Humility is a word that gets thrown around a lot when discussing positive characteristics that great designers might have. Most often when I hear it used, I think it’s meant to be the opposite of pride. But is it impossible to be proud of the work you’ve done while remaining humble? The conflict, at least for me, has revolved around a poor conceptualization of what it means to be humble as opposed to acting humble.

When people describe humility I frequently hear things like “a humble person isn’t defensive” and “they listen to what other people say”. These descriptions get at what humility looks like from the outside, but no one has ever described to me how to become the kind of who other people perceive as humble. Moreover trying to mimic the behaviors associated with humility has,at times,helped me assume the posture of humility while politely ignoring what others are saying. I fear I’ve missed out on a lot because I was so busy trying to act humble that I missed the point. I’ve been obeying the letter instead of the spirit of the law.

So here’s my strategy, stop thinking of humility in terms of its visible behaviors and instead think of it as a state of mind:

Humility is being open to the fact that there is always value outside ourselves.

Humility is a stance. It is an attitude for approaching work and life.With this definition, interactions with others are opportunities; they’re gifts. It’s hard to be defensive when receiving a gift. It’s easy to listen to someone who’s doing something thoughtful for you. The behaviors start to take care of themselves.

Using this framework, humility and pride aren’t in conflict. They are part of a cycle. I look back on my past work, and I’m proud. I step forward into my current and future work with humility.