Confident Humility vs. False Modesty

False modesty: behavior in which a person pretends to have a low opinion of his or her own abilities or achievements (Cambridge English dictionary)

Have you ever seen a performance that was really, truly amazing, and then you saw the person afterwards and told them so, and they responded with something like:

      • You’re just saying that
      • Oh, come on, anyone could do that
      • Please,  X was so much than better than me

But they were good. You know it, and you know that they know it too.  And their rejection of your praise/acknowledgement of their accomplishment rings false, and annoys you.

I just finished reading Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, and at one point, she describes having a conversation with Oprah Winfrey (the book does a lot of name-dropping) during which Ms. Doyle downplays her accomplishments as just being lucky and around the right people, to which Oprah (also a bit of a name-dropper) says,

“Don’t do that. Don’t be modest. Dr. Maya Angelou used to say, ‘Modesty is a learned affectation. You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out.'” p.286, Untamed

We’re told we should be modest, we shouldn’t brag, but instead credit our success to sheer dumb luck, being in the right place at the right time, etc. .

But that’s a load of hooey.

What is humility? Specifically, what is confident humility? (TBH, I thought it was a term I just made up while writing this, but … I was wrong!) According to Vinita Bansai, in her article on Confident Humility: Paradox of Successful Leadership:

“Confident humility is the confidence in a leader’s ability to make the right decision while acknowledging that they need others to do it right. It’s knowing what they don’t know and having trust in what they do. It’s having faith in their strengths, while also being aware of their weaknesses. It’s accepting that they don’t have the required knowledge, but enough confidence in their ability to acquire that knowledge.”

I strongly recommend reading this article – the 20 traits of a leader with confident humility are truly inspiring. And the word “modesty” isn’t mentioned once.

As performing artists, we need to recognize that we need others – teachers, collaborators, composers,  playwrights, the audience – in order to be successful at what we do, but also that we have the strength to do it. (Sounds kind of like, “It takes a village,” doesn’t it?)

We had that confidence when we were children, until people told us not to be so high-and-mighty, too big for our britches, think we’re so special (all of this is being written by me said with a strong Milwaukee accent). When we were children, we thought we could grow up to be:

      • An astronaut
      • A movie star/celebrity
      • A firefighter
      • A professional athlete
      • A superhero
      • President of the United States

Whatever you do today do it with the confidence of a 4 year old in a Batman t-shirt

And then we set our sights lower as reality sets in (or we realize we’re not good at science, afraid of fire, can’t actually fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound). And maybe we can’t do those things on our own, but we can do variations of them with help from those around us who can, if only metaphorically, leap tall buildings in a single bound. At least in our field.

Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Know who can help you build upon the former and minimize the latter.

Know what you are capable of and what you might be capable of.

Know who you are and take strength in that. There’s nothing wrong with pride – it is a feeling of satisfaction at your achievements.

And when someone tells you that you did a great job, don’t diminish their accolades with false modesty. Just say:

Thank you.

Now go put on that Batman t-shirt.


If you want to build upon your skills as a singer/actor, registration is open for
Back to … Whatever, with sessions on August 31-September 2 (6:30-8pm ET each night). Kick off your return to performing with teacher/artists who know their stuff about vocal technique, style, and interpretation.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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