“How did I get here?!” Surrounded by foam pits, balance beams and parallel bars, I found my less-than-flexible-self signed up for a semester-long course in gymnastics.
At some point during my college career I got the bright idea that I could learn more from my classes than what was outlined in the syllabus. A course on Scandinavian history taught by a 95-year-old man with a low gravelly voice, for example, could help me learn attentiveness and endurance. Every math class would undoubtedly test my optimism and patience. At the end of my schooling I didn’t want to just walk away with a history diploma; I wanted to walk away a better, stronger person. So, each semester my schedule included one class specifically selected to teach me a character-building attribute.
Hence, here I sat in a large gym, ready to embark on a journey toward–humility.
F is for Fail
Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. – Andrew Murray
According to the above definition, my first day in humility 101 would have earned me an F. Mere moments after my arrival on the first day, the humiliation began. My teacher pulled me aside and said, “don’t you know you are too tall to be a gymnast?” I smiled and tried to brush it off with a joke, but as the other students discussed their prior experience in dance, tumbling and other gymnastic pursuits, I started to sweat. I had no quietness of heart. I was not at rest. My heart raced. “Do you think he knows I also can’t do a head stand, cartwheel or even touch my toes?”
If at First You Don’t Succeed…Hide from Your Neighbors
People of integrity do not hide their reactions or opinions, they do not manipulate others through deception and they do not pretend. – Unknown
Our class was organized around stations where we could develop specific skills. Stations included the bars, balance beam, and the vault. Eventually, we would all have to display our skills to the class for our final exam. All my classmates seemed to pick up skills quickly and attempted increasingly challenging stunts. I, on the other hand, worked on the same basic skills over and over again with little to no improvement.
What bothered me the most was not how bad I was, but others knowing I was inept. Each class I expertly sought out the station no one else wanted in hopes of hiding my abysmal attempts. It was lonely, frustrating and tough on my self-esteem.
Humility is Confidence
Humility is not self-deprecating, rather it is the quiet internal confidence allowing you to accept things as they are, especially yourself. – Casar Jacobson
All too soon, the day of our final arrived. I awoke feeling sick. I lay in bed and jumped through all kinds of mental hoops to try and justify why it would be okay to skip. “The test is not really important for the grade.” “There probably won’t be enough time for everyone anyway.” And finally the real kicker, “it will be humiliating!”
Then the obvious struck me, “of course it will be humiliating. This is your humility class after all!” In that moment I set my jaw, rallied my courage and marched to class determined to show what I could and could not do.
Well, as suspected, I was the worst, but it was not humiliating. Humiliating implies a loss of self-respect and in this instance my self-respect actually increased. It did not ultimately matter that I was bad at gymnastics. I would soon be done with the class and never have to attempt the balance beam again. What mattered was that I could face my fear of other’s derision head on. I could celebrate the success of others while acknowledging my own limitations. Despite a poor grade in gymnastics, I ended up with good marks in humility.
So, next semester, sumo-wrestling here I come!
Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org