When I recently had a conversation with a very wise man, he told me that the most humble persons he has ever met are usually the ones that achieved greatness. Nobel-prize winners, even. Those are the ones who come to the office first in the morning, and if they are already there, they make the coffee for the day – not wasting one second on the thought that this simple task might be below their “level of intelligence”.
Why would they, you might think? They want coffee, they make it. Making coffee is not below anyone’s level – well, you are right, but there are a lot of people out there who think differently. Coming from a country where prestige and materialism is a great issue, I can tell you some stories. Stories that made me wonder many times how people can be this superficial to think what matters most in life is status. That they might even think once they reach a certain level of reputation or image, they are finally happy.
An acquaintance of mine once talked about him taking a train in Germany, sitting in the first class with all those business men in their Armani-suits reading the FAZ (a German newspaper that thinks it is more important than others because it prints everything in font size 3 point), and dreaming of the day he would be “one of them”. You see, that was his goal in life: wearing a suit and reading a newspaper in the first class of a train. A couple of years later, the same person told me slightly surprised, and totally unrelated, that now since he is studying, he realized he cannot achieve everything in life just through connections – he actually needs to work a bit himself.
Ok, maybe he is not a good example, for obviously being a bit idiotic. So take another one, it also brings us back to kitchen-related issues: Another German acquaintance telling me about his work in a middle-sized company and how the entire staff shares the kitchen duties (which means, loading and unloading the dishwasher from time to time, pretty much). His words were something like “I really need to go back to corporate [life]. I am way too smart for doing these kinds of things!”
You see, here it goes. First, what does that even mean, being “too smart” for something? A monkey could probably wipe his butt as well – that should not stop us from doing it, however. Also, really smart people don’t consider themselves superior to others, or superior to doing any kind of “lower” task. They don’t pay attention to wearing only the most expensive clothes and driving the biggest cars. They pay attention to solving problems, and finding solutions to really important stuff. That is what they do. And they do it because they can, and because it needs to be done, not because they want to impress anyone.
That might actually be the underlying core issue of it all: Wise people do things that matter because they matter. And sometimes, even something “banal” as making coffee needs to be done. Also, they don’t take themselves too serious. If you sit on a plane next to someone who thinks it is a good idea to occupy not only his own, but also a third of the space next to him, he (yes, I’ll stick to the male example for now because of recent experience) most certainly takes himself too serious. And wants to intimidate those around him with false power-blatancy. I might even go further and claim this is all about some underlying complexes, and probably because of a very small… but let’s not go there. Or those who are responsible for HR-decisions, and you see them posting people’s mistakes on facebook – not to prevent others from doing them, but just to feel smarter than others.
Just remember this: If someone makes you feel small or not worthy of something, it is probably their own problem, not yours. Great people make you feel good about yourself, they encourage you to achieve greatness, and reassure you to try again when you fail. Try to ignore the other ones, or take the Madagascar-approach: Just smile and wave.