The Limits of Being Humble


When thinking about America, there are many words that come to mind. Humility is certainly not one of them. 

In America, accomplishments are everything. We live in a place where kids get trophies for simply showing up. And let’s face it—your social status often depends on more than just your resume. Knowing the right people and name-dropping whenever you get the chance gets you ahead socially and financially.

Think about it. You can probably recall a recent conversation where someone was name-dropping in order to seem important and powerful. It could have been at a bar with a friend, during an interview, or in a meeting at work. People treat their important connections like valuable accomplishments on their resumes. In America, the land of the Kardashians and all things celebrity, getting ahead means knowing the right people and not being afraid to claim that you’re the smartest person in the room.

After spending some time in Sweden, I’ve realized that this American mindset couldn’t be less desired in Scandinavia.

In fact, Swedish people consider it “ugly” to even reference your accomplishments. The Swedish mentality (“What can I do for you?”) is so refreshing when compared to America's (“What can I do for me?”). It doesn’t matter who you hang out with or who you know. Swedes care about what you show and how you help other people. 

Looking at the two cultures, I’m torn about which one is more effective. The Swedish approach is both interesting and genuine, but it can be limiting anywhere outside of akin cultures, where people might be quick to brush others off. Being too humble runs the risk of getting lost in the noise of other people and competitors, especially if your competition listing off their accomplishments as often as they check their Twitter feed.

Perhaps one day humility will become much more fashionable in America. Until then, I’ll keep on visiting Sweden to get a breath of fresh air.