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Tosin Abiodun: Humility is a Problem You Don’t Realize You Have



If you’re anything like the typical Nigerian, humility is a virtue that you rank highly, in yourself and in others. Your boss showers praise on you for winning a huge account for the company, you try and explain that you were not the only one on the team and others should be praised too. You are flustered and uncomfortable because you’ve been placed in the spotlight.

Your husband who does not normally notice your new hairstyles and self- care regimen suddenly compliments you on how great you are looking. You are in shock! Pigs are flying and the sky is pink- did he just say you looked amazing? You immediately start picking apart his compliment, pointing out how much weight you haven’t lost and how you’ve had the hairstyle on for 2 weeks. The poor man is bewildered, he thinks you look just fine.

You generally do not receive gifts or compliments without turning your face away bashfully or refusing it out rightly. You are uncomfortable with sincere praise and compliments, you prefer to attribute everything you achieved to others or to God. You definitely don’t like proud people.

You are humble. Always. Never willingly taking credit or accepting gifts, even if everything around you agrees that you deserve it.

Your humility is a problem and you may not even realize it.

Let me explain.

Like patience, humility is a virtue extolled as something we should all strive towards and possess and although the average Nigerian is innately proud, he is given to dramatic expressions of faux humility from time to time.However, it appears that our pride and ego, which should boost our self-esteem, often excuses itself when genuine appreciation for our person or effort is shown.

You’ve probably seen this scenario play out several times, perhaps you even played the lead character: Someone gives you a gift or money and you vehemently refuse it until the frustrated giver dramatically presses it into your itching palms. As a Yoruba person for whom faux humility is a natural characteristic, I have witnessed and participated in this, as giver and receiver. It is quite amusing to watch.

Others make a big show of refusing compliments, ” Aunty, oju yin ma fresh gan” ( Aunty, your face looks fresh, you look good), ” Emi ke? Iya ma n je mi!” ( Me? I am suffering o!).

Evidently, this automatic deflection of compliments or gifts is some kind of reverse psychology which is expected to increase the compliments or the gifts. The funny thing is that it does work in cultural settings because it is part of some sort of unwritten law governing social behaviour. Outside those settings, however, it becomes a problem and gets in the way of other good things which could happen to us and for us.

Although I write this from a Nigerian perspective, the inability to receive compliments is not a Nigerian thing. For a lot of people, the immediate reaction to a compliment is to turn it down, to downplay it, deflect it or outrightly refuse it.

Unfortunately, this abnormal social behaviour which is deeply rooted in cultural upbringing, self-esteem issues and societal rules may be holding you back from attracting good things into your life. From childhood we are taught to be humble and modest, “He that down needs fear no fall”, we are not really encouraged to take pride in ourselves or what we have achieved because it might come off as being boastful. We are told that being boastful is not an admirable quality to have and so we think we are building character when we are really just tearing ourselves down.

Consider this: Why is your default reaction to a good thing negative?

Perhaps you may not have noticed that you do this at all because it has become normal behaviour for you. Truth is, you automatically deflect compliments because you do not consider yourself worthy of such magnanimity. You didn’t really do anything special to deserve the accolades your boss showered on you after your stellar presentation. After all, we are nothing but pencils in the hand of the creator. Have you ever considered that perhaps, you are a damn good pencil?

I like to think of humility as a double-edged sword, capable of elevating us when used sparingly and in the right situations and also capable of suppressing the greatness in us when we don’t recognize its power.

If you constantly find yourself deflecting, then it’s time to look inwards and ask yourself why? Do you not consider your work valuable? Do you not rate yourself highly? Perhaps you believe anyone who compliments you is lying to you or has an ulterior motive?

I do need to point out that there is a difference between being proud of yourself and your achievements and being a haughty jerk. Sheer arrogance and making others feel small is definitely not a desirable quality. On the other hand, when you consciously accept compliments & commendation, you feel good about yourself and you are able to transfer that positive energy to others because a healthy self-esteem is contagious.

In fact, there are studies to show that accepting compliments has the same effect as receiving that mood-lifting credit alert. You feel on top of the world!

It’s time to unlearn ‘Humility’. We need to unlearn ‘humility’ as we have grown to know it. This is particularly critical for parents and people who are responsible for other people. It is so vital that we begin to take pride in ourselves and achievements, thus building a healthy self-esteem, so that we can propagate that to our children and others.

Today is a good day to examine what kind of beliefs you have about yourself and to create a new set of beliefs if you don’t like what you see.

Good things come to those who are able to receive them. Be that person that receives consciously, joyfully and with gratitude. Multiply the effect by showering others with compliments too and be astounded at how much more confident you’ll be.

Don’t let humility stop you from thriving. You are valuable and you deserve ALL the good things that come into your life.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Tosin Abiodun is a communications strategist & entrepreneur. In her spare time, she writes advertising copy for small businesses. Follow her on Instagram @trulytosin.


  1. Jummy

    November 23, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you for this. Very thought provoking.

    Humility in itself isn’t a bad thing, it’s the “faux humility” that is a problem, like you rightly mentioned.

    Most people, including myself, are only “humble” when people are nice to us. But the true test of humility is in self constraint and discipline in face of extreme harshness and rudeness.

    You will be surprised to find out that most people, including myself again will throw humility away! The devil in them will come once they sense a little rudeness and they turn to another extreme version of themselves.

    But you can’t really claim humility if you’re only nice to people who are nice to you. I say this to say that most people are actually not humble, though they like to think of themselves as humble

    I’ve realized this, and have constantly added it to my prayer points that I be humble, the way Christ was. He was the true embodiment of humility.

    Thanks again for the article.

  2. bea

    November 23, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Thought provoking indeed.
    thanks dear

  3. CrazyWorld

    November 23, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    I stopped that humility nonsense the day a colleague told an investor that he started an idea and brought me on the train to help him when he couldn’t handle the pressure. I was like TF? I registered the company, I paid for his trip from Abuja to Lagos and he lived in my house.

    Why he did this I’d never know but I always said we, we, we. When we went viral on social media back then, we both talked. I didn’t push him to a corner because I wanted to be humble and not take all the glory. Business have crumbled now sha, he is working in GTbank now and I’m building back up somewhere in the deeps of SoCal. Anything I do now I’m taking all the glory. If I pay you for service, don’t expect me to mention your name sef (it’s that bad).

  4. Miss B

    November 23, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    @Jummy… how can a comment be so true?!? Wow… This is so on point, as in I can so relate with some scenarios you highlighted… its just my name that remain that you should add… lol… I really do hope to be better…

  5. Ene

    November 23, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Nigerians love ‘humility’. The S.I unit for mass appeal in Nigeria is humility esp. for our celebrities. Thank you for this article.

  6. Lola

    November 23, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    I give God all the glory for whatever/whoever I am today and what I’ve achieved through Him. I say this without apologises

    • Lola

      November 23, 2017 at 10:24 pm


  7. Ezinne

    November 23, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed the read. I am a very confident person until you pay me a compliment, I begin to fumble for responses and actually try to down play it. I wish it was humility, I’m not humble, I don’t even try. I just treat people the way I’d like to be treated. I can’t exactly figure out why I’m that way around people, I guess Its the way I was brought up. But thanks, I’ll actually just smile and say thank you when next I’m complimented.


    November 24, 2017 at 8:13 am

    Thanks for the article, funny enough I wrote an article recently on my blog and is the opposite of what you just wrote: Humility is never a weakness. However, I wrote it on the perspective of a little timid employer. At the end,he has to still work on his self esteem to get to where he wants.

    Truth be told, parents in those days, instill in their children at young age never to show themselves, but its no longer applicable now;if you don’t accept a compliment; sorry,you will most probable loose your Worth and another person will take that compliment,that glory,that promotion on your behalf.
    Kudos to you!

  9. Relatable

    November 24, 2017 at 9:59 am

    This article is spot on!!

    I lost many job opportunities because of this ”faux humility”. I kept down-playing my achievements during interviews because I didn’t want to appear pompous. I was also worried about speaking boldly to people who were clearly older than me.
    One of my favourite bosses at my former place of work who was really rooting for me told me bluntly the day I was to leave, ”XYZ, you need to stop this selective shyness”. That was a nice way of saying ”stop with the faux humility”.
    I held on to that. The next interview I went for my people, I nailed it. My shoulder pads were so high. I was oozing confidence and I could feel it. That got me a great offer with mouth-watering benefits and I’m resuming very soon. I feel so thankful to that boss of mine. I can only imagine his reaction when I let him know how far his words took me.
    So I agree with the writer, humility is good but it shouldn’t be at your own detriment.

  10. Bolaji

    November 24, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Nigerians love people we can walk all over! They praise your humility translation, my mumu!

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