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A while ago, a young Korean American college senior called me asking for career advice. She reminded me a lot of myself when I was her age—ambitious, passionate, confident, yet insecure. She was considering journalism but wasn’t sure if writing for a Christian publication might limit her future career path, or if there would be struggles along the way as a minority woman who cares deeply about racial justice. Toward the end of the call, she asked me, “If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself when you were a graduating college student like me?”
I didn’t need to think long: Be humble. I still tell myself that to this day: Be humble. It might seem abstract, but today as a 33-year-old newlywed journalist, I can’t think of anything as practical each day as humility, whether at work, in my marriage, or with friends.
It’s advice my parents repeated often to me, from when I was an elementary-school kid proudly bringing home perfect test scores, to when I was a teenager leading my church’s youth group, to when I was in college scoring internships at big publications. “Be humble,” they reminded me, even as they said they were proud of me. “Yeah, yeah, I’m already really humble,” I would respond. My parents’ reminders annoyed me in those moments my ego was as high and inflated as a hot air balloon, when my pride purred like a sun-cocooned kitten wanting to be stroked.
Wisdom is inextricable from a humble spirit that longs to love and serve others.
Then at age 17, I began a six-year struggle with anorexia—a complex, dehumanizing disease that exposed my deepest insecurities and vanities and brought me to my knees in humiliation. I realized I had nothing but a life that wasn’t even my own. When I was supposed to be at the prime of my life, I was crying out to God to save me or take me home with a self-shattering recognition that I am more helpless and foolish than the person most contemptuous in my eyes. Only when I reached that point did I realize the unmeasurable grace, love, and mercy of God.
I’ll admit it didn’t take long after recovering from anorexia to once again measure myself by my own achievements, ideas, and willpower. How hard it is to stay humble! Yet how quick and easy it is to become impatient with others, to climb the tendrils of selfish ambition and vain conceit, to judge and scorn and compare and envy.
As a journalist, I pray often for wisdom and clarity, but sometimes I catch myself wanting wisdom for the wrong reasons—to be smarter and more enlightened than others, to be contrarian and zap “those people” with my intellectual or theological prowess. Yet the Scriptures say “with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).
Wisdom is inextricable from a humble spirit that longs to love and serve others, to do justice and love kindness. I’m not quite there, the same way the Apostle Paul confessed, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.” But he doesn’t stop there. True humility required him to continue: “But I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). That means there’s a holy discontentment within me, a recognition that I need less of me and more of Christ, to remember that time God took me by the hand that was literally shriveled to bone and skin.
So here’s my advice to my younger self, and to the present me: Be humble. When you’re feeling proud and self-righteous, be humble. When you’re feeling insecure and inadequate, be humble. Humility doesn’t mean putting yourself down. It means striving to be like Christ who already lives in you.