Daniel presented a short bit of his life story: how he started as a programmer in Romania, the path to becoming a programmer for Microsoft, and how he came up with the idea for his startup. While I will not bore you with the details of his talk (you can find a full recording here), there is one key idea which sticked with me: how important it is to be humble.
On the Notion of Humility
Cambridge Dictionary provides a concise definition1 of humility: the quality of not being proud because you are aware of your bad qualities. Humility is the wisdom you are entrusted with once you realize how much there is left to learn. It is what made Socrates affirm that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing when the Oracle of Delphi named him the wisest man in Ancient Greece.
Humility as a Core Value
Daniel not only described how important humility was in his own career and personal life, but also how important it was in building his company. He realized that a startup culture with too many rules would be annoying for his employees, so he decided to focus on 1-2 core values which would guide all other decisions.
And UiPath’s core value was humility. When their competitors would be too good to work with smaller firms, they would be eager to help. When their competitors made their software usable only by expert programmers, they provided excellent documentation, and tried to make it understandable even for non-technical people.
And it worked. Despite the fierce competition and existing solutions, they prevailed. With a valuation of over $7 billion, UiPath is now one of the biggest companies in the RPA industry.
Ego is the Enemy
Fast-forward a few more months, when Cristi Dascălu, a Romanian YouTuber recommended his top 3 must-read books. One of the books on the list was Ego is the Enemy, written by American author Ryan Holiday.
Just by looking at the title, it’s clear that this book echoes Daniel Dines’ belief that being humble is essential to living a long and fulfilling life and achieving your professional objectives. For me, the primary take-away from the book is understanding all the possible ways in which arrogance can destroy your dreams.
When I finished reading, I looked back at all my failures and realized how much has ego affected me. I also looked at my successes and noticed how, by keeping myself grounded in reality, I could focus clearly on the target.
The Advantages of Humility
All of those successful people made it because they understood the value of humility. In this section I list some of the main characteristics of being humble and keeping your ego in check.
Humility is Not Dreaming About The Future
You go out for a beer with some friends, and after talking about what actually happened in the past week, you start talking about what’s going to happen in a few years. You discuss where you’ll go on holiday after you somehow invent the next big thing, or how you’ll split the money after you win some sort of contest. We’ve all had moments like that, but sadly just dreaming about how you’ll one day have success won’t make it happen. The more you live in a dream, the harder it is to be objective about your current status; you lose direction and stop listening to feedback.
I am not encouraging you not to follow your dreams or to give up. All I am saying is spending a lot of time letting your imagination run wild will not get closer to your goals. My favorite quote2 from Linus Torvalds:
I’m perfectly happy with all the people who are walking around and just staring at the clouds and looking at the stars and saying, “I want to go there.” But I’m looking at the ground, and I want to fix the pothole that’s right in front of me before I fall in.
Linus wrote software that shaped the modern world. But he did so without personal ambitions or wild dreams about becoming rich.
Humility is Always Learning
As your ego starts to grow, you become more and more confident in your abilities. If you’re just starting out and you’re overconfident, it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. But there is no name for when you’re already experienced in a domain, but fail to realize there is always more to learn.
It’s always important to have the student mindset, where you approach every new situation with a willingness to learn and improve yourself. No matter how much you already know, you can always find a new approach or perspective to an existing problem.
To give an example from personal experience: after all these years as a programmer, I still use Google to find how to solve simple problems I already know how to solve. Over time, new solutions get invented, or existing ones get improved, and I regularly discover new and better ways to do things I already knew how to do.
Humility is Working Together With Others
Perhaps the greatest downside of egotism is that it makes it hard for us to connect with others. If you believe yourself to be unstoppable, you won’t realize you need others to grow. While other people also have busy lives and their own interests, you will be surprised at how eager they are to help you. And reciprocation is also important. Whenever you go out of your way and help somebody who is doing worse than you, remember how you’ve been helped by those who are better off.
All the advice in this article can be summarized as: Be humble. Keeping this in mind will help you always learn new things, benefit from new opportunities or just make new friends. And always stick to your dreams, you will make it eventually.