Modesty, Friend or Foe?

The other day I was in a Toastmaster’s meeting where I saw one of my colleagues and friends , who is an author. During the break I walked up to him and asked him how his book was coming along. Just as we were talking his wife, who is also a very good friend of mine, came to us and joyfully said “The writers have met.” Hearing these words I laughed and said to her “Dear, thank you for calling me a writer. I try to be.”

Later that day, I started wondering why is it that many of us find it hard to talk about our achievements? Why do we opt to be modest about things we are actually good at and yet we have no problems laughing about our own shortcomings in public?

I am guilty of being that way. For example,  I volunteer to tell people that I suck at anything number related. Everyone who knows me knows that I will never be the person splitting the bill during a group outing. I openly tell people the story about me taking a one month break from work just so I can understand and barely pass the financial management course I had to take for my MBA. I also tell people how I  ended up paying for DVDs a child was buying from me at a fund raiser just because I couldn’t calculate how much they cost.

I can talk openly about my need to lose weight, my need to hold my temper,  and my verbal diarrhea, but yet I find myself saying I am sort of a writer. I tell people that I maybe someday will publish a book if a publisher  takes me seriously enough. I tell people that I work in communications while avoiding to say what I do exactly. I hear people in conversations express their opinions as facts about things I know they have gotten wrong. Yet, I stay silent because I don’t want to sound like the conceited  know it all.

I am not alone in this.  I hear many people do the same. Tell a woman she has lost weight , she blushes and replies “Yes but I still need to lose more.” Tell a guy “What have you done differently today, you look nice.” He would say “Nothing.” to avoid appearing like he actually made an effort. We avoid telling people we are promoted, we got a new haircut, we bought new clothes, or we learned something new. Yet we tell people we are dieting, we need to get a hair trim, our jeans are ripped, or that our shoes are falling apart.Where do we create a valance between modesty and arrogance?


I think many of us try to be modest because we were taught that being arrogant is terrible. Let me confirm this fact Yes, arrogance is terrible. It is annoying to hear someone talk about nothing but him or herself. It is awful to hear someone say they are good at everything they do and that they know about everything under the sun. But, I am wondering what is wrong with accepting a compliment?  It is simple, “you are looking great.” the response should be “Thank you ” and not “Oh, I did nothing.” What is wrong with saying that one is actually good at something?


While being humble is great, it is a two-edged sword. People will relate to you as a humble person but they will not take your skills seriously. If you are a humble person saying you know about something or you do have a certain skill, people will still look for a self proclaimed expert to validate this claim. The other day, for example,  a friend of mine was looking for a person who knows about social media. So, I smiled and said  “I know about social media what do you need?” He responded with the words,” No I need an expert.”

I started wondering what is the difference between me and the person who he is looking for. The person he is looking for has openly called him or herself an expert, while I ignored the fact that I sat for the Social Media Expert Certification, I read a lot about the subject, I am fascinated by the whole field and I am always open to learning something new. I just did not call myself the expert. So, my claim was ignored and the search for the expert continues.

This is not really, the people’s fault . It is the fault of the person being modest. After all, how will anyone know  about our skills, our abilities, and our dreams if we do not express them. Where do we draw the line between truthful and conceited, I guess it is simple. We should just say the whole truth about ourselves.

After all, a peacock doesn’t mind spreading its  wings. In doing so, it is stating facts. The wings are beautiful and colorful and they deserve to be spread. We should all do the same. We shouldn’t mind spreading our colorful wings either.



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