Invest In Obscurity

Our pastor, Todd Proctor,  was recently talking about humility, and he used this line:  “Invest In Obscurity”.

The simple idea is that if you’re a leader that wants to serve with humility, then you need to find things to do that are out of the spotlight.

As a leader, I’m often in the spotlight. I’m used to public recognition and affirmation, and when I don’t get it, or when I receive some criticism, then it’s really difficult.

The idea of humility comes from Jesus’ words in Luke 14: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

A number of years ago, we had a single mother living next door to us with her 2 small children and her disabled grandfather. She wasn’t very friendly, and pretty much avoided any conversation with any of the neighbors.  I was trying to figure out something I could do to help, so I began hauling in her empty trash cans after they had been emptied. It was a simple thing. It took an extra 3 minutes of my life, and didn’t require that much effort.  I did this every week for a couple of years.

I remember vividly one day that I decided NOT to take her cans in. I began thinking to myself: “Why doesn’t she thank me for this service?   Does she notice that I’ve been doing this for years? Does she even care?”

I found myself getting a little put-out because she didn’t give me any recognition, and really didn’t seem to care.

I stopped taking her cans in for about a month. I justified this in myself, and decided that she didn’t need my help. The amazing thing is that each week, she would take her cans in. 3 minutes of her life. not a big deal.

Soon, I realized what an idiot I was. I was serving in order to be thanked. I wasn’t “investing in obscurity”, or I wasn’t serving because I really wanted to serve.

The next week, I began taking her cans back in. Again, no thanks, no conversation, no acknowledgement. But I realized that this act of service wasn’t about her. It was about me.

Was I willing to “invest in obscurity”? Was I willing to be humble.

We lived next door to her for a couple more years, and I took the cans in faithfully until we moved away. No goodbye. No thank you.  That’s OK.

Have you thought of ways that you can “invest in obscurity”?

Fast Company Magazine published a short blog years ago entitled, “6 Ways Humility Can Make You A Better Leader”. You can read the full article HERE, but here are the 6 ways:

  1. Be Open To Others’ Opinions
  2. Tend To Others’ Needs
  3. Admit Mistakes
  4. Accept Ambiguity
  5. Self-Reflect
  6. Let People Do Their Jobs

We can all learn to be a little more humble. A great way to do that is to find ways to “invest in obscurity”.

This morning, I looked at all of the trash cans out in front of the houses on our street. I need to find someone else that I can secretly serve.   What about you?

Russ Cline/2016

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