Hubris and Its Peril

I was on a train in NYC with my daughters one day when sitting in front of us was a young lady who, by the looks of it, had been in a very bad accident. She had a cast on her arm, her leg was in a brace and she had a black eye.

humbleIt happens I was on the way to my daily Aikido class and was taking my kids along so they could roll on the mat with me. The lady must have noticed something in the manner in which I was playing with my kids and asked me if I practiced Aikido. When I told her I did and was in transit to my next class, she informed me she was going to the same place to talk to one of the instructors about her injuries.

She shared that she was in such bad shape because the day before she had suffered her horrific injuries in class while trying to pull off a move way to complex for her skill set. She had been a visitor to the “dojo” and wanted to train with some of the best Aikidoist’s in the world to see where she stood. By the looks of it she had fared very poorly.

Her error was not in her technique but in her approach. She lacked the necessary level of humility to perceive the dangers that faced her and for that hubris she paid a terrible price.

Sadly this was a very common occurrence. Visiting students would come in and try to train with some of the advanced students and get seriously injured. The most common cause of their injuries was hubris and the mistaken belief that their skill set was better than they thought.

People have a tendency to see themselves better at something than they actually are. In fact, it seems that as we get better and more successful in one area… we have a tendency to think that this then makes us experts in other areas.  Consequently, we see errors in judgement all around us.

In the military there’s actually an expression about this that says, “you get promoted to your level of incompetence.” In the financial world, we see it as well where profitable companies crash and burn when a new but unseasoned manager comes in and brings down the firm. The business landscape is littered with massive failures by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in their area of expertise. Microsoft failed miserably with their music player Zune while Apple’s first foray into the tablet field didn’t end well.

When I earned my black belt in Aikido after 10 years of intense work, the senior instructor congratulated me and said, “Now you understand how little you know and it is only now where the real learning can begin.”

Regardless of your chosen field or arena, real learning and understanding are born from a sense of humility to perceive that there is always more to learn.