Sometimes, when I’m at my most introspective, I start feeling nostalgic for Texas, the state that shaped so much of who I am today. And when that homesickness strikes, I do what a lot of Lone Star Staters do: I put on some country music.
This happened recently, and before long, this song—“Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw—came piping through the speakers. By the second verse, the song had struck a chord (literally and figuratively). To quote the song:
When the dreams you’re dreaming come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel pride
But always stay humble and kind.
Let yourself feel pride, but always stay humble and kind. With all the rancor and chaos going on around us, it sure sounds like a long-overdue salve. More than ever, I believe that as Hispanics, we must redefine what it means to be humble—to have humility while simultaneously standing up for ourselves, getting the credit for our contributions we deserve, and the jobs and political representation we’ve earned.
It’s a message I’m not only trying to convey, but learn myself. As a former trial lawyer and litigator, I was taught to be sharp in my choice of words and the way I communicate. Now, I need to remind myself that I’m no longer orating in front of juries and judges. I’m talking with and trying to connect with members, industry leaders, donors, decision-makers and influencers. My message and tone needs to reflect that.
What’s more, I find myself far more reliant on email and social media, as many of us do these days. Even though I (and pretty much all of us) don’t see people’s reactions when we address them through the screen, we must pretend they are in front of us, and that we can see their facial expression and body language. We need to lift the digital veil that prevents us from being empathetic and thoughtful.
Our world could use a bit more care when it comes to communicating, particularly when it comes to divisive issues. But being humble doesn’t mean being timid or subservient. And it certainly doesn’t mean staying silent. The book I’m reading right now—“Leading Matters”, by former Stanford University President John L. Hennessy—speaks to precisely this point.
“This kind of humility does not, however, mean a lack of ambition,” Hennessy writes. “…but my ambition is not focused primarily on personal gain (though I do like to win at games and golf). Instead, my ambition is to make a difference, to benefit the institution and the community I serve. Perhaps the only way to be both humble and ambitious is to be ambitious for the good of others.”
By tethering our sense of humility to a greater cause, such as SHPE’s mission promoting the progress of Hispanics in STEM, we make the empowerment of others a core feature of our daily lives, rather than just another nice thing we do.
At the same time, by having humility in our daily interactions, we’re indicating to those around us that we are equals. That I am no better than you. It might seem small to smile or take a little extra time as you pay for your coffee or listen to someone you disagree with, but over time, you empower the people around you. That adds up, like deposits in a bank account.
As SHPE’s CEO, I’m committed to doing the big and little things necessary to be become a better and more effective leader—both by being more humble and even more ambitious for SHPE. I know I’ll never be perfect. No one can. But if I, and, if we, strive to practice humility every day—without losing that ambition and drive to do and be better—I know that our SHPE familia can help our country to heal while also uplifting itself.