As we develop our sense of who we want to be, it is worth considering how we present ourselves to others.

It is very possible for us to broadcast traits that conflict with our inner narrative; somehow, we find ourselves emotionally compelled to blurt certain things out, only to wish later on that we could have been more level-headed.

We may even consider a certain hotheadedness to be to our advantage. Bombastic tendencies may seem to impress others, and aggressive tendencies may seem to get us what we want.

But in the long-run, this is usually not the case. Somewhat counter-intuitively, real power lies with those who feel no need to demonstrate it. Those soft-spoken individuals, who may even go unnoticed, enjoy the benefits of humility.


There will always be moments when it feels easier to let our emotions guide our social character. This is less effortful, and more immediately gratifying. It is easy to lose sight of the gains of a more measured approach, since they are much more indirect.

Through aggression, we may seem to get what we want. Our dissenters stand down, and concessions are made. But even if we try to limit this behaviour by strangers, it becomes part of us; little by little, it infiltrates our professional and personal lives.

As it does, people we care for may come to avoid confrontation with us. Surreptitiously, we become gradually more excluded. Problems are solved without us, experiences are had without us, and ideas and emotions are no longer shared with us.

We may even convince ourselves that we are as impressive as we think we are. People fall immediately silent at the first sign of our disagreement; perhaps they even humor us, and we marvel at how persuasive we are.

Yet, our interactions are shallow. We are limited from any meaningful exchange of ideas and feelings. We may become oblivious to the depth of thought of others; if we see it secondhand from time to time, we may wonder why nobody offers it to us.

We need to ask whether this fantasy is what we really wanted.



Consider the alternative. The adage goes: speak softly, and carry a big stick. Of course, it is entirely possible to be both soft-spoken and weak-willed. This expression does not refer to that sort of person.

Instead, it refers to the individual who feels no need to compensate. Such an individual is self-assured, and derives their feelings of security from their actions and character, rather than any attempt (rhetorical or otherwise) to dominate others.

They have a realistic appraisal of their own value, and they feel no need to persuade anyone of that value. They do not boast, and they do not mind being underestimated. At times, they may even consider the complacency of others to be an advantage.

This gives them the chance to under-promise and over-deliver. They also have the opportunity to craft people’s perception of them; freed from the compulsive need to compensate, they decide tactfully what and how much is known about them, as well as the timing of that disclosure.

These individuals need not control anybody else, since they have mastery over themselves. Their beliefs and values are well-established, such that they do not feel threatened by the conflicting beliefs of others.

They are at peace with their insecurities, and are unafraid to expose them when the time is right. This demonstrates that they are at peace with our flaws, and that they feel unthreatened by those to whom they expose them.

This sort of presence exudes a sense of security and control to those who themselves have enough security and control of their own to recognize it.


Yet, there are people who are bound to misinterpret such a presence, inclined to mistake it for meekness.

A cool, composed sense of confidence is often unfamiliar to these sorts of people; they may have seldom experienced it for themselves.

They may also assume, if an individual allows their insecurities to be known, that these same insecurities must be more abundant and out of control. They may be out of touch with their own insecurities, having buried them deeply.

But everyone has insecurities; the exposure of those insecurities should be taken as a sign of strength, not weakness. Any bombastic attempt to persuade others that we do not have insecurities will only convince those who are likewise out of touch.

In any case, these kinds of misreadings of character are of relatively little consequence. Those who possess genuine self-esteem are not likely to associate with the hot-headed type very often in the first place.

This phenomenon is not based in judgement; it is emergent. These two types of people are bound to make different life decisions and end up in different places; they naturally become segregated. For this reason, such underestimation is kept at a distance.

Sooner or later, though, they are bound to interact. Cool-headed individuals may find themselves mowed over by the aggression of their competitor if they allow themselves to be; this may cost them opportunities or influence with others.

In these moments, even the most calm and collected individuals must be assertive. Yet, this assertion still differs from the aggression of their opponent; it preserves an air of cordiality and professionalism.

The rarity of these moments, in which such an individual expresses dominance, makes for a greater, more potent impression.


If we are prescient, we will know the benefits of humility in the long-term. We are better off cooperating with others than competing with them, both personally and professionally.

We can also impress others with our opinions, abilities, and dissent, each of which will be all the more potent if we show them only sparingly.

But above and beyond all that, viewing ourselves with humility allows us to cultivate an awareness of our real strengths and weaknesses.

This permits us to avoid situations where we are at a disadvantage, instead of forcing ourselves into those same situations out of denial.

In other words, we choose our battles, and we come out on top for it.


Background by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

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