‘Tis pride that pulls the country down.
–William Shakespeare

Pride is the single greatest hindrance to our success.

That is quite a strong statement. And it is completely true.

It gets us from both ends. Sometimes we are too proud to make the changes that are necessary to become more successful. And then there is the danger that we will become excessively proud of our accomplishments which invariably will cause us to screw up and bring our very success down around our ears.

Healthy Pride

Now before I get started let me say that there most definitely is a healthy pride. Without a healthy level of pride we are reduced to a sniveling Eeyore of a doormat that says, “I’m worthless and not capable of anything.” So here is how I’d describe what I’d call “healthy pride.”

Healthy Pride: Ownership of our own personal actions and a desire to control them in such a way that achieves the best possible outcome which leads to a feeling of contentedness when we see the results of giving something our best effort.

The huge challenge is that healthy pride is like nuclear energy. Even though it can be tremendously beneficial, if we’re not extremely careful and constantly watching it very closely it can very quickly spin out of control with disastrous consequences. The way each of us are wired, it only takes the slightest lapse of attention for our pride to wreak havoc in our lives and cause collateral damage to those around us.

It’s All About ME

The problem with pride is that it shifts our focus to ourselves. We become self centered and selfish. We begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. At the same time we begin to think less of others then we should.

The single biggest fall of all time was a result of pride. Imagine the most powerful king in all the world going insane with pride and living out in a field like a wild animal. As big a fall as that would be it is still chump change compared to the grand daddy fall of all.

The Bible tells us there was one angel that was more glorious and more powerful than all the other angels. The trouble is this angel became proud of himself and his accomplishments. He began to reason in his own mind that he was equal to God. In fact he saw several ways where he could run Heaven better than God did. Eventually he incited a riot, convinced about a third of the other angels to join his cause and fought a civil war against God.

He didn’t win.

God and his army of remaining loyal angels threw the rebellious angels out of heaven. But the Bible says that the battle still continues and all of us are caught in the crossfire. Oh, and you’ve probably heard of that rebellious angel. His name was Lucifer.

So all it takes to go from the number 2 guy in all the universe to public enemy number 1 is a little pride.

Keeping us from Moving Forward

The first problem pride causes is that it keeps us from moving forward toward success.

A proud person will not ask for help. Nor will he admit that he even needs it.

Twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous start at this very point. In order to get help, AA members first have to admit they need it. There are millions of alcohaulics out there that are not seeing success in this area because they are too proud to admit they have a problem and need help.

And it is not just alcohaulics that struggle here either. So many of us go through our lives thinking that it is up to us to figure everything out. And that is just a load of hogwash. There are tons of people who have gone before us who are willing to share their experiences with us to help us along our way toward success. One great way to tap into their knowledge is to read what they have to say.

The other reason pride can keep us from moving forward is that, even if we don’t have a major problem that we need to overcome, none of us are the best at everything. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. If we are too proud to ask for help from others with complimentary strengths, then our success will be limited by our own weaknesses.

When we are proud we try to take all the credit on ourselves. Doing that pushes others away from us, isolates us, and keeps us from success. The great coach John Wooden said

It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.

And it is true. But until we get over ourselves and stop trying to get all the credit we will never accomplish all that we are capable of.

Look Out for the Big Fall

We already talked about the biggest fall of all time. But what about us mere mortals? Are we in danger of the same fall?

Um, Yeah! It goes without saying.

Just look at the news and you will find stories of a CEO, politician or preacher who got too puffed up on his own importance, thought the normal rules didn’t apply in his case and then tumbled big time.

Pride makes us all hollow people. We get so obsessed about keeping our appearance in the best possible condition that we refuse to admit our own weaknesses. Initially this obsession leads to small compromises in our character. “Oh, it’s OK. Just this once. No one will know.”

But in the end, if we go down that path unchecked, we will ultimately find that we have gradually traded away all of our moral convictions and have no character at all. When we get to that point it is only a matter of time before we encounter a crises that blows strong enough to knock down the house of cards we have created to keep up appearances.

When it comes down it won’t be pretty.

And here’s the real kicker: When someone like that ultimately falls they are usually not the only ones affected. Often a fall like that will set off a chain reaction of devastation, not unlike a nuclear explosion.

You think I’m overstating this here? Well think about just one example. When the executives of Enron thought the normal rules didn’t apply to them, look at the devastation they caused to tens of thousands – employees, stock holders, other companies – it is a really big list.

Keeping our Pride in Check

So how do we keep our pride in check to keep from haveing such devistating consequences?

First we have to be aware of the danger. We can’t prevent a problem we don’t know about or won’t admit exists.

Second we need to take time to humble ourselves. And I don’t mean put on rags and go hang out in a garbage heap.

We can humble ourselves by giving some trusted friends permission to call us on our pride. Give them the green light to confront us when we are are getting out of hand. And be open to what they have to say.

Another thing we can do is to look for help in areas where we are weak. There is nothing more humbling than receiving help in an area where we lack competence.

And finally the best way to keep our pride in check is to make sure the credit gets spread as far and wide as possible.

Pride is all about the phrase, “Look at me.” We can protect ourselves from becoming a victim of it’s dangers by pointing the spot light in another direction. When something goes well at work, make sure that the folks who contributed to that success get credit for their contributions.

Understand that our own success is a result of many contributers. Sir Isaac Newton said

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

And he’s right.

Each of us owe our own success to the many who have gone before us and to those who are walking along beside us. Let’s make sure we give all of them the credit.

Then we will be much less at risk for our own fall.

I’ll leave you with one more quote. This one from Benjamin Franklin, arguably one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.


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