Eleanor Roosevelt’s Thoughts on Humility

By Laura A. Roser


About a month ago, I read Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography, You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life. I found myself highlighting various passages and writing notes on index cards. In one section of the book (around page 63), she discusses maturity. Her first tenant of becoming a mature person is self-knowledge.

Eleanor writes:

“One must be willing to have knowledge of oneself. You have to be honest with yourself. You must try to understand truthfully what makes you do things or feel things. Until you have been able to face the truth about yourself you cannot be really sympathetic or understanding in regard to what happens to other people. But it takes courage to face yourself and to acknowledge what motivates you in the things you do.

This self-knowledge develops slowly. You cannot attain it all at once simply by stopping to take stock of your personal assets and liabilities. In a way, one is checked by all that protective veiling one hangs over the real motives so that it is difficult to get at the truth. But if you keep trying, honestly and courageously, even when the knowledge makes you wince, even when it shocks you and you rebel against it, it is apt to come in flashes of sudden insight. “Oh, so that is why I did that!” or “Why didn’t I realize that I didn’t mean that at all?” or “Now I see why I was afraid to do that!” 

Self-Examination Isn’t Always Good

I love how humble Eleanor’s views are and how she tempers herself. In the very next paragraph she writes:

“There is a danger in this self-examination. Some people become so interested, so fascinated, by this voyage of self-discovery, that they don’t come out of it again. They remain completely absorbed in their self-study.”

I think this is an interesting comment because I’ve had my own periods of major self-analysis as well as periods of complete avoidance, where I distracted myself from the pain of looking at my own actions. Certainly, the self-analysis led to better outcomes and getting out of painful situations, but I can understand how one could become stuck and I’ve seen it plenty of times. People who focus on issues with their childhood, seeking praise from others, or evaluating every piece of food they put in their mouths. There comes a point where you get tired of yourself or you create an isolated insanity by trying to work on overcoming emotional pain that would, most likely, go away on its own if you were serving others, working on making your relationships more healthy, diving into a passion project or otherwise living your life.

I’ve learned through experience that much more insight comes from interacting with many types of people, pursuing dreams or curiosities, and observing yourself in these various situations. It helps you get familiar with your strengths, pinpoint your weaknesses and appreciate others.

In regards to weakness, I love this phrase from Eleanor: “So it is a major part of maturity to accept not only your own shortcomings but those of the people you love, and help them not to fail when you can.”

Wouldn’t life be so much better if we surrounded ourselves with friends, family and loved ones who helped us not to get stuck in the downward spiral of our own shortcomings?


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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning