Jeremy and I took personality tests at work a few weeks ago, and one of the statements made about my personality had to do with self-awareness. In particular, the person writing the personality profile observed that people like me sometimes come across as arrogant, but that this trait is rarely true arrogance. Rather, it is a self-assurance that comes from secure knowledge about oneself. I know what I know, and I am also aware of what I do not know. Therefore, I am very self-confident in the areas I feel knowledgeable about.
One of these is public speaking, which I have been doing for a number of years in a variety of arenas. Therefore, when my boss asked me to attend Train the Trainer Training (T3) this week, I had no problem doing so. Conducting training is a large part of what I do week-to-week, and I expected this to be a boring training class like all the others, taking up a large chunk of my time and leaving me to rush around in the day and a half I had left after it was finished and try to catch up. In this case, it turned out that I did not know what I thought I did.
The class was quite good, and I learned a great deal about training methods, learning theories, classroom behaviours… but the most enlightening moment came when it was time for my presentation. At the close of the training, we were each required to give a fifteen minute presentation, preferably on something relating to Banner. I had chosen to speak on how we were handling Banner support at Missouri State, and after developing some talking points and writing a list of objectives, I felt prepared enough. I’ve spoken before groups countless times before, and this was only fifteen minutes, so it should have been a breeze.
And then, once I started speaking, I stumbled. I said, “Um,” a lot. I had some painful seconds of silence where my mind had all but frozen. As I analyze my presentation in retrospect, I know why these things happened and can easily correct for them (they’re problem areas I’ve defined in the past, in fact, and have corrected for previously, but was unable to in this case due to time/preparation constraints), but that doesn’t change the fact that I gave a pretty terrible speech. What’s worse, I gave a terrible speech after volunteering that I had years of public speaking experience and intimated that this was all old-hat.
As I walked home this afternoon, I felt humiliated, but not in a shameful way. Rather, I felt brought back to the level at which I should have begun. I was showing off earlier this week when I commented on my speaking experience. I was placing myself at the head of the table, when my presentation showed that I deserved a seat further down. I was claiming to be first, and in so doing, I became last.
If I had been humble to begin with, the speech would have been fine on its own. Points of improvement were obvious, but as things stand, I look like a hypocrite or a liar. I claimed a level of proficiency that was not demonstrated. And because I did not humble myself, humility found me.
To be honest, though, as the realization of my humiliation really set in while I walked home, I was kind of excited. I learned a lesson, and I think I have the potential to put myself in a better place in the future. The lesson of humility, the virtue of being humble, is not one that comes easy to me. Throughout my life, I have striven to be better than the example I was given, but I was never taught the difference between being better and claiming to be better. What I mean is that, one can be better without needing to make that superiority evident or obvious. These two need not occur together, and it is the humble person who can be excellent without exclamation.
I want to strive for humility. I don’t want to have it handed to me again.