeks." But inside I was really feeling very proud of myself. I haven't looked this good in years and years. And it was hard work! I've had horrible eating habits all my life and having to change those habits so quickly and drastically wasn't easy. I actually cried one night when I couldn't have a cheeseburger. But somehow I thought belittling my efforts was being humble. ??

  7. And the downside? Do you find it hard being away from the babies while on these wonderful tours? It has to be tough.

  8. This post reminds me of what I experienced with my pregnancy. I had gestational diabetes and had to go on a special diet, which resulted in me actually losing weight instead of gaining throughout my pregnancy. I just gave birth and am about 25 lbs. less than my pre-pregnancy weight. Everyone commented on how tiny and fabulous I looked during my pregnancy and now, after giving birth, how it doesn't even look like I was ever pregnant. I felt (and feel) damn good about my weight loss, but I feel like saying so would make me sound boastful or conceited. So I would shrug off the compliments and say things like, "Oh, it's just because of my diabetes," or "I'll probably blow up like a whale in a few weeks." But inside I was really feeling very proud of myself. I haven't looked this good in years and years. And it was hard work! I've had horrible eating habits all my life and having to change those habits so quickly and drastically wasn't easy. I actually cried one night when I couldn't have a cheeseburger. But somehow I thought belittling my efforts was being humble. ??

  9. I, too, wanted my children to have a decent respect for themselves and their accomplishments. Lord knows I never got a break from my parents, particularly my mother. We somehow weren't supposed to think well of ourselves. And I still don't at times. But I think too many of us in my generation (50+) tried to empower our children and ended up entitling them instead. It's a fine line.

    I've never found you or your blog to be boastful. You always seemed surprised by success.

  10. I work for a popular cable network. People ask all the time "isn't it a fabulous life?" And it is, but it's also a business, which kind of makes things go soft.

    The……ring? You kinda promised to share.

    FROM SK: I shared it via twitter. But OK, it is our two year wedding anniversary today, so I will post it in the contents of this HUMILITY post… you know, just to prove a point.

  11. I think everyone should be excited and proud of their accomplishments.

    However, I was reading a book recently about how a lot of time people feel the need to prove how special they are by boasting and that really negatively affects any connection you may build with others during your interaction with them.

    You don't have to downplay your success or "special-ness" but I think there's a way to find a good balance between celebrating yourself and others and alienating people. (not talking about you per se)

  12. I've been reading your blog for a little while now, but this is the first post I really connected with on a deeper level. (Probably my fault for not reading with a keener or eye or focused attention.) Anyway, I do understand what you are saying. I have had a fair amount of success in my career. I feel undeserving considering I did nothing to ensure I'd be born in America. Thus, I always remind myself of this verse: "Every good thing cometh down from the Father of Lights." This helps me recognize that my good fortune is a gift, if the gift is truly a good thing. Also, the words of either Christ or Paul the Apostle: "The last shall be first and the first shall be last." Reciprocity does seem to release the tight fists of fortune.

  13. I think you've mastered humility quite well. You share your successes and dreams without shoving it down anyone's throat. You didn't jump up and down saying "haha, you suck, look what I get to do!"

    And yet you took full responsbility and pride in your achievements. If I ever am blessed with children, I want to instill in them that they are fully allowed to be proud of their accomplishments. But, sore winners are just as bad, if not worse, than sore losers. And there's definitely a difference between being proud and being a sore winner. And you, should definitely be proud!

  14. congratulations on your CAA representation and new show. fucking fantastic. seriously: that is so wonderful. think of yourself back at the ad agency and tell her about this post. i bet she'd be fucking thrilled for you!

  15. "To be grand and extraordinary and to think of themselves as such." I have wanted that for my children since before they were born. For myself though, it's just recently that I've been able to own who I am and be proud of it. A saw a live performance of, "Underneath the Lintel" this past weekend. There's a line in the play that summed up what I want my life to be. That line is, "An impressive presentation of lovely evidences"…lovely evidences saying that I was here.

  16. Congrats on all your accomplishments, Stephanie. Co-producing a show for ABC? You have so much to beam about! One little note…I used to see your mom just about everyday and I miss her. I hope she is doing fine.

    Pam

  17. The picture of your two (albeit beautiful) kids and the massive rock = the reason I am going to try to quit reading your blog. It's just in poor taste. Yucky.

  18. I think you should be excesively proud of yourself. If not you, who will be? If you work hard to achieve things it's best to celebrate hard. Who cares what other people think? Be excessive in your high points, dance around the room, share your success. Those that think you are wrong for it…are jealous and don't have your best interests at heart. Without the joy's in life we'd never have the stamina to endure the lows.

  19. Stephanie, just the fact that you deeply examine the notion of humility is a humble act. I remember reading something somewhere about shining lights hiding under bushel baskets. You inspire others to examine their own legacies. That's a good and humble thing to do. Now about that ring … that's just ridiculously beautiful! Humbly. Beautiful.

  20. At last! It's everything I imagined it would be. Thanks for indulging me with the ring photo. Congratulations and enjoy it! I bet it's very, very hard not to stare at it all day long.

    The photo of the ring with the 2 kids is THE ONE.

  21. thank you for this. I'm at a point where I really needed to read this, and think again about the humility/self-effacement divide.
    As for that of pride/bragging, I think it is mainly a balance of knowing who you are speaking to. A friend, like a blog reader, should be happy for you and I wouldn't worry about how you are sounding. If they're that quick to judge you, why are they there at all?
    And I don't usually like to focus on double standards, but I do agree with earlier commenters that this is a gendered issue.

  22. The picture you took with your hand on the stroller, well it would have looked better if it was focused on the children and not your ring. You say over and over that you try not to brag but thats all you ever do. its sad really. your still that little chubby kid that just wants to be liked. Its almost like your saying look at my huge ring and my HUSBAND and my CHILDREN, like you have to prove something to everyone out there. I wonder if you are truely happy or if you found that chasing after love and your idea of love was all wrong. You never needed those things to be happy about yourself but I guess you thought you did. Good job on your success as a writer. I pray for you.

  23. Congrats on your success, your anniversary and your beautiful new ring. It really does "sit delicately on the hand" or however it was you originally worded it.

    BTW – I hope all this craziness in the mkt isn't driving Phil crazy. I know he's a hedgie not a banker, but still, it's been a rough couple of days.

  24. Unfortunately, I tend to find myself shackled by humble. I did not realize that was the exact definition — got me pondering.
    Others will only find your success "unpalatable" if they're jealous.
    I love hearing a good success story. It's encouraging and motivating to know that dreams do come true.

  25. Stephanie,
    I've been reading your blog for months now and, upon my breakup with my ex (Gabriel- how fitting), went out and purchased your book.

    I've been blogging about the whole process, putting my writing out there, looking for freelance opportunities. You have given me hope that the thing I so very badly want to do, write about my life, is possible and achievable.

    When good things happen for me, like someone tells me that my blog changed the way they thought about something, or I'm a featured writer on skirt.com, I understand wanting to hoard those moments. I always feel as though I deserve the "bad" things that happen- why is it so hard to believe the good as well?

    Don't hide your light under a bushel. If anybody tells you differently, they're jealous. Fuck 'em.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you do. I'm totally envious, but I'll be there someday.

  26. Seriously? I don't understand the diamond ring thing and I'm a married female with the most fabulous husband out there. He respected my wishes for a humble piece of jewelry. THAT, in the pictures, is an obnoxiously large diamond and I don't suppose you care how much blood was shed to get that diamond on your finger? (Oh, I can hear the SK fans crying out now – who cares about other people! She has a huge diamond!)

    Auburn – "deeply examine the notion of humility"? Is that what she does? Snort. The only thing she deeply examines is her reflection in a diamond ring.

  27. You don't seem boastful, just proud & you should be. Congratulations on the ABC deal, that is amazing news! I do with you could come back to the east coast on another book tour though! Oh and I cannot WAIT to see the ring you picked (damn firewalls at work!!).

  28. I think that it's awesome that you've been able to hold your head high during those times where people have been down right nasty to you. You write with candor and soul and you deserve every bit of this – what's great is that you know that! Even after so many have tried stealing your joy, you never let them. Cheers, my friend! You rock!

  29. That ring is HUGE. I don't know that i could wear something that big, can't really try and be humble with that on your figure because it screams my husband make lots of money.

  30. Your ring is gorgeous! Don't listen to the haters. I inherited a big engagement ring too and am tired of feeling guilty about it. Screw them!

  31. That photo of your bejeweled hand pushing the stroller should be entitled "self portrait." And I dont mean that in a good way.

  32. jesus christ, i think that's the biggest ring i've ever seen! it's beautiful!

    nothing wrong with being a bit narcissistic from time to time. or proud, whatever you want to call it :) it's healthy to celebrate our accomplishments, as long as we can celebrate the accomplishments of others as well! I believe in lifting other people up rather than downplaying your success

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