It’s “Be Humble” Day

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror ‘cuz I get better lookin each day. To know me is to love me, I must be a hell of a man. Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble but I’m doin the best that I can.”  ~Mac Davis

I used to love me some Mac Davis. Back in the 70’s, my Grandma Sarah used to make AWESOME paper dolls. She’d get a brown paper bag, fold it up multiple times and go wild with her scissors only to turn out a long string of dolls all holding hands. It’s a process I’ve never learned to replicate (much to my dismay). Anyway, it was inevitable that I would name one of the dolls “Mac Davis”. I’d draw him wearing blue jeans and scribble in his trademark curly hair with my Crayolas. I saw him at the Ohio State Fair way back when the fair actually featured quality talent. Yes, back in the 70’s, Mac Davis was considered to be “quality talent”. You might be surprised to know that Mr. Davis wrote a few of Elvis’ more popular tunes, including “In the Ghetto” and “A Little Less Conversation”. Writing popular songs for “The King”? It doesn’t get much better than that. I can see why it would be hard for him to be humble.

Being humble in today’s world is certainly a trait that falls all too often by the wayside. Today’s environment tends to dictate competition. Being the BEST. Looking out for Number ONE. Look at me. Praise me. Love me. Because I know everything.

I used to teach a variety of boating – also known as small-crafts – at a summer camp during the late 1980’s. I was considered to be the rowing expert but I also taught sailing, canoeing and kayaking. Really, when you take these four areas of small-crafts, I was best at canoeing. It really is my favorite overall, but since I was the only person on the small-crafts staff who had any sort of sculling skills, rowing fell to me by default. I enjoy it, but I’m in no way an expert.

I felt differently about canoeing. Pushing off from shore with my paddle in hand, gliding across a glassy smooth lake, my paddle silently working the water. My strokes dictating my direction and speed. I knew exactly where to place my weight based on what direction the wind was blowing. Kneeling in my canoe grounded me. We were one. Honestly, I could drive a canoe better than a car. I could back up, slalom, even parallel park in my metal Grumman. It was sheer bliss.

The last week of camp was traditionally known as “The Olympics”. The entire camp was split into two teams, the Red and the Blue, and spurred fierce competition. There were track and field events, team sporting events, and, of course, waterfront events. The counselors were more or less coaches during most of these events, but there were a few activities that were specifically for staff. When it was announced that there would be a canoeing event for staff, I chuckled to myself because I knew that gold medal would be mine.

The other counselors knew it, too. I was the one who was up early to glide across the lake in my canoe. Going out on the lake each morning was my way to decompress. Have my quiet time of reflection. Center myself before the day was overshadowed by the chaos and dramas of 12-year-old girls. And, over the eight weeks of camp, I really sharpened my canoeing skills.

So, when it was announced that the canoeing event would feature a blindfolded canoeist guided by a counselor seated in the front of the canoe, I still felt confident that I would take the medal. I was paired with another counselor and we agreed that I would be blindfolded and she would be the guide. My opponent was giggling with her guide that she hadn’t canoed in a long time. I leaned over and whispered to my teammate, “Prepare to win”.

We took our places. I placed my blindfold and gripped my paddle, soothed by the familiarity of how it fit in my hands. I was ready. When the air horn went off, I heard my opponent’s sloppy paddling begin, slapping the water with great fury. I took my first long stroke, knowing that my canoe was headed forward toward the buoy. My paddling was smooth and strong.

It was when I needed to make a 180 around the buoy that trouble came. My guide told me that we were behind a little bit and it threw off my concentration completely. I couldn’t make the turn. I had trouble listening to my guide’s instructions and got completely frustrated. Then I heard the air horn. My opponent had won. I pulled off my blindfold to see that not only had I lost big time, but I was way off course. I swallowed my pride and skillfully maneuvered my canoe to get back on course and make my way to shore.

I messed up big time.

It was a grand lesson in humility to come back to that shore. All my small-craft co-workers looking at me with severe disappointment since I had lost to someone who hadn’t paddled a canoe in years. How did that happen? Why did that happen? I can only chalk it up to my being so cocky. So confident that I would cream my opponent. I took myself too seriously and it knocked me down a few pegs. I could have said something like “I let her win”, but that would be a lie. I wanted to win. I planned to win. I didn’t win. I careened off course like the skier on “Wide World of Sports” who was used to display “the agony of defeat”.

So, the gold medal went to someone else. And, admittedly, it was extremely difficult to keep my mind open to the fact that someone without as much skill as I had ended up with that medal. It stung. But I mustered up the courage to congratulate her with sincerity. She was elated. How could seeing her be so happy disappoint me? It’s NOT all about me. Everyone has a place under the sun. All we can do is our best.

And as long as we are sincerely trying to be the BEST “me” we can be, then it’s all worth it. Even when we lose.


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