Can a healthy serving of humility free us from ourselves?

After a decade of working in human rights and traveling the world, one thing that always strikes me upon re-entry to the United States is just how solidified our identities are.

Our role in society, who we hang out with, how we express ourselves, defines how we see ourselves. We surround ourselves with the community that reflects our self-image, and for many of us, we define ourselves by our jobs.

Changing that person can be painful and scary. Sometimes, the world changes and we don’t have a choice.

A few years ago, I quit my full-time job at Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights. I left Nairobi, Kenya burnt-out and overwhelmed with sadness by the state of the world’s women and girls. I returned home to the Rockies to heal.

But sit on the couch for too long in a mountain town and you begin to feel like a leper…people running here, biking there, climbing up and skiing down. So I took a job as a waitress to keep busy.

A year earlier, I had been the keynote speaker at a luncheon for a group of Democratic Women. I’d schmoozed and handed out my business card to dozens of powerful women, all plying for my attention.

During my first week as a waitress, some women from that luncheon came in and sat in my section of the restaurant. I decided to stay quiet and see how they would react to seeing me there, thinking we would all have a good laugh about it.

But in the end they didn’t see me. I took their orders, paying special attention to their dietary restrictions, refilled their glasses and thanked them with the bill. Not one woman recognized me.

I was devastated, my self-image shattered.

Though it was a slap in the face to be treated as less important, a nameless server whose opinions no longer mattered, after the initial shock came a sense of freedom. I didn’t have to be important to anyone but myself.

I found joy in the simplicity of serving food with care, which in essence is not much different than serving in the human rights world.

Above all I was humbled, forced to reconnect with an older self, and it was liberating. I was free to become whoever and whatever else I desired to be.

Have you had a humbling experience that set you free? Tell me about it!


Kirsten Westby

Featured in Ed and Deb Shapiro’s new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, with forewords by HH Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.

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